When Bill Maher hears that a recent PBS documentary highlighted him as one of the most courageous comics in America, he has just one question:
What do you mean, "one of"?
"Now that George Carlin is gone, definitely," says Maher of the notion that he has become — as fellow comedy star Roseanne Barr called him in the program Make 'Em Laugh — "the bravest person on television now."
"I don't think that is saying a hell of a lot either," noted the 53-year-old comic, who recently compared the exploitation of Michael Jackson's death to the religion built around a certain cross-bearing messiah on his political/comedy talk show for HBO, Real Time. "Any single person in any number of fields, like soldiering, has more courage than any comedian. But I have had my share of death threats. I'm never looking for a fight … (but) I also don't want to shy away from what I believe in."
Now that HBO has renewed Real Time for an eighth season (new episodes in February), he's even more dangerous: a smart, savvy comic with 21 Emmy nominations who doesn't care whom he snarks off. Here are a few edited comments to preview his Tampa show today.
Popular as President Obama is with many liberals, you have accused him of overexposure and fumbling the health care debate.
They were booing me for a while, my own audience, but I think progressives now feel like this year could have gone a little better for him. I've been saying lately, it's like the freshman year in college that a lot of us had … Let's just forget about it and get back to sophomore year and make that the best year we ever had.
Perhaps they're heeding the example of the Clinton years, when Democrats tried a lot of sweeping changes at once.
That was 1994, and this is 2009; the country is 15 years worse off than it was in 1994. … Here's the guy who ran on change, and it just sort of dribbled down to business as usual. … When he says stuff like "I wake up every morning and the first thing I do is read Scripture on my BlackBerry," I'm like, "Really, dude? That's the first thing you do in the morning?" I just think he says that because it wins him points with a lot of yokels who he needs not to want to kill him."
Why do you think statements like that so enrage some people?
We put a lot of boundaries on what is acceptable thought without much thought. People in this country hate socialism like it's pedophilia. They don't know what it is — but they know it's something pretty awful. The joke is, we already have socialism in this country; we just have it for the rich. It's the Joe the Plumbers, the average guy, who is railing against socialism, while Goldman Sachs is taking out million-dollar loans from the government, interest free.
As a mostly liberal-friendly political comic in the post-Bush era, is it tougher to come up with new material?
Everyone (asks), "Don't you miss Bush?" No, I don't. I was bored with him. It was eight years. Even a great comic foil like that, you get tired of it. It's so nice to have a whole new act. I'm having a ball.