Bill Maher is no believer, but he loves Christmas

Bill Maher is no believer, but he loves Christmas

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bill Maher is one of the most notorious non-believers on the planet, but that doesn’t mean he despises the holidays. The host of the documentary “Religulous” says you can pull his Robert Goulet Christmas album out of his cold, dead hand.

“I’m an atheist, but you know what? I have too many good Christmas memories,” Maher says, during a phone interview last week. “It has nothing to do with Jesus and the myth. It has to do with my family, who I don’t have much of anymore. They’re not going to take that away from me.”

Maher, a regular at Cobb’s Comedy Club and other local spots in the 1980s and early 1990s, returns to the Bay Area this week for two sold-out shows – on New Year’s Eve at the Marin Center and on New Year’s Day at the Lincoln Theater in Napa Valley.

Maher hosts the HBO talk show “Real Time With Bill Maher” and has continued to tour as a stand-up. He’s also enjoying continued buzz from “Religulous,” Maher’s deconstruction of organized religion and defense of atheism. The 2008 documentary made a respectable $13 million in theaters, and has enjoyed an unusually long second life on DVD.

“Larry Charles, the director, and I always talk about the fact that it doesn’t seem to go away like most movies do,” Maher says. “I think it’s one of those movies that gets talked about after people see it. And then they pass it on or recommend it. Both of us get as many people saying things to us now as when it first came out.”

Maher says the success of “Religulous” doesn’t make him want to do another movie.

“It makes me want to do another less. I never really wanted to be a filmmaker. I just thought this was the one subject that I should do, and nobody else was going to do,” he says. “What topic could possibly follow that? Health care? It would seem so trivial. And I really don’t want to get up in the morning every day and put on makeup and be in movies. It’s just not my thing.”

“Real Time With Bill Maher” returns for its ninth season on Jan 14. Maher will have a hard time topping the eighth season. It was one of Maher’s most high-profile years as a TV personality, after he aired a sound bite – controversial Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s comments on Maher’s old show “Politically Incorrect,” suggesting that she once “dabbled in witchcraft” – that turned into a talking point and running joke during the 2010 election season.

Maher says the “witchcraft” controversy started out as a lark, after O’Donnell repeatedly declined to come on “Real Time.”

“So I just went out there and said, as a joke, “Christine, you better come on the show, or I’m going to start showing tapes. It’s going to be like a hostage crisis – I’m going to throw out a body every week,'” Maher remembers. “I was just kind of bull-. And then we did it.”

Pretty soon he was looking through all of his “Politically Incorrect” videos where O’Donnell appeared. Miraculously, he appeared to be the only one who consistently recorded the show.

Maher admits he didn’t mind the attention. But he’s never been tempted to give up joke-telling in favor of some kind of political pundit role. After talking about election coverage for five minutes, he seems to perk up when the questions become more frivolous.

Here’s Maher on the strangest residual check he’s received lately: ” ‘DC Cab’ sometimes plays in Japan, and you get $2 for that. ‘Murder She Wrote’ is a handsome $5 or $10 stipend. The ‘Roseanne’ episode I did in 1991. Yep, that’s rolling in …”

As for the Christmas album, Maher says his mother was “crazy for Robert Goulet, as I think all suburban housewives were in the 1960s.”

“He did have a heroic voice that was perfect for Christmas records. That was basically the record we wore out,” Maher says. “I’m not giving up my Robert Goulet Christmas album. … I have great memories.”

Bill Maher plays at the Marin Center at 8 p.m. Friday and the Lincoln Theater in Napa Valley at 8 p.m. Saturday. Both shows are sold out. Maher’s shows are the first from veteran concert promoter Rick Bartalini’s new firm, Rick Bartalini Presents.

E-mail Peter Hartlaub at

This article appeared on page E – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
On line at:

Peter Hartlaub, Chronicle Pop Culture Critic
San Francisco Chronicle December 27, 2010 04:00 AM Copyright San Francisco Chronicle. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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