Comedian Bill Maher coming live to Marin, Napa
By MICHAEL SHAPIRO
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Friday, December 31, 2010 at 3:00 a.m.
Millions of people hate Bill Maher. During the past decade he’s scathingly criticized religion, said the 9/11 terrorists “were not cowardly” and even taken on Oprah Winfrey.
Here’s an excerpt from his Christmas message in a video on BillMaher.com, which shows Oprah’s audience members leaping and hollering over gifts:
“Oprah’s show purports to be a lot about spirituality. If it was then wouldn’t she tell her worshipping flock to sit down and stop losing it over material stuff?
“I don’t know what spirituality means,” Maher says in the video, “but I know that if you’re weeping over a sweater, then you don’t either.”
So Maher’s not always the most popular guy in the room. But he’s often the most insightful. There’s a common thread to his myriad targets: hypocrisy. He can’t stand BS.
In Maher’s 2008 anti-religion film “Religulous,” he sits down with Dr. Jeremiah Cummings, an Orlando, Florida evangelist and former Muslim who sang with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes during the 1970s.
Maher remarks on the preacher’s expensive suit. Cummings counters that Jesus wore “fine linen” and that he gets his suits at a discount.
“So you’re a Christian,” Maher says to Cummings in the film, “who used to be a Muslim and when you get your clothes, you buy them like a Jew.”
But Maher himself isn’t always entirely revealing. In a 2008 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Maher was asked how he got people to agree to on-camera interviews for “Religulous.”
“It was simple,” he said. “We never, ever used my name. We never told anybody it was me who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film. We called it ‘A Spiritual Journey.’ ”
Maher performs on New Year’s Eve at the Marin Center and Saturday at Yountville’s Lincoln Theater. Both shows, which are expected to be about 90 minutes long, are sold out.
A talk-show host and comedian, Maher built a small but avid following with his TV show “Politically Incorrect” during the 1990s, first on Comedy Central and then on ABC.
Maher became Talk Show Enemy No. 1 when, just after the 9/11 attacks, he said Americans should think about why people would want to harm this country and agreed with a conservative pundit who said the terrorists weren’t cowardly.
“We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly,” Maher said. “Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”
Advertisers, including Sears and FedEx, pulled their ads from the show and many outraged people called for “Politically Incorrect” to be yanked off the air. It wasn’t, but when it came up for renewal the following year, ABC passed.
In 2003 Maher found a home on HBO, where his “Real Time with Bill Maher” has flourished. He also appears in comedy specials for the network, such as this year’s “But I’m Not Wrong.”
The title neatly captures what some might call his arrogance. In “But I’m Not Wrong,” taped in front of an audience in Raleigh, N.C., Maher aims his laser wit at everyone from the rich to politicians.
Speaking to those wondering where President Obama’s birth certificate is, Maher quips: “I’ll show you Barack Obama’s birth certificate when you show me Sarah Palin’s high school diploma.”
Next he takes on the “Support Our Troops” crowd, a highwire act in Raleigh.
“We love the troops like Michael Vick loves dogs,” he barks. “You know how I’d feel supported if I were the troops? If Americans were clamoring to get me home from these pointless wars.”
An avowed bachelor, Maher says on BillMaher.com, “I’m the last of my guy friends to have never gotten married, and their wives — they don’t want them playing with me. I’m like the escaped slave; I bring news of freedom.”
Maher has earned 22 Emmy nominations but has yet to win one. In “Not Wrong” he saves some of his fiercest jabs for the Republicans: “It’s OK to have ideological differences, but the Republicans have become the anti-intellectual party.”
Noting that Obama filled stadiums during the 2008 presidential campaign, Maher says Republicans can fill stadiums, too: “They filled the Superdome after (Hurricane) Katrina.”
Michael Shapiro writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org