WILKES-BARRE — Though increasingly known for his cutting political commentary, controversial television talk show host Bill Maher says he is a comedian first and stand-up is his passion.
“I want people to come to the show and laugh their (behinds) off,” Maher said in a telephone interview from California about an upcoming appearance here. “The point is to make people laugh. I want them to leave the theater and say, ‘that was the funniest damn show I ever saw.’”
Maher will return to the stage at the F.M. Kirby Center on July 27, and a sell-out crowd is expected.
Maher, host of “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO and the former host of “Politically Incorrect,” said he won’t have any specific message — other than his trademark terse political commentary — and that he will be funny.
“That’s what a stand-up comic should always be first — funny,” Maher said.
Maher’s HBO show, “Real Time With Bill Maher,” has been nominated for an Emmy in the Variety Series category.
Maher, 58, was born in New York City. His “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” premiered on Comedy Central in 1993, moved to ABC in January 1997 and was canceled in 2002 after Maher made some controversial comments about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The program featured a panel discussion about terrorism, and Maher took exception to President George W. Bush calling the terrorists cowards. He said U.S. military bombing other countries was “cowardly,” adding that the 9/11 terrorists stayed in the airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Maher returned to television in 2003, hosting “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Maher said he likes to talk about what’s going on in the country. He said presenting issues in a comedic way is the best way to convey a message that will stay with the audience. He said he looks forward to returning to Wilkes-Barre, a city and region he called “very liberal.”
Will Beekman, managing director at the Kirby Center, said he expects Maher’s appearance to be “a laugh out loud” experience.
“He sells out venues like ours all across the country, and we’ll have a packed house, too,” Beekman said of Maher’s upcoming show. “Nothing is off limits. He’s called ‘America’s equal opportunity offender’ for a reason. I’m sure he’ll have a lot of people in his cross-hairs.”
Aiming at Barletta
One of those Maher may have in his sights is U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, who has been at the forefront of nationwide debate with his opposition to illegal immigrants entering the country.
Of Barletta, Maher said in a Times Leader interview last week: “I guess he has been deflecting Wilkes-Barre from the onslaught of these refugee children.”
Watch for more on that at the show.
Maher said the U.S. needs to straighten out what is going on in the country at the electoral level. He said the people don’t really have a voice anymore, due to unlimited money pumped into campaigns by special interest groups and mega-wealthy donors.
He said too many politicians cheat to win, and often prevent people from voting.
Maher was critical of redistricting, which, as he says, has resulted in more Democrats voting in elections than Republicans, yet Republicans win — thus the U.S. House of Representatives is GOP-controlled.
“If Obama had a Congress that represented the people, we would see some change take place,” Maher said.
But with GOP success in Congress, the Republicans can’t win the White House, he said. And with that comes the gridlock we see in Washington.
“The Republicans stomp their feet and make sure the guy in the White House won’t get anything done,” he said. “Even if there is an issue they supported in the past that is now proposed by Obama, they oppose it.”
As far as the next presidential election, Maher said U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky would be the best option.
“He could excite voters,” Maher said. “That libertarian message may have finally reached its day. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, there could be a generational battle. She could look like a tired old warhorse. Paul could steal a lot of votes.”
Maher, an atheist, also said faith leads to skewed thinking.
“I have a problem with trying to solve problems from position of unreality,” he said. “Like global warming. Too many people believe that God promised Noah he would never try to wipe out the world again. No national policy should be based on the belief that Noah owed God a favor.”
Maher said he got his sense of humor and the knack for making people laugh from his father, William, Sr., whom he called a great living room comedian.
“My father was very funny around his friends,” Maher said. “He was a news guy too, always listening to the radio. I guess that’s where I got my interest in news and being funny about it.”
Maher said his career has grown from the days of comedy clubs to filling theaters. He said humor is the best way to get at the truth.
Maher on media
Maher said he respects the intrepid reporters who cover the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“My hat’s off to them,” he said. “But TV news here in America makes me throw up.”
He said when he was growing up, the national news was filled with news stories. Today, he said, you may get one segment of hard news.
“Then they go right to some bull about menopause, or a dog — news you could lose. We need more news for people to chew on.”
And through it all, Maher said he still looks forward to reading newspapers.
“A newspaper is still where you get the most news,” he said.