Bill Maher has run out of fucks to give. The battle-tested 58-year-old comedian doesn’t care about the opinion pieces that float about in the wake of, say, a controversial joke about domestic violence or his condensed thoughts about Islam in the wake of journalist James Foley’s beheading at the hands of ISIS. The pot-smoking, religion-bashing, “Superhead”-dating sultan of sarcasm’s been through it all before—namely, the cancellation of his late-night ABC talk show Politically Incorrect in the wake of comments he made about 9/11.
Since 2003, he’s been the host of the HBO talk show Real Time with Bill Maher, which offers frank panel discussions on current events in politics and media. The show’s received critical praise, and has been nominated for the Emmy every year from 2005 to 2013.
On Friday, Sept. 12, fans of the political satirist will be in for a special treat. First, there will be a live broadcast of Real Time with Bill Maher at 9 p.m. ET from Sidney Harman Hall in Washington D.C., featuring interview guests Jerry Seinfeld and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as panelists Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. After that, he’ll race a few blocks over to the Warner Theatre for a live standup special, Bill Maher: Live From D.C.
The Daily Beast caught up with Maher as he preps for his two-hour comedy block for a candid discussion about the current events of the day, from the celebrity nude hacking scandal to Ray Rice, and his comments about ISIS and Islam.
Where did you cook up the idea for a live showing of Real Time in Washington D.C., followed by a live televised standup special?
Well, it wasn’t my idea. And I can’t believe I actually agreed to it. [Laughs] That’s what I always do—I agree to things, and then the week comes around where I actually have to do it and I think, “What the fuck did I do this for?” But I’m stuck with it now, so I better pull it off.
Your old ABC show was titled Politically Incorrect, and it seems like, in this day and age, we’ve become very politically correct—especially when it comes to comedy. If someone, say, cracks a rape joke, the pitchforks will come out.
I totally agree with you. We did a rant at the end of our show about two months ago about the return of political correctness, and I was actually saying in it, “Please don’t make me go back to my old title, because I feel like I’m back in the ’90s where I have to rail against political correctness at all times now.” And it’s even worse now because in the ’90s we didn’t have the Internet, which has become a minefield for people to step into, and everyone on the Internet it seems is just laying in wait for someone to say the wrong thing, use the wrong word, or somehow step over the line the least little bit, and I just think it’s awful. I hated it in the ’90s, I hate it today, and the only difference now is I’ve been baptized in this fire so many times that I don’t give a fuck anymore when they come after me.
In fact, when they ask me for an apology, I always say, “You apologize! You apologize to me and the rest of this country for making this country a less interesting place to live in. You apologize for making us all watch what we say everywhere that we go, and with every word we speak—even in the privacy of our own homes, or in our own emails. You apologize for bleeding the texture out of this once great nation!”
You tweeted a joke recently that said, “Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who’s trying to kill u – u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.” You received quite a bit of backlash for it, and many opinion pieces were written about how domestic violence isn’t something you can joke about.
These are just people who live, like I say, to catch someone saying something that’s the least bit off-color, and again, I want an apology from them.
Comedy icon Joan Rivers recently passed away. Were you a big fan of hers, and did you have any memorable interactions with her?
Oh, I love Joan. From the time I was a kid watching her on TV, I was a big fan. And talk about politically incorrect! One of the great things about being 80 is that you don’t have to care anymore—you get a license when you’re old to be cranky, and Joan used that license to its fullest. Now, not that she wasn’t politically incorrect before, but the older she got, the more she just didn’t care. It was the same with George Carlin—the older he got, the more he was like, “What can you do to me? I’m old, so I’ve earned it, and I’m playing with the house money. So go ahead and get mad at me, I don’t give a shit!” I love that attitude, and that’s the right attitude for comedy. As far as working with her, she used to do Politically Incorrect, and we once did a really funny sketch with her on Real Time where I think one of the Arab countries was taking over some awards show, so we had Joan and Melissa talking about the outfits on the red carpet—which, of course, were all burqas. She was always game, and up for it—a great fan of comedy, a generous audience. I just think it’s obviously a shame. Nobody can live forever, but she didn’t have to go in that moment because I don’t think she was slowing down. She was booked to work the next day, for crying out loud!
Coincidentally, that celebrity nude hacking scandal happened at around the same time that she was in the hospital, and I kept thinking how I wanted to hear what Joan thought of all this.
Absolutely. She will be missed.
What’s your take on the celebrity nude hacking thing? Is this a big worry of yours, as well—that you’ll be hacked?
It is not. I’ve never written anything in an email that’s terribly private—certainly not a text. I don’t feel like I have anything to hide. I’m not married, I’m not gay… I don’t know what they can find about me. I smoke pot and I’m a bachelor—I think people know this. But I think it’s very reflective of the culture that Edward Snowden has been revealing for the last year the most egregious violations of privacy. Not really a big thing with people. But Jennifer Lawrence’s nipple gets exposed, and suddenly there’s a national dialogue about this. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither,” and I thought that was a wonderful quote for the 18th century, but there are nuclear weapons now so you’re an idiot if you wouldn’t give up some of your liberty for security. So, I will. I’d give up some of my liberty for security—certainly not all of it, and not fundamental liberties, but if that’s what it takes to keep an eye on the people who would like to smuggle a suitcase nuke into the Port of Long Beach, well, sorry, J. Law, we’re going to have to look at your nipples.
Another item in the news is the controversy over Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice, and it’s being reported that the NFL knew about the security footage of him decking his then-girlfriend and knocking her unconscious, before dragging her out of the elevator. He’s been cut by his team and “suspended indefinitely” by the NFL, but the whole incident was handled very poorly, to say the least.
The NFL did handle it horribly. Now, I don’t know what “suspended indefinitely” means. What I think should happen is you should go to jail when you commit assault, which we can plainly see he did. I’m also a fan of double standards in certain situations, and I think there should be a double standard when it comes to hitting a woman vs. hitting a man, and that if you hit a woman, you should go to jail. But after you go to jail, I think that’s it. That’s how we work in this country. You do your time, and when you get out of jail, you should be able to vote and resume your career. It shouldn’t be that one mistake, as horrible as it is, should be the end of your livelihood—unless that mistake is murder or something, in which case you might go to jail for life. That, to me, would be the appropriate punishment: Go to jail, and when you get out of jail, you can play football again.
You fired off a tweet about ISIS recently that got you some flak. It said, “Isis—“one of thousands of Islamic militant groups” (NYTimes) beheads another. But by all means lets keep pretending all religions are alike.” What were you trying to say about Islam?
I did Charlie Rose the other day—I’m not sure when that airs—and he asked me the same question, and we must have talked about it for 20 minutes. But this is something I’ve talked about a lot, and I’m not going to be able to give it the attention it deserves in the little time I have here now. I’m not fond of any religions, but if this were the 14th century when the Catholic Inquisition was going on and they were burning witches, I would be criticizing Christianity as the religion that was way too violent and took itself way too seriously. But this is not the 14th century, and it’s not the 16th century when Catholics and Protestants were slaughtering each other the same way Sunnis and Shiites are now. It’s the 21st century, and in the 21st century, the problem is more about Islam than it is about any other religion.