Twenty-two years ago, Bill Maher melded comedy and politics to create a television show with a blunt purpose. So blunt that it was contained in the name: “Politically Incorrect.”
“I thought we were drowning in political correctness then,” Maher said, “and I tried to jab a stake through its heart.”
Maher failed. Not, in his mind, because ABC fired him from the show after he made a controversial comment in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Rather, Maher said in a recent telephone interview, “I failed miserably because political correctness, especially in the age of the Internet, got even worse.”
But Maher is still chipping away at it. He hosts an HBO show, “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and travels the country performing stand-up comedy. He stops in Buffalo on Saturday where he’ll bring his take on “meaty subjects — politics, religion and sex, drugs and rock ’n’ and roll” to Shea’s Performing Arts Center.
Question: With the primary politics running so heavy, are you constantly adding new material?
Answer: All the time. It’s one of the great pleasures of doing this type of material. If you’re a comedian like almost all of them who basically works on observational material that’s evergreen, gee, most of it’s picked over. There’s been a lot of observational comedy in the last 50 years. Just George Carlin alone has gotten to a lot of it. So you’re sitting there in the diner, looking at the ketchup bottle, thinking, “What’s funny about this?”
But me, I’m so lucky because just the Republican Party alone provides new material on a weekly basis. Every time you think the dumbest person in the party has come along, they top themselves. George Bush goes down, and a Miss Sarah Palin walks up. She goes away and there’s Ted Cruz. And then there’s Donald Trump. And then there’s this one and this one — Ben Carson. It just never ends. I’m having a ball out there and I think the audience is too.
Q: Has Donald Trump been a godsend for you?
A: A godsend for me but not for the country. I always say, what’s good for comedy is bad for America, and vice versa. And I don’t think he’s very good for America. But yes, you could not even have imagined somebody like that a year ago being this ahead in the race.
Q: What could the other candidates learn from Donald Trump?
A: Well I think the one thing about him that is refreshing – and I have to admit this, I even find it refreshing – is that he doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t back away. He says what he says, and even if it’s crazy, and even if it’s insulting, and even if it’s wrong, he stands by it. I think in a country that has been drowning in political correctness for the last 25 years, that is refreshing.
Here comes a guy who never says, “Oh, I misspoke.” Who never walks it back. Who never corrects himself. He just doubles down and says, “What? Are you kidding? Apology? You apologize to me!” It’s not really about the content. It’s about the tenor of the debate. On that level, I think people are more than amused. I think they’re delighted by that. I must say I’m kind of delighted by it myself.
Q: I’ve heard from so many comics that this country is becoming too tight, too politically correct. Should we all loosen up, or do you have to be a Donald Trump to get away with it?
A: I’ve gotten away with it. I was fired, that’s true – you can’t deny that. I was canned off ABC for speaking my mind and sticking to it. But luckily I wound up on a place where they don’t have sponsors, so sponsors cannot pull out of a HBO show. They don’t exist, so I’ve been able to stay here for the last 13 years and speak my mind, which I’m always thankful for. I think if people who want to speak their mind just do it, and stop being such babies about it, and stand by it and take the booing. It’s not going to kill you.
Q: How hard is it to take the boos?
A: I feel like I’ve been inoculated. Look, I’ll be honest with you: It’s never fun. We’re all thin-skinned to a degree, I think, in show business. People get into show business because they’re craving approval. They want to be liked. They want people to applaud. Why do we still do it? That’s why. Of course it would be better if everyone was always on your side and always agreed with you, but over time you realize it doesn’t kill you if they’re not. You can take it. It’s not the worst thing in the world. My mantra is: These are good problems. Whenever I start worrying about something, I think, “I’m not sick. I’m not dying. These are good problems.” And if that’s the worst problem I have, that’s OK.
Who: Bill Maher
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.
Tickets: $32 to $92
Info: sheas.org, Ticketmaster