Don’t lump Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time, together with those other comedians who host politically oriented TV comedy shows - Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Dennis Miller ….
Maher, who will be doing stand-up Saturday night at Little Rock’s Robinson Center Music Hall, admits there’s a perceptible, though superficial, resemblance, but only for folks who don’t know the genre.
“Is my show like other shows that do political humor? Well, [it’s] more like those shows than Dancing With the Stars,” he says. “But I think for people who are within the community that enjoy political humor, they see a big difference. I mean I hope they do.
“The one thing that anyone with a show wants to do is to be unique, to stand out and feel like [he’s] giving the audience something that they can’t get anywhere else. Certainly that’s what your mission statement is on HBO. If you don’t do that on HBO,you’re really not doing what they’re paying you to do.”
Maher, who previously hosted Politically Incorrect on Comedy Central and ABC (1993-2002), says the chief difference between him and, say, Stewart, whose Daily Show airs on Comedy Central, is, “He’s never been an iconoclast, and I think he would agree with that. He’s a clever, funny guy, but I feel like I can pretty much predict what his point of view will be on any given issue.
“And I’ve always been more contrarian on many issues. I do sometimes incur the wrath of my own liberal audience, after all. They just don’t agree sometimes with some things I say. And that’s OK, actually; I don’t want to be predictable, and I want to be true to what I believe, and it’s not always the same thing as what liberals believe.”
Maher spends his weekdays on the air, but he spends his weekends onstage, and not just in major cities.
“I’m always on a concert tour,” he says. “My concert tours only last a weekend, but I keep coming back.”
It’s not uncommon for former club comics who have gone on to big on-air success to still indulge in performing in front of live audiences.
“I don’t know how long a line it is, but definitely Jay Leno does it. Jay Leno does it every day,” Maher says. “Johnny Carson did it for a while in Las Vegas. David Letterman has never done it.”
What the attraction? “It’s just so much fun,” he says.
“People often ask about the pain of stand-up: ‘It must be so hard.’ Well, that’s true, but only at the beginning. The beginning is so awful and so painful that it’s almost crazy not to enjoy when it gets good. Because you’ve paid your dues, you went to the small clubs, you were in front of three drunks at 2 in the morning when you weren’t very funny - and they let you know about it.
“Bob Hope once said there are three elements to comedy, timing, material and recognition, and you don’t get the last one until you’ve been in this game at least 20 years.
“That makes it so much better. You start out and you’re just generic comedy; people don’t know what kind of comedian you are when they’re going to comedy clubs; they’re just going to see comedy. You would never do that with music. If somebody said, ‘Hey, you want to go see music tonight?’ you’d say, ‘What kind? I’m not a fan of jazz or country or rap, I want to see the kind of music I like.’ So it’s great when people come to see you, who you are, they know the kind of material you do.”
And, he says, it helps him keep in touch with what’s happening on the ground.
“If I’m going to be doing a show talking about America, I really feel like I should be seeing America. I see a lot more of it than some commentators, because when you travel, you talk to a lot of people - you talk to the kid who picks you up from the airport, you talk to people in the hotel bar, yadda yadda. And you feel like you’re a little more connected.
“So when the Tea Party says, ‘I want my country back,’I always want to say to them, ‘Do you really know what the country is? Because I do. And it hasn’t gone anywhere.’”
Like his TV show, most of what Maher will be doing in his stand-up act will have political overtones.
“People who watch Real Time would be familiar with the kind of subjects I’m interested in, which are mostly political, although I do think sex can be political; lots of subjects - drugs, rock ’n’ roll, they can often be political,” he says. “That’s mostly what I’m interested in.
“I have never been a comedian who’s been interested in trivial matters. Some comedians, like Jerry Seinfeld, are brilliant at making trivia seem interesting and important, but I never was interested in that.
“The difference with the stand-up act is that, unlike a talk show, it’s not a hybrid of serious and comedy, it’s just comedy. It’s the funniest stuff that you can say to people over a couple of hours, to really make them bust a gut. And I never lose sight of the fact that that’s why they came and that’s what they deserve.”
Bill Maher 8 p.m. Saturday, Robinson Center Music Hall, West Markham Street and Broadway, Little Rock Tickets: $48-$73 (plus handling charges) (800) 745-3000 ticketmaster.com
Weekend, Pages 32 on 09/12/2013
Print Headline: Maher brings his brand of political humor to LR