Politically, Bill Maher appeals to roughly half the country. But he prefers to work a full room, whether it’s on his HBO talk show “Real Time With Bill Maher” or in live performance.
“I invite conflicting opinions on ‘Real Time,’ and it is one of the few shows that still do that,” said the famously left-leaning Maher, who performs Saturday and Sunday at Orleans Showroom (tickets start at $64.95 and can be purchased at the Orleans box office). “The truth is, lots of conservative people do watch the show because we have conservatives on. If you watch MSNBC, you almost never see a conservative.”
Maher’s live show is an extended version of his nightly monologues on “Real Time,” and, safe to say, not framed to appeal to anyone on the political right. He says he never changes anyone’s mind about political affiliation but for years has counted among his closest friends conservative commentator Ann Coulter. The two remain friends by not engaging in talk of politics.
The 56-year-old Maher talked by phone from Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, on the day of the second presidential debate. Highlights:
Johnny Kats: Social media has changed how political campaigns operate, and I’ve followed your live-tweeted through the debates.
Bill Maher: Well, I live alone, and that makes it easier. Just me and my dog, Chico. I bounce all of my thoughts off Chico (laughs). But it is a good thing to bring up because it has changed, certainly, the speed of reaction to events.
J.K.: It’s sort of like writing a review of a concert before the concert is over.
B.M.: Yeah, it used to be, in the debates, we would at least wait until the end of the debate to get anybody’s opinion, and the pundits would weigh in. But with Twitter, in the first debate, Obama was toast in social media after the first 10 minutes. By then, everyone was tweeting that he was taking it, that he had a look on his face like his wife just made him go a Katherine Heigl movie, and it was true. He did look pretty bad. But his epitaph was written well before the debate was over. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing, like writing a review of a movie 10 minutes after the opening credits have rolled.
J.K. In watching your show over the years, there has been this interesting tension between you and Ann Coulter. A difference of opinion, but a funny friendship that has survived the political differences.
B.M. There definitely is. She has been a friend for so long, and a lot of her conservative friends hate that she is friends with me, and my liberal friends absolutely hate that I even talk to her. But what we have in common is we don’t give a (crap) about what people think. What we have in common is we make our own audience, sometimes, boo us, and we are not afraid of boos. We’re not afraid to say what we think, to anybody, and that’s what I love about her. She’ll come on a show with a completely liberal audience and not flinch at all. We’ve known each other for so long — in fact, I am having dinner with her tonight, with Chelsea Handler and a few other people.
Ann is a really fun person. People think that we have some sort of romantic history. That, of course, is not true. I’ve never dated a Republican.
B.M. Yeah. I’ve dated every ethnicity, but certainly never a Republican (laughs). But we go back to the early 1990s, when she did "Politically Incorrect," and she’s a fun person to hang out with as long as you don’t get into obviously silly arguments. What’s the point? We know we’re never going to agree on some subjects.
J.K. I’m sure a lot of your liberal friends see her as a representative of a point-of-view you will never be able to change.
B.M. But that describes almost everybody. In the 20 years I’ve been doing this type of show, the number of people who have come up to me and said, “You know, you’ve really switched me from a Republican to a Democrat,” is a handful.
J.K. Do you at all want to influence the political process in any regard? Maybe not in changing a person’s political affiliation, but maybe in the way mass media covers races? A lot of your commentary has been about coverage of campaigns.
B.M. Well, sure, I’m hoping to change a lot (laughs), but I don’t believe anything will change, certainly not in that arena. What I would really like to see the media change is their approach to what many people have called false equivalency. CNN is a perfect example of it. They seem to start with the premise that both parties are both equally guilty of whatever we’re talking about, and then work backwards from there, instead of starting with, what is the truth? Can we start with the truth? Maybe one party is 80 percent guilty and one party is 20 percent guilty. Does everything have to be 50-50? But at CNN, they believe their bread and butter is the independent voter, who is neither a Fox viewer or MSNBC viewer, so they have to pretend everything is 50-50, and that’s not what the truth is.
J.K. Why do you think both sides are so firmly entrenched? With every election, there is a solid foundation for each party -- I hate to use the statistic 47 percent, but that’s about where it lands.
B.M. It is about 47. Very few states are contested. Nevada is a swing state, you see it there. You must be getting the commercials.
J.K.: Oh yeah. Las Vegas, Clark County, leads the league in political ads.
B.M. If you’re getting the ads, you’re a swing state. We here in California feel lucky that we’re not a swing state because we are spared all of those commercials. There are about nine states in America that basically have to take one for the team and bear the brunt of all that political advertising. The rest of us get to watch Flo the insurance lady.
But in the old days, there didn’t used to be Fox News or MSNBC, we had Walter Cronkite, and if he said he thought the Vietnam War was over, everyone sort of understood that he had the credibility to say that. Nowadays, you would never have a Walter Cronkite figure because everybody thinks the guy on their side is the one of authority over the guy on the other side.
J.K. There were no websites to seek just to reinforce your opinion, either.
B.M.: Yeah, we didn’t used to have the Internet, years ago, and so now we have websites and TV networks that speak only to the converted. People never have to go outside of their bubble. They never really have to listen to a conflicting opinion. They live within the ghetto of their own beliefs.