Forget Barack Obama and Donald Trump, Bill Maher is America’s most politically polarizing living figure. Whether you like him or not, Maher is one of those people you see on TV and go, “I wish I could talk to that guy, just for 15 minutes.” Not because of aligned political ideals, or because of simple celebrity, but rather, because Bill Maher is informed, convicted and unafraid to talk about his beliefs. I got my 15 minutes, thanks to Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine, and those minutes were enthralling. To be honest, I could barely keep up.
Say what you want about Mr. Maher, but you have to hand it to him: the guy is an entertainer — always on and ready to talk. Speaking of that, Warning: Explicit language!
Between Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO’s Vice, and a national stand-up tour, I’m curious: Are you so busy that you have to stop through Spokane just to pick up some legal weed?
[Laughs] Believe it or not, it’s actually legal where I live in Los Angeles. See, I have a medical marijuana card to treat my infirmity. I don’t remember what that infirmity was, but I do know that marijuana is very helpful in treating it.
Being an outspoken proponent for drug legalization, do you see Washington and Colorado as the first dominoes to fall?
We’re hopeful of that. There are some unfortunate rearguard people. Chris Christie is very much against any sort of legalized marijuana. Because, you know, he’s very disciplined about what he puts in his mouth. [Drug legalization proponents] have waited. Obama fixed the economy, healthcare, gay marriage, he opened up Cuba, he made a climate deal with China, and a nuclear deal with Iran. I’m hopeful his last thing out the door will be … Weed! “Weed, bitches!”
Turning to the 2016 presidential race, it seems like both a comedian’s goldmine and low hanging fruit. How do you maintain a balance when writing?
I never try to do something that other people are doing. Obviously you have to cover similar subjects — you can’t avoid Donald Trump. But I do try to find the angle that is unique. I always say, “What’s good for America is usually bad for comedy” and vice versa. And that’s definitely true this election season. Donald Trump is fantastic for comedy, terrible for America.
So should Trump’s slogan then be, “Make America Comedy Great Again”?
He’s doing his part, I’ll tell you that. Look, it’s early. The great thing about worrying about Donald Trump is that nothing he says will ever come to pass. We will not be building a 2000 mile wall with a door in it [laughs]. We will not be deporting 30 million people and their entire families. This is just typical of Republicans living in their heads.
This article won’t come out until October, it’s August now. Will Donald Trump still be in the race then? If so, predict what crazy thing he’ll have just said.
Well, he’ll definitely be in the race. I’ve been saying it for years — when everyone else said Trump wasn’t serious about running for president — that I thought he was serious. You have to remember he did sue me two years ago, something I had to defend in court and spend a lot of money on. I’m pretty well acquainted with Donald Trump and his ego.
As far as what crazy thing he’s going to say? That’s a great question. Because it almost doesn’t matter. There’s nothing he says at this point that puts him out of the running.
Characticures aside, what do you see as the real strength of the Republican party? What threat, if any, do they pose on the Democrats in 2016?
Their real strength is that the people are uneducated. They go by their gut and don’t know any of the issues. If you don’t know anything, then it’s easy for a politician to say something like, “ISIS? I’ll take them out!” What does that even mean? You’re going to drop a bomb? They’re just going to give up because you’re Ted Cruz and you’re a chicken hawk with a law degree?
Recently you said, “If you’re not upsetting people, you’re not being brave.” What person, public or private, instilled this belief in you?
Probably George Carlin. He was really inspiring as a comedian. George, especially, the older he got, the more he just did not give a fuck. That’s the most important thing, I think, when you’re doing standup comedy. You just have to not care about what anyone in the audience thinks. If you’re a real artist and you want to be a true to yourself, you cannot pander.
Carlin would’ve been great on Twitter.
You’re right. Can you imagine? He would’ve been a fucking Twitter demon.
Tis the season for longstanding hosts to retire from late night talk shows. For whenever you do retire, have you ever considered a successor for Real Time with Bill Maher?
I never really gave it any thought. It’s not an experience that anyone in TV has remotely had. This person would have to start with a comedy monologue, and then move right to a serious newsmaker interview, then go to a panel, then do a comedy bit, then back to the panel, a celebrity one-on-one interview, then New Rules to the end of the show. All live and without a break. There’s no re-racking your brain, editing or starting over. Anyone who wants to try it can, but I’m telling you: you’re gonna have to practice!
Originally appeared in Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine, October, 2015.