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Real Talk with Bill Maher

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The comedian talks about gays, religion, Palin, Chaz, and his one gay date.

by Blase DiStefano

Bill Maher (pronounced “mar”) is politically incorrect, politically astute, and funny to boot. During down time from his HBO series, Real Time with Bill Maher, the opinionated comedian, talk-show host, author, and commentator is roaming the country regaling us with humorous commentaries on everything from Palin to gay marriage. His Houston appearance is January 30 at Cullen Performance Hall (on the 29th, he’ll be in San Antonio at Laurie Auditorium).

Bill Maher
Bill Maher

Though Maher had been hovering around fame for some time, he became a household name as host of Politically Incorrect, which aired first on Comedy Central from 1993 to 1996, then on ABC from 1997 to 2002, when ABC canceled it, citing “falling ratings” (though many continue to believe it was because he had become too controversial). During its run, the show received 18 Emmy nominations, winning one. Since 2003, he has hosted Real Time with Bill Maher, a weekly show on HBO in which Maher treats his audience to a monologue, interviews, and a panel discussion on the week’s events, wrapping up the evening with the crowd-pleasing “New Rules” segment.

The combination of cable and controversy make this a perfect fit for the man who said on Real Time in 2004: “. . . When people talk about homosexuality being unnatural, an abomination, they’re not talking about the women. No, no, they’re talking about the men. Nobody seems to find anything so abominable about Britney Spears tonguing Madonna. Or Gina Gershon in bed with Jennifer Tilly. Or anything else on the third shelf of my ‘library.’ No, in America, when a man puts something in another man, it had better be a bullet. So, isn’t it time both sides compromised a little on this issue? The statistics tell us that anywhere from 2–10 percent of people in America are gay . . . although it seems higher at my bathhouse. So, look, conservatives, I know you’re sincere. I know you think you’re doing God’s work. But in a hundred years, people traveling by jet pack to Mars are not going to be tripping on gay marriage. The whole issue is just going to be a joke. On you. So, my advice is simple: they’re here, they’re queer, get bored with it.”

He’s here, not queer, but you won’t get bored with him.

Blase DiStefano: Hey Bill, are you doing a lot of interviews today?
Bill Maher: I am. I’ve been talking to Joe Scarborough [host of Morning Joe on MSNBC].

How was that?
You know, Joe and I get along very good. This was for Newsweek, and I’m sure I said something that will make somebody mad.

Well, that’s sort of the idea.
Yeah.

You know you’re going to be here in Houston at the end of January, and by that time we’ll probably have a lesbian mayor.
Really?! Barbara Bush?

[Laughs] No. It’s Annise Parker. And the person running against her is a black man. [This interview took place before the election, in early December 2009.] So Houston is going to have a lesbian or a black man as its mayor. That’s pretty good.
Yeah. I mean that’s really good, because Houston is still in Texas, right? … No. I always loved Houston. I always had a great time there. It is one of the funnest cities to go to. Maybe you don’t want to talk politics with everybody there, but as far as just being friendly and having a good time and having fun … it was not hard to find a party after the show.

Okay, so do you remember how or when you learned about gay people, you know, that they even exist?
Wow, that’s a great question. Let me think about that. Like the first time I was aware. [Long pause] Gosh, for me, it must have happened in prison. … No, I’m joking. But, you know, I always say that I had like the last Leave It to Beaver upbringing in America. I grew up in a little, all-white, bedroom community called River Vale, New Jersey, a suburb of New York in the 1960s.

I don’t remember it being something that kids teased each other with. By the time we got to high school, I’m sure it was out there, but I don’t even remember any kid in high school who we sort of singled out or said was gay or … certainly no one was admitting they were gay. This is the early 1970s. So, um … You know [laughing], the first clear memory I have is when I was a young comedian living in New York, about 22 years old, and I did a set at one of the comedy clubs.

There was probably 20 people in the audience, and afterwards, some guy came over to me at the bar and was telling me he liked the set. I had no gaydar at all. I’m just talking to this guy, and said, “Well, I gotta go to another comedy club and do another set,” and he said, “I’d like to come along.” And I said sure. He watched me do another set, and then we’re having a bite to eat, and about three hours into it, it occurred to me, “Oh, f–k, I’m on a date!” [Both laugh]

Well, at least you didn’t bash him.
No, I didn’t bash him, but it’s funny the way he—I guess because I was so dense and I wasn’t getting it—the way he … I remember that he started to say things about Oh, those homos, and he kind of started to bash them, and I was like, Well, whatever dude, I have no problem with them. Then I realized, “Oh, I get it. I get it. I get it now.” Apparently I am as dumb as I look.

[Laughing] Have you ever been on dates with any other men that you know of?
No, that was it. That was it. After that, I got a little gaydar.

How did you form your forward-thinking opinions on gay people, gay marriage, etc.?
You know, it’s not hard. You just want to be a sentient, decent human being. My parents taught me to do that when I was 10. I don’t think they were explicit about homosexuality. I did have excellent parents who had a strong moral backbone, and they did teach me that all people should be treated as equals and one is as good as the next and everybody should be able to enjoy the same rights, and it wasn’t just something that they should just teach in civics class, except they don’t even teach civics any more.

Were you taught catechism?
I went to Catholic catechism on Sundays.

I had catechism five days a week.
Oh, that really sucks.

Yeah, it really did. And I thought it was real. Did you ever think it was real?
I was so scared by it, I didn’t question it. They get hold of you when you’re five years old or something and really scare you. They really made it seem like God could see into your thoughts. That’s a very scary concept for a little child that even the inside of your mind is not private and there’s this loving God … ha ha … who could send you to an eternal inferno if he wants to.

I remember thinking I was going to hell.
I remember trying to control my thoughts, and, of course, it’s like saying, “Don’t think about elephants”—you say that to somebody and, of course, you’re going to think about them. I think I spent countless hours when I was younger making myself tense and nervous and stressed out about whatever impure thoughts—a big thing with them was impure thoughts.

I remember going to confession and confessing my impure thoughts…
Right. I mean, come on, without impure thoughts, what is life?

[Laughs] I hope you realize how difficult it is for your fans to not have you discussing current events…
That’s what I’m going to do when I get there in January…

But that’s a long wait. That’s another two months.
It will be worth the wait. I promise. I will be talking for 90 minutes to two hours.

Make it two hours.
Okay.

How about commenting on a couple of things here. The White House party crashers.
[Laughs] I really chuckled when that happened because … I don’t throw that many parties anymore, but I used to throw pretty good parties, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot stop some asshole or two from getting in who doesn’t belong there. And very often the next day or the next week when people are calling you and telling you, “Oh boy, that was a great party. Thanks so much for inviting me. But who was that one guy? He was hitting on all the girls and he was drunk and he spilled over the punch bowl.” Yeah, right, who was that asshole? How did he get in? It made me think, Wow, even The White House is the same as all of us.

[Laughs] Adam Lambert and The American Music Awards performance [on ABC].
I didn’t see it, but come on, it’s only rock ’n’ roll.

And you heard about ABC canceling his upcoming appearances [on Good Morning America, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve].
Yeah. You know, this is something I really don’t like about America, which is how thin-skinned we are. You know what? If there’s something you don’t like, get on with your life. People have too much spare time. Anything happens or anybody says anything—believe me, I’ve been on the other end of this many, many times—when somebody does something or says something in public that other people don’t like—just as people used to do when they were a little more stable—just say, “Oh, wow, that was bogus” or “That was wrong” or “But that’s not appropriate” and just turn the page, change the channel, or move on in conversation. [Instead] they stop and make an issue out of it and make the person go away or fire them or make sure they never get on the air again. Whatever! Get a life and move on!

That’s basically what Adam Lambert said—“I’m homosexual. Deal with it.”
Good. Well, maybe I’m a homosexual then. [Both laugh] I gotta go in a minute, so…

Oh no! We just got started. Shit! Okay, let’s see … quickly then … Sarah Palin in 2012.
Well, uh, if I had to choose between the world coming to an end in 2012 or Sarah Palin being president, I’ll choose the world coming to an end.

[Laughs] Next, Chaz Bono.
I think Chaz Bono looks great, actually. I think that’s a case where somebody was born with the wrong gender.

Yeah. It feels real, doesn’t it?
And it looks real. He looks like the person who I think he was always supposed to be.
One thing … I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m not a very religious person.

Oh no. Really?
[Both laugh] One thing that I always like to remind religious people of—those who want us to teach intelligent design in the schools—is that design is so often anything but intelligent. There’s just so many mistakes. One of the charities I give to now, since I made Religulous, because I think it is such a f–k you to the Creationists, is Smile Train.  These kids were born with a cleft lip. Have you seen those kids?

Yeah.
You know, it’s just awful. It’s like what sort of a loving God would create somebody with that problem?

Well, I’d love to get into that with you, but apparently I’m not going to be able to.
We’ll do it again.

Okay, I appreciate your time.
My pleasure. It was fun.

Bill Maher appears at Cullen Performance Hall, 4800 Calhoun, on Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets ($59.50–$91.50) available at Ticketmaster (ticketmaster.com). Real Time with Bill Maher returns to HBO in February.

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Blase DiStefano

Blase DiStefano is the Creative Director/Entertainment Editor for OutSmart Magazine.
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