Bill Maher has hung onto his job hosting HBO talk show “Real Time” for 10 years now, despite his penchant for politically incorrect comments that would require most public figures to turn their publicists into human shields.
But he knows that at some point, his bosses at HBO could tap him on the shoulder and put him out to pasture.
So he continues to hit the road with his smug, snarky brand of political comedy: This winter, his weekly schedule typically has included the hour-long show aired live on Fridays from a studio in Los Angeles, followed by Saturday and Sunday shows in various U.S. cities. This Sunday night, he performs at Charlotte’s Belk Theater.
Maher, 57, spoke to the Observer recently about Donald Trump, who is suing Maher for $5 million over a joke he made about Trump being descended from an orangutan; President Barack Obama, who Maher calls “Django Unchained”; and the real “Django Unchained” – a movie he found almost as disturbing as Trump.
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Q. What’s the best thing about being a political comedian?
I’m always being given a fresh batch of fun material to work with. I feel sorry for these observational comedians who sit there at a diner looking at the ketchup bottle, thinking, “----, I’ve gotta come up with a joke about this. What is funny about a ketchup bottle?” And then you finally come up with something and they tell you, “Oh no, George Carlin observed that in 1974.” But especially with these Republicans, I’ve got funny stuff every week.
Q. And with Trump, right?
Trump! Everywhere I go now, that’s the first thing the crowd yells out: “Trump!”
Q. So have you been fretting about his lawsuit against you?
Oh my God, when this thing goes to the Supreme Court, let me tell you. Ahh, no, I don’t know what to tell you about this man. Like I told Conan (O’Brien) last week, it’s as if they made Lenny from “Of Mice and Men” a billionaire. It’s insane. I don’t think he’s even a person. It’s like some sort of ’80s pop reference that I’m having a feud with. It’s like J.R. Ewing and I are fighting.
Q. Earlier this month, you made headlines after airing an editorial on “Real Time” that skewered the pope’s resignation and Catholics in general. Why do you think people get so fired up about religion?
Because for so many people, it’s what they cling to. It’s, yes, frightening when the light goes out at night to think that you may not wake up and if you don’t you’re just worm food, but come on. It’s attached to too much bull----.
The point we were trying to make in that editorial was that Catholics don’t really follow anything the pope says anyway. Ninety-eight percent of Catholics use birth control – that’s quite a blowing-off of church doctrine. They masturbate and they divorce and they have premarital sex. OK, so if you’re not really following what the pope and the church says anyway, and the church has been shown to be a safe haven for child molesters, what are you sticking around for? If he quits, you can quit.
Q. Your thoughts on Obama at the beginning of his second term?
I keep calling him “Django Unchained” for the second term – and the Republicans are really coming across to the American public as sulking, pissed off, reacting out of personal grudge as opposed to what’s best for the country. We’ll see. I think Obama had a very important lesson to learn in the first term, which is that yeah, it was right to reach out to people. But all he got was the back of their hand and “Go back to Kenya, you ------- Socialist.” So it just seems like he’s taking a different tack now, which is basically to take it to the people and embarrass the Republicans into doing something.
Q. Lastly, since it’s Oscar week, let’s talk movies. Did you see “Argo” (which won best picture Sunday)?
Loved it. Great entertainment.
Q. How about “Lincoln”?
Loved “Lincoln.” I saw that and then I saw “Django Unchained” about a week later. (They’re both) about slavery and that whole era. I had real problems with (“Django”). That scene where they can’t see out of their klansmen outfits is right out of “Blazing Saddles.” To go from a scene where Kerry Washington is whipped to that scene, I just couldn’t make that adjustment.
Q. I’m particularly curious, since it has religious themes – did you see “Life of Pi”?
No, I have not seen “Life of Pi.” I have stayed away on purpose. I like Ang Lee a lot and I think he’s a great director, but I know people who’ve seen it and they’ve told me, “Bill, you’re probably not gonna want to go see this one.”