On March 28 the comedian ended his current show “Real Time” by asking, “What is the point of attacking someone who is 95 percent on your side?” Much more at the political helm, “Real Time” has an edge to it not seen on Maher’s earlier political talk show, one that cannot be so easily slotted into one party line. “I wish I had had the balls to quit ‘Politically Incorrect’ before I got fired,” says Maher. “But the fact is I got fired, and actually it turned out well with a much better show.” On “Real Time” the issues are weighty, and the implications of his conversations guarantee him aggressive media coverage.
Maher, who performs at the Kiva Auditorium (401 Second Street NW) on Saturday, May 2, grew up in New York with an Irish father and a Hungarian mother. “I was lucky as a kid,” he says. “Some kids don’t know what they want to do. I was like 8 years old and I knew I wanted to be a comedian.” He owes most of his comedy sensibilities to his father, whom Maher describes as “a funny, witty guy with his friends, and a good living-room comedian.” It wasn’t until high school that Maher would first grace the stage. “They were putting on a talent show and they needed an emcee, and my English teacher suggested me,” says Maher. “That was the first time I was on stage, and I got laughs, and I was hooked like an addict. It’s never as good [as] the first time, and I’ve been chasing that ever since.”
“I remember one time I was sitting and practicing for my First Holy Communion, and the nun yelled out, ‘The boy slumping in the chair is going to hell.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Slumping? Really? I’ll never please them.’”
His inherent skepticism has served him well as a comedian, TV personality and political commenter who consistently pushes the limits. “Political correctness is the elevation of hypersensitivity over the truth,” says Maher. “It is to be so concerned that someone somewhere might have the slightest offense that you lose all reason. And it is running amok and making the far left look like idiots.” His first show “Politically Incorrect” stemmed mostly from his desire to “vanquish political correctness,” says Maher, “and I’m sorry to say I did not. In the age of the internet, it’s gotten worse.” His goal to rid the world of political correctness is often the focus of criticism in the media, especially his views concerning Islam. “I have to remind people that I’m the liberal in this debate,” says Maher, “and that there are 10 Muslim countries in the world where you get the death penalty for being gay, and how as a liberal can you defend this just for the sake of ‘cultural relativism’?”
“Political correctness is the elevation of hypersensitivity over the truth. It is to be so concerned that someone somewhere might have the slightest offense that you lose all reason. And it is running amok and making the far left look like idiots.”
His views are conflicting at times. Maher says the US cannot go into the Middle East with force and change the region to Western ideals because “we worship different gods. They worship Allah, and we worship money.” But he sees the far left’s most recent pushback on his views of Islam as mostly empty, PC rhetoric. Since last October, when Ben Affleck criticized him by calling his views racist on “Real Time,” Maher’s assessment of Islam has once again gained him intense media coverage. “I’ve been saying this since I’ve been on television,” says Maher, “it just didn’t get as much attention until a big star was on the show.” It’s the specific critique of his beliefs as “racist” that he takes issue with. “They think every time you criticize Muslims you’re criticizing minority brown people, and that’s just ridiculous,” says Maher, “because Islam isn’t a race, it’s a religion.” Despite the most recent controversy, Maher says, “It’s been very gratifying that since the media has been paying more attention, this issue got so much more oxygen.”
Each “Real Time” ends with a final segment called “New Rules.” That segment on March 28 was on the recent ban of a production of the Vagina Monologues at Mount Holyoke College because it is, as Maher puts it, “offensive to transgender women who don’t have a vagina.” In response to this ban, Maher thinks, “If that [play] is not liberal enough for you, I don’t know what to tell you.”
First with “Politically Incorrect,” and now with “Real Time,” over the past 22 years Maher has made a TV career out of critiquing most of the political spectrum—from the very far right to the very far left. “It really isn’t that different than what my stand-up always was. It’s just in your 20s, the audience looks at you and says, ‘You don’t have the gravitas.’ And of course I didn’t.”
“Real Time” began in 2003 in a post-9/11 world fractured by politics and fixated on divisive partisan language. Whether you agree with him or not, Maher is somewhere in the mix carving out a space where people can critique members of their own political party and, as he said in that segment of “New Rules,” give a big “Fuck you” to them.