Real Time with Bill Maher

This thread has a side conversation going on about Bill Maher’s show in general, and I thought it would be worth broadening that conversation into a topic of its own.

Personally, I really enjoy the show. I never watch it (don’t have HBO) but I listen to the podcast version, which is literally just the audio track from the regular show. I’m actually surprised that HBO gives it away for free because I seldom feel like I’m missing anything by not having the visual.

Some thoughts: Maher is not a great comedian (I’d have little interest in seeing his standup), but I think he’s a fair-minded and interesting host. He usually gets together a good panel of people with diverse opinions and makes sure they all get a chance to talk. He seems sincerely grateful to have people with differing perspectives come on. The topics of discussion are usually interesting. He lets his guests speak - too often, actually, they won’t shut up. He’s not afraid to be contrarian himself. (Speaking of which, several posters on the other thread mentioned that they won’t have anything to do with him once they’d heard he’s anti-vacc. Frankly I’d completely forgotten about that. It was a blip that came up in a few episodes a year or two back, and he was not “anti-vacc” so much as cautiously skeptical. It’s hardly a mainstay of the show, unlike, say, his opposition to religion or his support of legalized marijuana.)

On the negative side when Maher himself gets to speak (again, most of the conversation is between his guests) he can be too strident and snide for my tastes. I’m an atheist myself, but geez - not everyone who believes in religion is a drooling idiot. Also, you can’t brush off any and all Republican opposition to President Obama as them not wanting to support “President Blackenstein”, as he’s ever eager to assert.

Still, though, I find the show an enjoyable chance to hear a clamor of opinions on what’s in the news. Thoughts?

You brought up my problems with the guy, he’s just so snide and caustic that he wears on my nerves even when I agree with him. For instance, the religion thing. I too am an atheist but shut the fuck up already about it. Years ago I would tune him in because I enjoyed the discussion to some degree, but I just can’t take him anymore.

Maher is a polarizing figure and I suspect some will try to take this thread in a direction in which my only response can be “haters gotta hate”. But personally I never miss his show and really enjoy his sarcastic biting wit – the fact that sometimes it’s over the top just makes it funnier. I get why those with opposing points of view can get riled up. But gentle persuasion of those with differing viewpoints is neither his purpose nor his style – his style is what he’d regard as a merciless all-out assault on idiocy.

It’s really not hard to define why his show is well worth watching except for staunchly ideological right-wingers – I listed some of his past guests here – his guest interviewees and panelists are generally accomplished, intelligent, articulate people representing views across the political spectrum. It’s informative and sometimes hilariously funny at the same time – what’s not to like? As I mentioned before, there’s a reason that Real Time has been nominated for a Prime Time Emmy almost every single year in its 14-year run so far.

I most often don’t disagree with him. He’s just kind of an annoying dick.

Some people just don’t like his style of humor, and that’s fine. Personally I do, and I go into humor withdrawal when his show is on one of its holiday breaks! :smiley:

The common criticism I hear about Maher is that he’s “arrogant and smug”. Folks, the subtitle of his second New Rules book is “Why everybody but me has their head up their ass” – it would take a pretty dry and humorless person to think that this is his serious persona! This is his whole schtick – so again, it comes down to liking his style or not. One might have said the same thing about the great George Carlin, whose basic schtick was to punctuate every observation with a bunch of f-words and whose basic humor setup was that everyone in the world was an idiot. Not everyone’s cup of tea, either.

Seinfeld summed up Maher perfectly: “he just doesn’t care”. In the good natured sense of not being obsessed with what people think of him. Rather admirable, actually. In the informal and offbeat Comedians in Cars series, Maher was one of the more congenial and entertaining guests. One of the few who let the privacy of his own home be invaded.

Here is my beef with Maher.

He will take a given situation and will make it into a joke. Which is fine.

But I get the impression that HE THINKS that actually proves something.

I could probably come up with some funny joke that ends up with Obama saying “don’t ask me…I’m fron Kenya!”. Might even be funny as hell. Has fuck all to do with Obama ACTUALLY being from Kenya (or not obviously).

Agreed and agreed. It’s one of my favorite shows. It falls flat once in awhile (maybe 1 out of 10 episodes), but when it’s good, it’s great. I rarely laugh as hard as I do watching him.

He’s a bit of a vaccine nutter, but not as bad as most of that stripe.

I hate his standup, but I enjoy the rest of the show. I agree he can be obnoxious about religious people. But given the enormous amount of religious hypocrisy in our country, and the fact that atheism is still a huge obstacle for anyone running for public office, I don’t blame him for harping on the subject.

Maher recently started a petition to get President Obama on the show before his term ends. He’s never been on, which is strange considering he’s been on just about every other show. I wonder if it’s something personal. With a few exceptions, Maher has good things to say about his presidency.

He was better on Politically Incorrect, which should have never been cancelled. I haven’t watched as much of Real Time, but he seems more…cynical/rude/caustic. I’m not sure what adjective to use, but he’s different.

His show would be GREAT if it had 100% less Bill Maher.

Lots of intelligent, interesting people discussing important issues with a rude jester periodically interjecting himself.

Yeah I enjoyed Politically Incorrect more too. I can’t be sure if it’s because he changed or I did, tbh. I’ll never forget the bit that apparently got him fired “Call them what you like, but the 9/11 hijackers weren’t cowards”. It was a fair point and pretty gutsy to say - I have a hard time believing he delivered that one solely for shock value.

And you’ve just shown why it the comedy excuse doesn’t work. Carlin had a caustic style, but he wasn’t an asshole. Despite his arrogant jokes, the underlying message was one that showed he cared about other people. The underlying character of Carlin was that he cared so much about people that stupid stuff made him angry.

Maher completely lacks this. The sympathy isn’t there. It isn’t that I don’t like his humor. It’s that, once I take away the humor, the message is still shitty. He’s not a good guy who plays an arrogant character. He’s an arrogant guy who covers it up with humor.

I like arrogant humor. Either it can have a message that I think is decent (even if I don’t fully agree), or it can be completely message-free. Maher’s problem is not his humor style but his content. It’s hateful.

Throw in what we do know about him as a person: anti-vax means anti-science, and his anti-Muslim stuff is a form of bigotry. He makes a big deal about of how crappy being politically correct is–something liberals believe just means being a nice person. I found out the last time we discussed the guy here that he contributed a bunch of stuff to Obama’s campaign. But did that turn out to be because he believed in his uplifting message? Nope, it was, as he said, because he thought he would make more money that way.

He doesn’t seem all that different to me than the worst people on the Right. They deny the science of evolution and/or anthropogenic climate change. They are generally anti-Muslim. They whine about political correctness. They make their decisions based on how much money it will make them.

I just don’t think you can blame the problem on not liking his style of humor. Hell, I’ve even occasionally found what he’s said funny. It’s just that, if I wait just a little longer after the joke, he does or says something offputting again.

I know we don’t have Jon Stewart anymore, who basically did Maher but as a decent person. But there’s still Jon Oliver or Stephen Colbert–even if the latter is now watered down. And some Daily Show or Nightly Show stuff still pull out zingers. I fail to see any reason to watch the asshole do it.

It’s not personal – Maher donated $1 million to Obama’s 2012 campaign, and though Maher is fairly wealthy, that’s still serious money to him.

I can only speculate why Obama hasn’t been on the show but I can think of some reasons. I said earlier that there are several guest formats into which Obama could be slotted, but in rethinking that I’m not sure that any are really suitable. The one-on-one interview at the beginning? It ends with Maher leaving the guest and going off to join the panelists, not really a very dignified way to abandon the President of the United States. Showing up as a panelist to argue with the other panelists? Not really cool. Appearing as the “special guest” mid-show? Not really different than being a panelist. So they’d likely have to arrange some special format.

And AFAIK the other shows Obama has appeared on have either been non-political or a kind of “politics lite”. Real Time is sometimes serious stuff, and, as already said, sometimes divisive. And the perceived anti-Muslim meme, however one might want to defend it, is antithetical to a significant message the administration is trying to promulgate. I suspect those last two are the biggies. Obama likes to appear on a show and crack a few lighthearted jokes, maybe make a serious point or two, not become embroiled in a national controversy. He doesn’t want to be Ben Affleck in another Maher-Affleck type confrontation. I’m not saying he shouldn’t appear, and I hope he does, but I think these things figure in the thought process.

Also the show’s signature feature is that it’s live, broadcast from LA at 7:00 PM Pacific time. I suppose they could make an exception and tape Obama’s appearance or do remote from DC, but the logistics are a complication.

More HBO, perhaps? :wink:

I hear what you’re saying, but funnily enough I get the opposite feeling from Maher. Caustic though he can be, I get the impression that after the show he’d enjoy continuing the conversation with all his guests, conservative and liberal alike, over drinks (or…smokes). As I said before, I get the impression that he genuinely appreciates having people on who disagree with him, who can challenge him and challenge his audience. You mentioned Stewart, and to me he seemed to live much more in an echo chamber. If you bumped into him in real life and disagreed with him on something I imagine Stewart would be much more cutting and dismissive than Maher would be, who I imagine would be sarcastic but would engage you. To each their own, though.

ETA: I think people make too much of the supposedly anti-vacc thing. As mentioned, I listen to the show regularly and had all but forgotten about it. I don’t think it’s fair to categorize Maher as overall “anti-science” based on that.

A couple years ago Maher did a special episode in which he spent the entire hour interviewing Gore Vidal. (Or was it Norman Mailer? I can’t remember.) If Obama goes on his show I imagine he would do something similar.

In general I enjoy the show, mostly for the free-form and unpredictable discussion panels. I think the show has declined over the recent few seasons due to Maher sliding from sarcasm and wit into just being a cranky old-man contrarian. Similar to George Carlin’s slide.

It may be a result of your first paragraph. Obama, being a serious religious believer, may not enjoy Maher’s obnoxiousness towards people of faith.

I agree that Maher is smug and arrogant and generally an asshole. Some people think that’s funny. A lot of people don’t. I also dislike how Maher basically follows up really offensive comments (which Maher isn’t using as a punchline, but as his actual POV) with “I’m just being honest”, it’s strikes me as saying “I’m not racist, but…” before saying something incredibly racist.

I also think that billfish678 is right - Maher seems to think a joke makes some sort of political point, which is not necessarily the case.

I don’t know Bill Maher personally and I suspect neither do you, so how is it possible that we all watch the same show and you conclude that he’s an arrogant asshole, yet folks like myself, John Mace, Rodgers01, and approximately four million viewers seem to feel quite the opposite? The funny thing is that I’m actually quite sensitized to assholes, to the extent for instance that I cannot watch a movie that features an A-list known asshole.

I suggest that it’s because, contrary to your claim, it is about the style of humor. It’s biting and sarcastic humor and it’s a style that helps drive in the point it’s trying to make, at least with those who aren’t put off by the style. The “arrogance” is exactly the George Carlin kind of put-on, and it’s the idea behind the “New Rules” segment at the end which is also the basis of two of his books – it’s actually really witty social commentary. Maybe I appreciate it because dry sarcasm without great regard for political correctness is kind of my own style. But I’m hardly the only one who appreciates him.

In fact, there’s something about that whole panel segment – the cerebral, witty conversation on a late Friday night – that always evokes a relaxing mental image of a fireplace in the background and wine glasses glittering in the firelight while good friends discuss and debate the issues of the day. It’s homey and inviting. “Hateful” would be the very last word that came to mind to describe it.

OK, I watch his show all the time and I’ve heard the alleged “anti-vax” stuff just once, IIRC, and I can’t even remember what his point was, that’s how big a deal it was. It’s hardly a hot button with him. “Anti-science”? You must be joking. Maher has had on his show some of the most prominent scientists and science advocates of our time!

And gimme a break with this “nice person” stuff again. How do you know Maher isn’t a nice person? And why does it even matter, if he’s doing good things – providing informative conversation, healthy laughter, and advocating for good causes like intelligent politicians and environmental responsibility?

As I said, I appreciate his style of humor because it’s much like my own. Indeed I got slammed by a couple of posters in these very forums recently when I criticized a politician and used a pejorative that was deemed politically incorrect. To me the word just made the criticism more colorful and pithy. The interesting thing is that they chose to ignore the entire substance of an important criticism of an incompetent and malignant political figure in order to wail and whine about the use of a particular word. The entire substance was lost in the faux-indignant cacophony. If that’s political correctness, you can have it. I know how Bill Maher feels.

I’ve never heard this. When did he say that? What did he say? I honestly want to know. I can’t imagine how the election of Obama would make Maher more money. Comedians and pundits generally profit handsomely when the likes of Sarah Palin or Donald Trump are in the news.

Did you hear any of Carlin’s last, oh, six or so specials? “Compassion” was not his bag. He thought people were venal, destructive idiots and made no bones about saying so, not out of hope for making them better, but because it was fun. (Carlin’s 2001 special Complaints and Grievances was going to be called I Kinda Like It When a Lot of People Die before 9/11 intervened.) Check out this interview with Dennis Miller. Representative quote:

Miller’s expressions throughout are kind of priceless; he plainly didn’t know what he was getting into.

There was a joke Iiked, don’t remember who said it:
“I’d rather die in a nuclear holocaust with billions of other people rather than alone in some car crash. But I guess that’s just because I’m a ‘people person’”. Lewis Black maybe?
Anyway, I never liked Carlin either. Just didn’t find him funny most ofthe time, not so much his attitude or aanything.

Maher is an asshole and he’s funny. They’re not mutually exclusive. The panel’s mix of lefty libs and fundamentalist pubs leads to some top tier cringe comedy, which makes some people uncomfortable. It’s funny when there’s an establishment guy there who has a reputation to uphold and everyone is making racial and sex jokes and being edgy as hell and they’re sweating bullets thinking what the hell did I get myself into. I especially like it when Maher triggers his lib crowd, they start to boo, then he makes an even worse joke and they start laughing again despite themselves. Never watch a show like this to be informed.

Oliver has about four jokes:

  1. Mention a stat or a fact. How bad is it? Explain it with a random analogy. The quirkier, the more pop culture references, the better.

  2. Yelling at an imaginary person like they’re a dog or a small child. Bad Trump! No cookies! You’re ruining it for everyone else!

  3. Point out how someone looks like someone else.

  4. Mislabeling maps or showing the wrong infographic. I’ll admit to still laughing at the map thing, though.