Us and Them
A few months ago, Bill Maher was at Dodger Stadium, and when his picture flashed on the JumboTron, half the audience cheered and half booed. Which was fine with Maher. "I'm an easy boo," says the host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher and author of New Rules. "If you're going to tell the truth, you're going to alienate people. I'm not a Democrat, not a Republican, and I know that's unsettling to people. In America everybody has to be on a team, and they work backward from: 'How can I defend the team I'm on?' We're way too conformist in this country. There aren't enough people who have opinions that are unsettling."
When Maher loads, cocks, and aims his opinions, he forces us to confront stereotypes and bigotry, using humor to fake out our defenses. Few comedians manage to push the boundaries of our comfort zone about "otherness" quite so far or so well. And Maher is an equal-opportunity zinger—nobody is exempt. "If you have to tell me what fraction of you is Native American, you're not really an Indian," he jokes. "There's a word for people who claim to be one-quarter Indian: Puerto Rican." And you've got to admire how he slams jihadists and rednecks in one fell swoop: "If you don't want the world to think your religion is medieval, stop beheading people. Texans are bloodthirsty and dim, and even they learned to use an electric chair."
The political landscape of the country is still a favored target for the comedian, particularly the color theme of the last election, "in which blue-staters were convinced everything between New York and Los Angeles was one giant forest where Ned Beatty was constantly being sodomized by hillbillies, and red-staters were told that people like me spend all our time performing abortions and figuring out new ways to desecrate the flag. Please, they're just hobbies."