"Don't shoot the messenger." That's the age-old expression reminding us not to blame the bringer of bad news. It isn’t their fault, after all. But what if the messenger is kind of a dick? Can we at least punch him?
Bill Maher has made a career of dropping bad-news bombs on the public during times of political wars, which is just about always. He began as a standup comic in the '80s but really found his niche on late-night TV as the sarcastic voice of the left with his successful show Politically Incorrect. The concept was simple: Gather an assorted group of guests from across the political spectrum and backgrounds, including athletes, celebrities, comedians, pundits, and news figures; introduce a controversial topic; and, as Mike Myers' Linda Richman would say, "Discuss amongst yourselves."
Currently, Maher hosts Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO. It’s the same concept, but now he can say “fuck” without getting bleeped. He can say a lot more than that, in fact — just about whatever he wants.
And that’s the problem.
In early June, Maher pissed off the wrong people, namely his viewers, after he jokingly called himself a “house nigger” during a live broadcast of Real Time. It was part of his banter with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, and both men later apologized, saying they regretted the weird turn the conversation took. But that's not the first time Maher has said something that belied his usual intelligence.
Over the past eight years, Maher was one of the idiots who criticized President Barack Obama for not being “black enough.” He once joked that unfortunately Obama wasn’t the kind of black man who “lifts up his shirt so they can see the gun in his pants.” He also called him “your Wayne Brady” to emphasize this idea of a nonthreatening black man. Wayne Brady later responded on HuffPost Live, saying, “When I meet you, when I talk to you again, I'll give you that black dude, and I will beat your ass in public." Sounds pretty threatening.
In addition to being racially insensitive, Maher also brushed aside domestic violence when he joked about former NFL player Shawne Merriman assaulting his girlfriend at the time, Tila Tequila. “New rule: Stop acting surprised someone choked Tila Tequila! The surprise is that someone hasn’t choked this bitch sooner.”
He engaged in sexism when he accused Hillary Clinton of using her womanly powers of crying to get what she wants. “I’m not trying to be sexist here, but I’m just saying that women try a lot of different tacks when they’re in arguments... But look at Hillary Clinton,” he said before playing some clips of her, “because the first thing a woman does, of course, is cry.”
Come on, Bill. Anytime someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic/etc., but...” everyone knows the next part of that sentence will contain some racist, sexist, or homophobic bullshit.
Maher is a condescending, self-righteous, know-it-all asshole. His towering ego and smug self-importance have led him astray in the past. He thinks because he has dated black women and has a diverse group of Hollywood friends that he can cross boundaries other white guys can’t. But nope. No, the fuck he can’t. Not if he wants to stay on his viewers' good side.
Ironically, being such an arrogant and cocky son of a bitch is precisely what makes Maher so good at his job.
Will he ever change? At 61, it’s doubtful.
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Watch the video of Ice Cube educating not only Maher but also any white person who gets “too familiar” and uses the N-word. Ice Cub calls it “a teachable moment.” And it is — but not to Maher. Look at the exasperation near the end of the clip. Maher wants it to be over almost as soon as it begins. You can almost hear his eyes rolling, refraining from looking at his watch. He is simply waiting for his turn to talk instead of really listening.
We need people like Maher as much as we need his fellow Comedy Central alumni — Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Trevor Noah, to name a few. There's value in celebrities speaking truth to power in an entertaining way. But Maher is nowhere nearly as likable as anyone on that list. He seems pretty OK with that fact, but he still wants attention. He goes out of his way to shock people, undercutting his political message by putting the spotlight on himself. And to liberal viewers who have tired of so-offensive-it's-funny comedy, Maher is beginning to look like a relic from a bygone era.
Still, he probably loves articles like this. Yes, Bill, this song is about you.
Bill Maher. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 5, and Sunday, August 6, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets are sold out.