Bill Maher had never asked his Real Time audience for anything — until last Friday night, when, seated next to Ralph Reed, Nicolle Wallace, and Cornel West, he requested one thing for his 60th birthday. He asked viewers to sign a petition to get President Barack Obama — who has appeared on almost every known program in the universe except Maher's — on his show. Even that very night, Al Gore was his guest. And if the great Jimmy Carter and Gore will hit the stage with Maher, the comedian wants to know, why won't Obama?
If you pull in 100,000 signatures in 30 days on the administration's We the People website, the White House is forced to issue a response to your petition. And, oh, the people obliged him in his plea, breezing past the minimum goal. The petition currently has 286,170 signatures.
Maher is back on his comedic campaign trail of sorts, hitting stages around the country with commentary that’ll make blood boil with glee or anger, first getting the crowd hot and bothered, then finishing politically satisfied. Before heading to Miami Beach this Sunday, Maher reacted to Sarah Palin’s Trump endorsement, what it would take to get Trump in the Oval Office, and, of course, getting his fans to crash the We the People website.
New Times: I wanted to congratulate you on getting all those signatures on the petition to get Obama on your show.
Bill Maher: [Laughs] Yeah, we keep crashing their website. I guess I could make a snarky joke about their websites, because didn’t we go through this with the health-care one? They need a better website designer over there. We got the 100,000 within 38 hours. So, yeah!
Did you think you’d get so many so quickly?
Yes, and I heard from just so many people who are not — nor should they be — thinking about the issues in my life. But they were like, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I can’t believe Obama has done every show and not yours.” And that’s all we’re asking: If you’re not going to come on, why? Why are you dissing this audience. Because I do think there’s an issue that, yeah, we are a different kind of audience, we are a more out-of-the-box, some would say outrageous-thinking, free-thinking. Obviously, I have a lot of fellow atheists who are my fans. Is that it? And don’t we deserve some respect too? I just want to know what it is, because it’s weird.
I think it’s looking like it’s moving in the right direction. But I may be Charlie Brown with the football. They could just be stringing me along.
When Al Gore was on last week, you apologized for voting Nader. Do you think in this election there’ll be any third-party candidates to arise at the last minute?
Maybe Donald Trump. I mean, Donald Trump for a long time would not say that he would commit to the Republican candidate if it was not him. I wouldn’t take his word on that. I think he does whatever he wants on any given day. I don’t think he’ll take losing very well if he doesn’t get the nomination.
I don’t think there’s anybody on the left of any consequence that would siphon votes off from the Democrats. If Bernie Sanders doesn’t get the nomination, he’s going to support Hillary Clinton; he’s not going to go rogue. I don’t think this is a year for a third-party candidate. But this is a year unlike any we’ve ever seen. I mean it literally could be Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump, and that would be an amazing political year. It’s already one of the more interesting years I’ve ever seen.
And today (Tuesday, January 19), Sarah Palin just came out in support of Trump.
I just saw that. Oh, how perfect. The fact that he thinks that she would be great says a lot about his judgment. He’s a big fan of hers. Of course, he’s a big fan of anybody who doesn’t criticize him. Then, the second you say something against him, he stays up all night tweeting about what an asshole you are.
It’s interesting, when he talked about her a few months ago, he said she’d be a good person to be in charge of the Department of Energy. Because, you know, she’s such a brilliant person on energy, or anything. And she said, "Yes, that’d be a great job for me, and I would abolish that department." So she’s still trying to get out of work.
During the Democratic debates, Andrea Mitchell asked Bernie Sanders about his reaction to Bill cheating on Hillary. Do you feel like that was an appropriate question for the debates?
Oh, well, the debates are just theater anyway. So I don’t think we’re in the area of appropriateness, especially as far as the media goes. All these debates are way too long, because the cable networks see an opportunity to make windfall profits selling advertising money, so it goes on and on... But as far as that specific area, I call Donald Trump “the natural” because he seems to have a natural instinct for politics that the others don’t. And when I say "natural," he just instinctively knows where the jugular is, where the weakest point is for everybody. Ted Cruz? Nobody was talking about how Ted Cruz wasn’t really perhaps eligible for the office because he was from Canada, and his father was Cuban — like I said Friday, he missed America twice. But Trump raised it, and of course now [Cruz] is vulnerable on that issue.
And then Trump comes along and says, not so fast, Hillary, you’re the woman candidate? You’re going to get the women involved? Well, your husband is a predator, how about that? You’re an enabler for a predator. How’s that for a feminist? I don’t know if it’s appropriate, but it’s political genius.
It just seems sort of irrelevant.
It is irrelevant but almost everything they bring up in a campaign is sort of irrelevant. People don’t seem to vote on the issues, they vote on the crazy stuff that the candidates seem to foment to attack each other.
Do you think there’ll be one deciding factor in this election?
Terrorism. Terrorism I think is the deciding factor. I think the Democrats would have this election in the bag except that they are perceived as too politically correct on this issue. [That's] something I’ve been trying to argue, that liberals need to basically go back to school on, as far as liberalism goes, and defend people around the world who are repressed. And that includes Muslim people who are oppressed by their own people, by their own religion, basically. And if the Democrats won’t even say the words “Islamic terrorism,” and so far they won’t, Hillary doesn’t want to say it, President Obama doesn’t want to say it. If there’s another attack, yeah, I think that would be the opening for Donald Trump to get elected.
Now, I don’t agree with Mr. Trump’s views on Islam either. He goes too far, in my view. But what the American public has to decide between is that and people who won’t even face it squarely. I do think the Democrats could lose on this issue. People in this country are very frightened.
There’s a lot of domestic, whatever you want to call it, terrorism. Americans shooting up movie theaters and such. Do you think that’s something middle America will ever see as a form of terrorism?
I think there’s a big danger in making that comparison, as I hear all the time. Yes, it’s certainly true that more Americans in the past 15 years have been killed by any number of things than terrorism. More by car accidents, more by drug overdoes, certainly more by everyday gun violence, however none of those causes of death are an organized worldwide group who are seeking nuclear weapons.
And the minute that one of these jihadis gets ahold of nuclear material, and there’s plenty of it floating around in the world, and you know that they want to, those numbers all change. Then suddenly the worst thing that could happen has happened. So, whenever I hear Islamic terrorism compared with anything, I’m very wary. I think it’s very dangerous.
And I hear people say, “Islamic terrorists have about as much to do with Islam as the Klu Klux Klan has to do with Christianity.” Well, first of all that’s not true, and second of all, the Klu Klux Klan, as horrible as they are, to my knowledge, are not seeking nuclear weapons to set off in a major American city. Where there are thousands and thousands of people in the Islamic world who are seeking to do that everyday. And I think that’s what we need to keep our eye on. I know that’s what keep presidents up at night, the combination of Islamic terrorism plus nuclear weapons. That is the doomsday scenario that could change everything in this world.
Do you think that lifting the sanctions on Iran will affect that in any way?
No, I don’t. I think it’s a fantastic development. We have turned someone who was an enemy into someone who — of course we don’t agree with many of the things that they do — but at least we’re working together now. And this is verifiable. They sent 98 percent of their nuclear material out of the country, they poured cement into their plutonium reactor. How anyone could look at this and not see it as a victory? And when our sailors wandered into their waters, we had them back in 24-hours. We just got the people back who they were keeping prisoner. You have to like only care about hating Obama to not like this deal.
Is there anything about your show coming up you can share? Any teasers?
I think people at this point are pretty aware of what I do. What I would love them to understand is that it, of course, will be very different from the last time I was in Miami because the world changes, and I always change what I tell the people. I never like to go and do the jokes that they may have heard before.
You know, comedy is the opposite of music in that way. When you go see the Rolling Stones, you want them to play “Satisfaction” even though you’ve heard it a million times. But when you go see a comedian, at least when I see a comedian, I generally don’t want him to do the things I’ve heard, I always want it to be new. And there’s so much new going on.
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So, that is my pleasure: to always be working on and working up a new bunch of stuff for them to enjoy. And of course, stand-up comedy is about laughter, it’s not a lecture, it’s not humor. I’m not a humorist, I’m a comedian, and I intend to make them laugh their asses off.
On Finding Your Roots, it was revealed that you and Bill O'Reilly are related. Any new thoughts since that was filmed?
The fact that Bill and I are cousins? Well, I don’t think it’s going to bring us any closer. I’ll say that.
8 p.m., January 24, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $59.50 and $129.50 plus fees. Visit fillmoremb.com.