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Bill Maher on his new book reflecting on decades of comedy and commentary


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: We now turn to my conversation with comedian and talk show host Bill Maher.

An often controversial figure in the world of politics and culture, Maher is taking stock of his decades of commentary in this consequential presidential election season. It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Bill Maher's unique blend of comedy and commentary sets him apart in the world of late-night television. Over three decades, first with "Politically Incorrect," and now with HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher," he's positioned himself as the ultimate truth-teller, who takes equal pleasure in punching at the left.

Bill Maher, Host, "Real Time With Bill Maher": It's not my fault the party of FDR and JFK is turning into the party of LOL and WTF.


Geoff Bennett: And the right.

Bill Maher: When did we start insisting that our presidents be smart? Like these (expletive deleted)


Bill Maher: We're back on.

Geoff Bennett: While his views have sparked controversy and criticism, Maher says he's not afraid to provoke.

Bill Maher: I'm going to be late for work, something you protesters on the bridge seem to have the luxury of not having to worry about, which seems kind of privilege-y.

Geoff Bennett: Offend or challenge the status quo.

Bill Maher: Let me go on record and say I'm against breast cancer, but I'm trying to escape for a few hours. Can I just watch the game without thinking about cancer?

Geoff Bennett: These commentaries are how he concludes every broadcast of his HBO show, and they're also the basis of his latest book, "What This Comedian Said Will Shock You."

We spoke at his Los Angeles TV studio after a recent Friday taping about what he discovered after revisiting more than 20 years of editorials for this new compilation.

When you did that deep dive, what did you find about the ways in which our politics and our culture has changed?

Bill Maher: Well, that's what I was looking for. I wanted to answer the question in my own mind, is it mostly me who's changed, or is it the politics that has changed? Because I heard in the last five, six, seven years, people say to me more, you make fun of the left more, to which I say, yes, I do, because they got funnier.

And that's what I wanted to make sure I was right about. And I think mostly that is the case.

Geoff Bennett: In what ways?

Bill Maher: Well, I mean, I guess the general term would be wokeness that we didn't have before. I guess the term was there. And its original meaning is certainly good. Alert to injustice is certainly something everybody should be for, but it migrated to something very different.

So there's a host of really bad ideas, I think, that the left has embraced, the far left. I don't think its the normal Democratic voter. But that didn't exist in 2010. I mean, President Obama was terrible for comedy, which was great for the country. But he didn't do anything crazy. And the Democrats basically didn't.

I quote him in the introduction, where he says something like, Americans don't think we should remake the whole system. They just want to not see crazy stuff.

And I sort of present that as the dilemma that were facing. The Republicans, definitely, who no longer seem to believe in democracy, are the greater threat. But how do you balance that against the crazy doctrine theory? Lots of people see there's a lot of crazy stuff, ideas about race and gender and children and free speech, that they just think is crazy.

And so, as one guy said to me, what you don't get about Trump is, we don't like him either, but we will vote for him.

Geoff Bennett: What do you think accounts for the durability of Donald Trump as a political figure? By any objective or rational standard, the challenges facing him, the scandals, the criminal trials, all of that should be disqualifying. And yet he's competitive.

Bill Maher: Competitive? He's winning. I mean, he's…

Geoff Bennett: Yes, the polls — some polls have him ahead, yes.

Bill Maher: Most polls do, and in the states that matter. I mean, if I had to bet on this election — well, I wouldn't, but — I mean, I wouldn't. Yes, I wouldn't, because I couldn't bet against him.

Certainly, it's at least a 50/50 that he's going to beat Biden. That's a great question, if only someone would write a book about Donald Trump.


Bill Maher: I mean, some of it is just insanity. I truly believe he's insane, in the sense that people talk about the malignant narcissism as if its some sort of quirk. It's more than a quirk. It's a real thing.

But as a friend of mine always says, insanity photographs. You can't you can't take your eyes off it. There is a certain charisma quality to that, when somebody is just nuts,. And he is. He doesn't really ever think about what he's going to say. People give him credit for plotting this. He doesn't plot.

Everything is just as it comes out of his mouth. One of the great advantages he has as a political candidate is that no one takes him seriously on policy pronouncements, because he just says anything and always has and always will. So, it's like, well, we can't really take it seriously. When he gets into office, hell probably do the right thing. We like him. He's our kind of guy.

So, that's actually kind of a great advantage when you are a politician.

Geoff Bennett: Why is now the right time for a book like this?

Bill Maher: Well, now because I wrote it now.


Bill Maher: That's really the answer.

Geoff Bennett: That's the best answer.

Bill Maher: Yes.

I don't know. People have been asking me to write it for a long time. They say — for years, they have been saying, you should collect these editorials at the end. I think it's a good — I think the timing is right, because the theme of it is kind of I'm tired of the hate.

There's a lot for both sides to like in this book. I mean, if you just want to read half of it and ignore the half that attacks your side, you can have a great time. I think most people are in the middle. I think — I call them the normies. I didn't coin that phrase, but I have heard it, and I like it, just normal people who are not part of this extremism of either side, and they don't like it.

And I don't like it. I don't want to hate half the country, and I don't hate half the country. The last chapter is — it's called "Divorce," and its just about how a lot of people talk these days about maybe America should split up, you know, civil war. Let's do this thing.

Yes, it sounds fun. I don't want to. And it's never going to work, because half the country, even if they lose an election, they're not going anywhere. They're not self-deporting. They're here and they're going to stay here, and you're going to have to learn to live with them.

We have to learn to live with, sit with, mingle with people who don't think like you. They're not raised like you. They weren't from a part of the country that you're from. And that's OK.

It's not false. It's a fact.

Geoff Bennett: Maher's direct approach and willingness to tackle tough topics over the years have brought backlash. His critics view his outspokenness as intolerance, pointing to what they see as a pattern of offensive comments on a range of issues from gender to religion to race.

Bill Maher: Clearly, racism is simply no longer everywhere. It's not in my home. And it probably isn't in yours.

Geoff Bennett: Over the course of your career, your critics have said, that you are homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, sexist, fatphobic, ableist.

What do you make of all that?

Bill Maher: Well, I tell the truth as I see it, and I don't pull punches. That's always been the bond with my audience. People are hypersensitive, and I mean, I could go down that list. I don't think we have time. And I don't think you really want to get into every one of them.

But they're all not true. I mean, I like all people. But there are things that have to be said about Islam. There are things that have to be said about health in America. There are things that have to be said about gender and what we're teaching children about it that are valid.

And I think this is what the normies appreciate in me, is that most people just shy away from even going near those issues because they're third rails. As I say in the book, one of the problems we have is, nobody ever gets canceled for being too woke.

Geoff Bennett: One person who doesn't have to worry about being canceled, Maher himself. HBO has picked up two more years of "Real Time," which will take the long-running show through 2026.

Bill Maher: I love doing what I do. I'll do it as long as I'm not hard to look at on TV. That could happen at some point. Hopefully, A.I. will fix that.


Bill Maher: And as long as my brain is still working. I mean, I have a dead worm in there right now, but I seem to be OK.


Geoff Bennett: You could run for president.


Bill Maher: I could. Apparently, you can.

Geoff Bennett: Whether it's his own plans or presidential politics, Bill Maher never loses sight of the punchline.

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