REAL TALK: I talked to Bill Maher, the comedian, political commentator and host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” on March 19, the same day Donald Trump visited ABC’s “The View” to announce he was continuing to pursue a legal case against Maher.
It was the same day as the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war. And it also happened to be the day Mark Sanford placed first in the Republican primary for a vacated 1st District congressional seat.
Politics and pop culture have frequent collisions around Maher. And Maher, who will perform Saturday at the Koger Center, knows this state’s political history. Even though we spoke on the phone, I swear I heard his smirk interrupt him more than once.
“I spend a lot of time in conservative states,” Maher said.
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About Sanford and his political comeback, which took another step forward when he won Tuesday’s Republican runoff, he said, “He has name recognition, and ... “ Well, we don’t have to go there.”
It was funny, I assure you. Maher won’t have newspaper language restrictions when he does his routine. He’ll probably bring up Trump, the real estate developer, TV host and once considered a presidential candidate, who has been gunning for Maher since January. That’s when Maher said he’d pay $5 million to Trump’s charity of choice if Trump’s birth certificate could prove that he wasn’t the “spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan.” (Trump withdrew the suit earlier this week.)
Trump, who led a media campaign for President Barack Obama to release his birth certificate, took offense. Some believed questioning the president’s birth place was mildly racist, while others thought he should prove he was indeed eligible for the office. When asked if there was a fine line between expressing a point and being racist, Maher said yes.
“But I also think that people in the Tea Party who get so offended that anybody might even suggest they are racist are being disingenuous,” he said, pointing to the so-called birther movement. “That’s when my problems with Donald Trump started.
“The good news is racism used to be actually hanging people, enslaving people. Now it’s taken a much more subtle form. And it’s everywhere. It’s not just the South.”
Fans of “Real Time” and Maher’s old show, “Politically Incorrect,” know that Maher makes politics entertaining. And he doesn’t waffle like, say, a politician. As the anniversary of the Iraq war approached, many journalists wrote about mistakes made by the government and media.
“It’s fairly obvious that Bush and Cheney knew” there weren’t weapons of mass destruction, Maher said, referring to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. “They just wanted to go into Iraq.”
The discussion quickly turned to the military, lucrative defense contracts and guns. Maher, a frequent commentator on cable news shows, is a gun owner. The gun debate is as hot an issue as immigration and health care.
“I’ve offended some of my liberal fans because I’ve pointed out this is a gun country and that’s not going to change,” he said.
About the cliche that what stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, Maher said, “That’s not completely wrong.”
“Do you really want (the bad guy) to be the only one with a gun?,” he added in a satirical tone.
He responded similarly when asked about conspiracy theorists who claim that the Satan character on “The Bible,” a miniseries that aired on the History Channel, resembled President Obama.
“I think there’s really enough nuts and racism in the country that we don’t have to look for it where it doesn’t exist,” Maher said.
He even poked at those who think President Bush was involved in 9/11.
“I know that’s not true because first of all it took planning and we know that’s not one of his strong suits,” Maher said.
No wonder there are certain Republicans who don’t care for Maher’s commentary. Remember, it was Maher who, on a 2010 episode of “Real Time” aired a clip from a 1999 episode of “Politically Incorrect” when Christine O’Donnell made her infamous witchcraft remarks. O’Donnell was campaigning to represent Delaware in the Senate in 2010.
Can you guess who Maher said was a cross between St. Augustine and Forrest Gump?
“First of all, you’re selling an invisible product,” he said. “Right there, it doesn’t get any easier. Anything he says is golden.”
If he wasn’t a considered a celebrity already, Maher, who was raised in New Jersey, reached the elevated status several years ago when he dated a former Playboy Cyber Girl Coco Johnsen and Karrine Steffans, a former model whose tell-all book “Confessions of a Video Vixen” was the source of much debate in the hip-hop community.
To use hip-hop lingo, Maher achieved status in 2012 when he purchased a stake in the New York Mets. The Mets, whose majority owner was ensnared in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal, weren’t expected to do much this year. And that was before the announcement that ace pitcher Johan Santana was sidelined for the season with an injury.
Before he answered, I told Maher I’m a New York Yankees fan.
“This is amazing investment because sports teams do nothing go up in value,” Maher said. “If the Mets actually turned around and sold the team, I would make a handsome profit.”
After he said that, he was done talking.