Bill Maher is a comedian and hosts of the television show, "Real Time with Bill Maher." When I think of the show, I like to think of it as being Hardball with Chris Matthews... but without the bullplop. Love Maher or hate him, he is at least honest, doesn't try to play the game of, "I'm fair and balanced." He's in your face, honest about what he thinks and does it in a way similar to Jon Stewart. Because he isn't bound by journalistic ethics, he is actually allowed to be more honest. It's still a little better than watching most shows.
As I often start these reviews by saying: I am in no way giving my own political opinion or endorsing the views of the particular person I may be reviewing. Please do not make assumptions about my views, as I will not provide them, so please don't pretend you know them.
Along those lines, let's talk about Bill Maher. He's an angry guy, but at the very least it still beats the hell out of watching people like Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Bill O' Reilly or Sean Hannity. You are getting a biased side. This is perhaps where Bill Maher sometimes can get annoying. Admittedly enough, he is a liberal, but he doesn't particularly like to identify himself as one. In fact, it's sometimes hard to say just what Bill Maher is. I've heard him describe himself as a libertarian, but he doesn't harbor a lot of libertarian views. Certainly, at least, he does take shots at both Democrats and Republicans. While he mostly does it to Republicans, at least he isn't hiding behind the, "I'm Fair and Balanced," moniker and he isn't afraid to say, "I like the Democrats but sometimes..." In short, Bill Maher is critical of his own party. And he's actually critical of them quite a bit. Not in the way most would expect, but it is nice to have a pundit who says, "The guy I support isn't perfect either." In fact, Bill Maher, in the past few weeks has made quite a few open criticisms of the Obama administration. That's not to say he's abandoned going after Republicans. Bill Maher, like Keith Olbermann would probably have to find a new profession if there was no such thing as Republicans. But at least Bill Maher doesn't blame all of societies woes on Republicans. Most of the time he blames the Government in general because he isn't ashamed to say that they're just plain sloppy.
His show has a nice format. Every Friday night he begins his show with an opening monologue that usually centers on the top news item of the week. Since his show is on Friday night, he gets an hour to talk about all the different news stories that happened the entire week. His show, for the most part, has a fairly nice format because it's organized, but also because Bill Maher knows how to keep his guests from getting a little too loud and excited.
Usually after his opening monologue he goes to the satelite or has someone on who he does a one on one interview with. All the while when he does these things he's always plugging in jokes. Whether or not you find them funny is in question. Political comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are constantly garnering laughs. Bill Maher doesn't seem to realize that even for comedians there is a line. It isn't that he crosses that's the problem, it's mostly that a lot of his jokes just aren't funny. Unlike Stewart and Colbert he often delivers so many of his jokes in such a serious manner and tone that you wonder if he is joking or not. There's a saying that goes, "Humor is a funny way of being serious." No one lives this saying out better than Bill Maher. In most instances he can't just joke for the sake of joking. There has to be some sort of meaning behind it. That's not to say he never cracks a joke that's just a joke, it's just to say that sometimes he takes his own jokes a bit more seriously than the people who criticize him do. In short, he isn't such a bad political commentator, but as a comedian he won't be the kind that leaves behind a legacy. Stewart cracks a lot of jokes that you and your friends might even repeat and talk about. Bill Maher isn't like that. By the time his show is over you've often forgotten about the jokes he told. Is it because they're not funny? Who knows.
When he's done with his satelite interview he then goes to his panel where he has three guests (and sometimes a fourth) who discuss political issues and news stories. Perhaps what Real Time has going for it best is that it doesn't even try to disguise itself as a news show the way other shows such as Hardball with Chris Matthews does. He has a panel. Most of the time it's filled with Democrats but there is usually one Republican. Unlike other shows, however that lean to the political left, Bill Maher can get quite a few legitimate Republican guests who are smart and can defend their positions rather well. And Bill Maher isn't afraid to have someone on who he totally disagrees with either. Sometimes the panel discussion is rather lively and good. He has a lot of different guests. But the best part about the show is that they're all talking and just having fun. No one is afraid to tell jokes of their own or make the audience laugh. It's almost like watching a group of people in the coffee shop tell jokes while having a very serious discussion. And as usual, yes, Maher is often taking himself a little too seriously. You have to wonder if Maher is so egotistical that he thinks he's a comedic genius. He's not, but when a joke falls flat and the audience lets him know... he shows he has a hard time handling it. I suppose most comedians would. When you crack and joke as a comedian and no one laughs, that usually spells trouble. Most of the time instead of just saying something like, "Too soon?" or "Sorry," however, he has to justify his joke. It's as though he isn't used to seeing jokes fall flat. Even the best of the best comedians had a joke fall flat. Maher has a hard time accepting criticism.
It's not just with his jokes. It's also within the media and his round table discussion. While the panel is fun to watch, Maher is often so stubborn that he doesn't want to "lose" any discussion. This can be nice sometimes, but man oh man can it be bad when Maher can't handle the criticism. And it happens often. At least it still beats Chris Matthews show, where you get the feeling you're watching a bunch of chickens clucking. Real Time with Bill Maher is a lot more subtle and Maher does his best to include everyone. Depending on the guests, it's hard to see who gets to talk more in any given episode. Maher has even had guest who have totally outtalked him.
In the middle of the panel he usually has another satelite interview or invites out a guest to join the discussion. Again, he often picks some pretty good guests because he makes sure they're smart and know what they're talking about. Thanks to being on HBO, Maher is more in control and therefore he can get people who come on and are actually know about the issues. On his previous show, "Politically Incorrect," (which was shorter) he often had guests on that didn't know much of anything.
The last segment is called "New Rules," where he just makes interesting observations and jokes around a lot. This is actualy the best part of Maher's show. It's also one of the funniest.
However, that's not to say that Bill Maher isn't annoying in several other ways. His show is actually really good in part because Maher doesn't do all the talking for an hour. He has a panel and they discuss in a very casual and respectful way. But when you hear Maher go on his tangents and rants it can be INCREDIBLY annoying.
First and foremost are the Republicans. He's not nearly as bad as Keith Olbermann or Ed Schultz (you can't get much worse than Ed Schultz), but he is. It isn't that he's getting on the backs of the Republicans, it's that Maher will almost ALWAYS find a way to spin the conversation onto religion. All of societies ills, all of the Republicans stupdity, all of the wars and everything like that in the world according to Maher, can be blamed on religion. In fact, Maher is among the most annoying with anti-religion. I'm cool with freedom of speech, but I find it hard to believe that everything the Republicans do wrong can be blamed on God or religious zealouts. He focuses so strongly on the negative examples that when he hears a religious person did something GOOD he almost looks shocked. Even worse, Maher can be like a whinny teenager about it. If you mention God, even if you're not talking in the context of religion, Maher will get on it. It might have NOTHING to do with the conversation and he has to get on his soap box. In an interview with P. Diddy when the man talked about how God must be smiling down on Obama, Maher felt he had to let P. Diddy know that at the mention of God he made a frowny face. The conversation was about Obama, not God, but for some odd reason Maher decided that was the perfect time to take a little cheaptshot.
It gets worse than that with Bill. The moment you admit to him you believe in God he tends to think you must be the dumbest person in the world. And then he tries to come out and say, "My philosophy is that we don't know." Hey, that's well and good. Maher claims he's an agnostic. Again, fine and good, but it's the idea that for someone who says, "We don't know if he's out there or not," he sure does spend a lot of time talking about how God isn't there and doesn't exist. He's often critical of Religious Hardcore Christians, but he never says a word when a crazy Atheists might do something similar. If a crazy Atheists is pretending he knows everything, that's okay. If it's a crazy Christian though? Bill Maher asks as though that one person might lead the next religious crusade. If we're going to talk about how horrible religion is, I don't think one can ignore that Atheism has its fair share of crazies as well. Maher doesn't seem to want to admit that. There are crazies on both sides but Maher just has such a hard time really getting to that. Remember that Atheist who went in and decided to shoot up the church? Isn't he just as bad as those hardcore Christian Zealots who go out and murder gay people for the sake of being gay?
The religion thing can be very annoying with Maher. And when his guests often challenge them on it (and admit they believe in God) Maher suddenly turns into this, "You're so stupid for believing in a God we don't even know is there." When Andrew Sullivan told Bill Maher not to tell him what he believes when it concerned religion, Maher blew a gasket. In short, Maher seems to believe that anyone who believes in God... in any sense of the world must not, by any means, be a smart person. And then when it turns out they ARE a smart person... he once again gets that shocked look on his face. When he did his documentary Religulous he was surprised to find that some people at the head of the churches he'd been to were so well educated. Believing in God doesn't make you stupid, Bill. It just boggles the mind that with Maher talking show strongly about tolerance and the hypocrisy of the hardcore Christian... he's really just like them. The only difference is that he's coming from the other side. He says the church has no right to tell us when a fetus is a person, but for some odd reason that gives HIM the authority to do it. It's incredibly annoying.
He's also hardcore environmentalist and animal rights activist. Of the crazy variety. Once again, no matter your beliefs, sometimes it's a wonder how egotistical Maher can get on these issues. Global Warming is still something we know little about, but Maher seems to think he has all the answers to that... even when he doesn't. Often times it's clear he hasn't done much research into the other side of the argument.
The biggest problem with Bill Maher is the same problem that plagues O' Reilly and Olbermann. He's so stubbron that he tends to come off as though you must be the dumbest person in the world if you don't believe what he believes. When Maher read off a statistic that said 63% of people believe the story of Noah's Ark... Maher decide to conclude it meant 63% of Americans must've been stupid. Does believing the story of Noah's Ark really make you dumb as a rock? In Maher's mind, yes. That's actually really scary to think about.
Love him or hate him, though, at least he makes no false claims about who he is. He's just very egotistical about what he does sometimes. And when it comes to religion he goes a little over the top. It would be nice to sit down and watch Real Time with Bill Maher and have him go one full episode without working religion in. I understand that's Maher's favorite topic, but its his favorite topic for only one purpose: To piss off as many Christians as possible. It isn't to "discuss" it, it's just for the sake of telling anyone who believes in God how stupid they really are.
At the very least his show is fun to watch. He isn't exempt from saying really crazy things, but on the scale of "craziest stuff ever said by a political commentor," he would rank very low on that list. If you want to hear good discussions on the current news stories, you're far better off watching Real Time with Bill Maher than you are most of the major news networks. For that, Bill Maher deserves some credit. He gets free reign and doesn't make a big secret of who he is at all. Believe it or not, people do kind of like that. You can be sure that Bill Maher will often stick to what he says. This is something that can't be said about a lot of political commentators.
It still stands, though, you're not getting any balance... but complaining about Bill Maher being biased is kind of stupid seeing as how it's no secret. But at least he's willing to get good people who believe something different than he does who are smart. In the end, Real Time With Bill Maher is actually not a bad show to watch. Though you probably won't get much of it if you are on the political right..