American Emmy Award-winning television host and comedian
William "Bill" Maher, Jr. (pronounced /ˈmɑɹ/; born January 20, 1956) is an American stand-up comedian, television host, social and political commentator, and author. Before his present role as host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher hosted a similar late-night talk show called Politically Incorrect on Comedy Central and later on ABC.
Maher is known for his political satire and sociopolitical commentary. His commentaries target a wide swath of topics: right wing politics, bureaucracies of many kinds, political correctness, the mass media, and persons in positions of high political and social power, among many others. He supports the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage and serves on the board of PETA. He is also an outspoken critic of religion and is an advisory board member of The Reason Project. Maher is number 38 on Comedy Central's 100 greatest stand-ups of all time.
Maher was born in New York City, the son of Julie (née Berman), a nurse, and William Maher, Sr., a network news editor and radio announcer. Maher was raised in his Irish American father's Catholic religion, and did not find out that his mother was Jewish until his teenage years; Maher's family stopped attending church when Maher was thirteen, because of Maher's father's disagreement with the Pope's position on birth control. Maher grew up in River Vale, New Jersey and graduated from Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, New Jersey. He received his Bachelor of Arts in English and History from Cornell University in 1978.
Maher began his career as a stand-up comedian and actor, and he continues to act and tour occasionally. He was host of the New York City comedy club Catch a Rising Star in 1979. Thanks to Steve Allen, he began appearing on Johnny Carson's and David Letterman's shows in 1982. He made limited television appearances, including two separate appearances on Murder She Wrote -- notably, as Maher likes to point out, as two different characters. He has also appeared in several films, usually in a comic role. He was also a writer in the late '80s on the sitcom Roseanne. His feature film debut was in D.C. Cab (1983), and he has also appeared in Ratboy (1986), Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1988), and Pizza Man (1991).
Maher describes himself as a libertarian and believes that, "government is really there to do the things that people absolutely can't do for themselves"; however, some have questioned Maher's libertarianism, describing him as a liberal.
Maher favors a partial privatization of social security, ending corporate welfare, and legalization of gambling, prostitution, and marijuana. Maher is a member of NORML's Advisory Board, an organization which supports the decriminalization of marijuana, and is an open marijuana user. Additionally, Maher describes himself as an environmentalist, and he frequently alludes to the topic of global warming on his show Real Time. Moreover, he is highly suspicious of corporations and often criticizes figures with close ties to industry.
He supported Bob Dole in the 1996 U.S. presidential election on the basis that Dole was a war hero and the kind of "old-fashioned" Republican he admired. Although he told Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne at the end of a Browne appearance on Politically Incorrect that Browne would have his vote, ultimately he said he instead voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 U.S. presidential election.
Maher is a board member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and has expressed his distaste for the pharmaceutical and health care industries in general, on the grounds that they make their money out of curing people who are made sick by consuming unhealthy food that society urges upon the public. He also maintains that mass consumption of high fructose corn syrup is a contributor to the American obesity epidemic. On the August 11, 2005, episode of Larry King Live, Maher said he was not a vegetarian, adding "...but I don't eat a lot of meat." Maher has stated that he has a "very eccentric diet."
Prior to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Maher became very forthright in his opposition to the re-election of George W. Bush, and in his support for John Kerry as the best candidate to defeat Bush, going so far as to publicly kneel on his show, with director Michael Moore, and beg Ralph Nader to drop out of the race. Maher often says that the word "liberal" has been unfairly demonized, and during the elections he criticized Kerry for being ashamed of the word. As Maher supports the death penalty, the legality of abortion and euthanasia, he often states his position humorously as "pro-death". Since 9/11 he also has stated his endorsement of racial profiling at airports.
While discussing FEMA's failure regarding Hurricane Katrina, Maher suggested it was a failure of "federal responsibility," and faulted President Bush with negligence, despite FEMA admitting responsibility.
He was originally against the war in Iraq, but briefly offered less skeptical commentary in light of the Iraqi election of 2005. Maher now views the Iraq War as a failure and implied on the February 24, 2006 episode of Real Time that Iraq was better off under Saddam Hussein and that the U.S. cannot control the sectarian violence like Saddam did, although he did so using violence of his own. He has said the invasion of Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism. He has also stated his concerns about the possibility of a future civil war in Iraq or about the possibility that Iraq is already involved in the early stages of a civil war.
Maher describes himself as a staunch supporter of Israel.
In the 2008 US Presidential Election, Maher has announced his support for Barack Obama. Maher has been very critical of John McCain and Sarah Palin; He has called Palin an "extremist" and unsuitable for such a high position. Maher has also taken to being very critical of the situation involving the pregnancy of Palin's 17-year-old daughter, who Maher believes is being forced into a loveless marriage. Maher has questioned whether or not Palin's Down syndrome infant is actually Bristol's first child. He also called her a "Category 5 moron" who was not even qualified to be the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.
On September 12, 2008, Maher continued his criticism of the Palins by launching a web site called freelevi.org. On the site, Maher declared that Levi Johnston, the father of Bristol Palin's unborn child, was "America's number one political prisoner" and offered to turn control of the site over to Levi should Johnston wish to use the site as a way of raising money to purchase his freedom. The site has been criticized by some-- most notably members of the stand-up community-- for its inexplicable resemblance in design and content to SavingBristol.com, a web site created by Doug Stanhope exactly one day prior to Maher's, where Stanhope has offered $50,000 to help Bristol Palin pay for an abortion and start a new life that would be free from her "tyrannical" family. The site also encourages visitors to donate to LilithFund.org, a Texas-based organization dedicated to helping women get abortions if they cannot afford them.