Nearly a month out of the door and Bill Maher's 2016 is in full swing. The politically incorrect comedian just kicked off the 14th season of HBO's Real Time and is gearing up for a string of stand-up performances that will land at the Orpheum this Saturday, January 23rd. While Maher's been off air, he's had time to digest the 2016 election cycle and "rip up my old act," he told the Flyer. "Two years ago, Donald Trump wasn't going to be the president, and now he very well may be."
Flyer: When was the last time you visited Memphis?
Bill Maher: The last time I was in Memphis may have been way back in the '90s. I feel like I understand the South better than these commentators on TV who talk about it, because they never go there. I hear a lot of conservatives complain. They say, "Oh, you liberals, you discount the flyover states." Not me. I seek them out because they are a more enthusiastic crowd. Memphis is a town with a church on every corner, which is good for me.
What is the biggest difference between performing stand-up and hosting Real Time? Is there anything you like more or less about the two?
The people who come to the stand-up show are the real fans. They have to be — they have to pay. The people who come to the studio audience, they're fans. But they are much more politically correct. And sometimes that pisses me off. I hate political correctness, obviously. I did a show called Politically Incorrect. I'm a liberal, and I love my liberal brethren, but they can just really be fucking annoying about not being able to take a joke.
Can I have an example?
I think Donald Trump is completely wrong about banning Muslims. I think he's a demagogue. But I'm also really the only liberal who, I think, says we have to be clear-eyed about the fact that it is Islamic terrorism and it is coming from their religion. So, if I say a joke like, "Islam is a religion of peace. There's a piece of you over there, there's a piece of you over there," you know what, you better fucking laugh at that. Every group gets made fun of for something, and it doesn't ever mean that all of them do it. If I say a joke like, "And then the French surrendered," everybody laughs, even though the French really only surrendered that one time. If I make a joke about super models throwing up, well, all of them don't throw up everything they eat. If I make a joke about Asians being bad drivers, well yeah, a lot of them are, but not all of them. And so I'm sorry, but terrorism is mostly Islamic, and they have to own that. Nobody is a protected species. Liberals have to learn to take a joke about everybody. I don't think there's any greater cause for a liberal these days than shepherding liberals back to a more sensible liberalism. That includes learning to laugh.
I read that you think Ted Cruz is "scarier" than Trump.
If I go by what Ted Cruz says, he doesn't believe in climate change. Neither does Donald Trump, by the way. But I don't think Ted Cruz would change his mind on that because I think Ted Cruz is bought and controlled by the Tea Party. I do think I could turn Donald Trump around on climate change. I have a secret plan, which is to have Leonardo DiCaprio have dinner with him. Because Trump is huge star fucker, I think he'll listen to DiCaprio. Ted Cruz, I think, is just owned by the Koch brothers and people like that. There are a lot of things about Donald Trump that are scary, but he's so above ideology. He's so beyond politics at this point. He very often takes a position that is a fairly liberal position. He comes out against hedge fund managers. He criticizes going into Iraq. Lots of things where you go, "Wow, that's not a very conservative position."
You essentially endorsed Bernie Sanders when he visited Real Time. Do you think he has a real chance at the presidency?
When [Real Time] last left the race at Thanksgiving, I think the viewpoint among liberals was "Yeah, we love Bernie, but he can't really win." He's like the guy you go out with who gives you a lot of orgasms, but he doesn't have a job. You're not going to really marry him. But now, it looks like he really could. If he wins those first two primaries, that's a lot of momentum. There are a lot of states in this country, like Tennessee, where somebody like Bernie Sanders is a nonstarter. Not that I think Hillary Clinton is going to win Tennessee, but Obama flipped a lot of states. I don't know if any of those places would even consider Bernie Sanders. You have to put that in the mix.