Conclusion of my first Article on Late Night
Last week in the New York Times, a reviewer of Woody Allen’s autobiography called him ‘a 20th Century man in a 21st Century world.” I can not think of a more fitting epitaph for Bill Maher, albeit in a completely different context. I realize that Maher’s show may have been titled Politically Incorrect, but his entire lifestyle has been raging against so many of the people he thinks have been destroying our safety — families. I remember him saying in a 2002 routine about his biggest peeves: ‘Safety is more important than fun” and ‘Children are more important than people”, something that still makes no sense to me. It’s worth that noting that Maher has never seriously dated or even been involved with any woman, even in his sixties, and I can’t help think that some part of his comedy has always been trying to justify his own lifestyle. Everyone knows how much of an atheist he’s been, even before his documentary Religulous came out in 2008, but the longer he’s been on the air, it’s harder to find if he supports anything — aside, of course, from the legalization of marijuana.
Maher claims to be a libertarian and a Democrat, but I think he only supports Democrats when Republicans were in power. He may have hated George W. Bush from the beginning (that’s understandable given what happened to his career) but it’s worth noting that he advocated for Ralph Nader in 2000, and was lukewarm towards John Kerry throughout the 2004 campaign. (I’m relatively sure at one point he advocated for W’s reelection so ‘he could clean up his mess.’ The fact that he argued the week before that W’s reelection was based on running ‘on a mistake’ apparently didn’t seem to bother him.) And sure, he was in favor of Obama in principle during his Presidency, but throughout the entire Obama administration, he continuously railed against the Democrats in power, at one point actually saying: ‘Democrats are the new Republicans’.
Some people have occasionally referred to Maher as a misogynist. I really think he’s more of a misanthrope; as much as a reactionary as so many of the Fox News broadcasters he will constantly rail against. The fact that he’s nothing more than an old white man who doesn’t like the way the country’s going doesn’t help his cause that much. In that sense, I think the humorist he resembles the most is H.L. Mencken, who believed the people in general were idiots, but had huge problems with the Progressives who dominated much of the political era he wrote in. This was, after all, a man who favored in Harding and Landon, and whose last political campaign was spent advocated for Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond.
Despite all of this, I could forgive Maher’s political views — if he were at least funny. And that is perhaps the biggest problem I’ve had with Maher ever since he went to HBO and Real Time. He hasn’t been. All that allowing him to be unchained and uncensored has just made him meaner and more unpleasant. And his railing against all of the problems that plague America hasn’t been the least been entertaining. Some have admired his openness in an age of everybody being in the bubble in continuing invite political figures who disagree with him virulently. Ann Coulter has been a frequent guest, as have Geraldo Rivera and many Republican leaders. And while I admire his willingness to at least hear out the opposition, in a sense his continuing to pillory them and smear them in his nightly monologue and ‘New Rules’, just basically tells you more about his guests than it does about him.
I do give him credit for recognizing Donald Trump’s rise before everyone else, but you know what they say about a broken clock. And if anything, he’s become more unpleasant to anybody who dares contradict him since Trump took office. In that sense, he’s a little like so many of the newsletters who’ve railed against everything Trump does (except ironically, they’re often so woke they don’t appreciate him either).
And what bothers me the most about Maher is how negative he is. Now that’s nothing new in the age where its getting harder to find optimism, but at least Seth Meyers and John Oliver offer some hope occasionally. Maher just keeps saying things are going to get worse, and no institution will ever work any more, and worst of all he’s not even trying to be funny or entertaining while he does it. He sounds so much like a tired, bitter old man that in an age where there are so many of them dominating the air waves, one wonders why we need another one on HBO.
He doesn’t seem to care about his own contradictions. For years, he’s been railing against the superhero films and TV that dominate every aspect of entertainment, at one point, even saying that they helped lead to the rise of Trump. But he never had much use for entertainment when it wasn’t all blockbuster based. He denounced the Oscars more than once as ‘the awards show for movies nobody watches.’ I don’t think he watches much television outside of the political world he lives, or perhaps even the comedians he performs wits, and he doesn’t seem to have much use for the people in the world, outside his own studio or audiences. In a monologue fairly recently, he argued that ‘fat-shaming’ should come back to get rid of the obesity epidemic — something that was so harsh, the normally placid James Corden had a monologue on his own Late Night show to call him on it. My guess is, if the Democrats win the 2020 election even by landslide margins, he’ll still be riled against whatever Republicans are left. He needs someone to rage against as much as any pundit does.
I don’t deny Maher was a great talent once. Unfortunately, that period was the Clinton era, and he doesn’t seem to care that it’s never coming back. We’ve got enough good comic performers in late night these days; I think the last thing we need these days is another white man; especially one who doesn’t even try to care for his own audience. Maher needs to hang it up. Sooner rather than later. Maybe give a regular show to Two Dope Queens or Black Lady SKETCH Show. There would be an irony that I could really get behind.