I’ve seen Kathy Griffin perform live, and Joan Rivers and Lisa Lampanelli and Chris Rock — and they are all hilarious and edgy and daring comics who say outrageous things and go places that scare a lot of other comedians — but none of them can hold a candle to Bill Maher. Bill Maher is a shock comic who doesn’t say things just to shock: He says them because they are true.
Last night, at the Winspear Opera House, Maher spoke the truth for a nearly two-hour set, and, in my mind, established himself as the pre-eminent political commentator of a generation. He’s a comedian, too, of course. But really, he’s a voice.
The concert played out more like a rally than a comedian’s concert. “Your new theater isn’t gonna be clean for long,” Maher joked early in the set, before letting loose a parade of F-bombs and angry rants that touched on some easy pop targets (Justin Beiber, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen), but were most concerned with weighty issues including gay marriage (Maher said people in the military and the clergy have managed to scare people into thinking that just the sight of gay people will make you gay — in other words, “cock is like dessert at a restaurant — it’s what they’re known for, maybe I should try it”); Democrats’ wishy-washy leadership (when 75 percent of the American public supported repealing the ban on gays in the military, it “was still not enough political cover for these pussies”); his avowed atheism and even Lee Harvey Oswald (“Oh, yes, I went there — even in this town,” said the former North Texas resident).
It’s that fearlessness — he acknowledged that some people would probably be uncomfortable with some of his remarks about religion, not to mention calling Sarah Palin a “cunt” (“there’s just no other word for her”) — that makes Maher the most dangerous person in comedy. He’s painfully well-informed, which means he takes no bullshit from anyone. President Barack Obama took it on the chin almost as much as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. How dare the President say he would not settle for America being No. 2 — America is already out of the top 10 in most international lifestyle and human rights categories (health care, education, social mobility, women in high political positions). “I’d be thrilled if we were No. 2,” he ranted, noting it’s nice to be behind Bosnia in life expectancy (where the chief cause of death is wolfman attacks, he joked).
Every single Republican in the U.S. Senate, he noted, refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of global warming. One of the reasons for this, he said, is that oil is very macho: “You’ve got to drill and take it. Wind is a very gay way to get our energy. It’s drill baby drill, not blow baby blow.”
Maher kicked off the evening, though, in defense of the gays, before a largely gay (and certainly gay-friendly) audience, and came back to it time and again. “Tea-baggers have taken a gay sex act — one man dragging his balls across another man’s face — and somehow turned it into something tawdry and disgusting.” Obama was criticized for demanding additional “readiness studies” before repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” (“How do they conduct those studies?” he wondered. “Johnson, get in here and blow me while I fire this rifle at a target and we’ll compare my scores to before”). His assaults on George W. Bush, the oil industry and all religion (especially the Mormons, though), was particularly pointed in Bible Belt Texas, where even flamers go to church every week. But that’s exactly what I loved about him. You don’t have to agree with everything he says to respect the way he says it — not just to be humorous but to make you think. If our politicians were so brave, we might not be in such deep shit. (Thanks to John Wright for writing down some of the jokes!)