If you love Bill Maher — I never miss his weekly Real Time show, the smartest comedy-news program on TV — you’re as excited as I am that he will be doing bonus shows, available on YouTube, for four nights of the Republican and Democrat national conventions. Last night was the first one, and his guests includes uber-liberals Dan Savage and Michael Moore. Side-splitting and insightful. And there’ll be another one tonight! Enjoy.
In your interview with Playboy magazine, you rant about the hypocrisy that allows leftist humorists and celebrities to “get away with” insulting people, and the unfairness that right-wingers can’t do the same thing. Here’s one of the examples you used:
Bill Maher … said to Seth MacFarlane this year, “I thought you were going to do the Oscars again. Instead they got a lesbian.” He can say something like that. Is that more or less offensive than Alec Baldwin saying to someone in the street, “You fag”? I don’t get it.
Since you clearly don’t get it — and have totally missed the point — allow me to explain.
Simply put: Yes, Baldwin’s usage is more offensive. Here’s why. The word that Maher used — “lesbian” — is one that is completely acceptable to use. Ellen may well say, “I am a lesbian,” and no one would call her self-hating. “Fag,” on the other hand, is a derogatory word intended to injure. Had Maher called Ellen a “dyke,” perhaps he would have received more backlash. And there’s a reason for it.
Did you see that part in your rant where Bill Maher said something to Seth MacFarlane on TV? That’s called a celebrity interview, the kind you were doing with Playboy. Maher is a comedian, and was using humor. Alec Baldwin arbitrarily shouting, in anger, the epithet “fag” at a stranger? Less acceptable. Sort of like how I can say, “Bitch, please” to my friends … but if I spit the words “Dumb bitch!” at a 9-year-old girl at a playground, I have perhaps misused it.
You see the difference there, don’t you Gary? How I can call you “an idiot” to your face for your stupid comments, but it would be rude to say the same to a mentally-impaired person? (Though, come to think of it, perhaps you are mentally impaired, in which case I apologize.)
Lisa Lampanelli, the insult comedian, calls folks in her audience “fags” all the time. And even the gay ones — hell, especially the gay ones — laugh it up. It’s a joke. It’s meant to diffuse tensions, not create them. No one is a victim in a Lisa Lampanelli set; they paid to be there. And having interviewed Lisa on many occasions, I can tell you, the gay community has no more sincere ally … even though she called me a fag to my face.
Which doesn’t mean comedians can’t cross the line, or get in trouble. A few years ago, a story I wrote (where Bill Maher called Sarah Palin a “cunt”) went viral, and it led to calls that Maher should apologize and be vilified. That didn’t get too far, perhaps because Maher has a history of skewering everyone (right and left) whom he feels deserves contempt.
Personally, I think attacking everyone for using the word “fag” has become too politically correct, as well. Queer used to be an insult — now it’s an identity. But Gary, please — do you really not get the difference between humor and anger, between satire and hatred, between derogation and parody? Is there hypocrisy? Sure. But if you cast an anonymous vote for an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave not because it was a damned good movie but because you worried you’d be called a racist … well, I think maybe your issues run deeper the not understanding political correctness. And anyone who would defend Mel Gibson by saying “we’ve all said those things” may need a session of sensitivity training.
It’s no secret I think Bill Maher is a dangerous (in a good way) comedian, and love that he says what a lot of people feel uncomfortable giving words to (like on particular word he called Sarah Palin at the Winspearearlier this year). He’s proven over and over what a great gay ally he is, and he does so again this week with a roundtable lineup that includes openly gay newsfolk Rachel Maddow and Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan, of course, is famously conservative, but he’s also intellectual honest and very pro-gay. Should be a good discussion.
The new episode airs live on Friday at 9 p.m. on HBO, with replays all week (including one at 10 p.m.).
Since she was last in Dallas almost two years ago, shock comic Lisa Lampanelli has become a changed person. She’s slimmer and no longer wears frilly petticoats. She settled down and married her boyfriend, and he’s — get this — not black. She’s adopted a Yorkshire terrier mix puppy. She appears on the way to blissful domesticity. In fact the last time we talked, she called me a “big dirty homo.” This time, she was nice.
All of which led us to wonder: Has Lisa Lampanelli gone soft?
No fuckin’ way.
In her latest comedy special, Tough Love, Lampanelli rails on the gays in her audience, calling them bun splitters, tush ticklers, fudge nudgers, semen demons and “David Archuletta.”
But the truth is, she is a softie — in her own way.
“I love the cornholers,” she says. “If you hate gays, get out — you’re not allowed to be my friend anymore. Without the gays, who would watch Bravo TV? Without the gays, who would run Bravo TV? Without the gays, who would say ‘Bravo!’?”
But married life — and quasi-parenthood (she adopted a puppy) — have brought out a different side to her.
“It’s hard to justify being ‘I was edgy and suddenly I’m transformed.’ But there’s enough crap that pisses me off every single day. What has softened me a little is we adopted this 7-lb. Yorkie. Jimmy brings him on stage and I turn into the biggest fag in the world. We named him Parker, after Sarah Jessica Parker because they’re both ugly-cute.”
One other thing: She’s beginning to develop a (gulp!) conscience.
“I don’t know what it is about aging, but I’ve begun to think, ‘Maybe I hurt her feelings —I hope not.’ I feel terrible if I make a joke about someone, like Sarah Jessica Parker, whose not an asshole but a really nice person.” She even met the Kardashians after mocking them for years, only to be charmed by them in person.
“They were so goddamn nice to me, it took me four years to work up the nerve to do jokes about them again,” she says.
Some celebs, though, she doesn’t worry about pissing off, as the closing “roast” on her comedy special will attest.
“I loved doing that,” Lampanelli says. “I had all these great jokes about all these idiots in the entertainment field — and I use that term loosely — that I would never get to do, so I just let loose.”
She had one of her most surreal experiences when she recently did The Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump with Jersey Shore’s Mike “The Situation” Sorentino, whose routine was such a bomb, you could hear crickets chirping.
“Did you see that train wreck?” she squeals. “You thought it was painful for you guys to watch? Imagine being there. It wasn’t fun to watch. It’s weird to watch somebody bomb, even if you don’t like that person. But what is stupid about him is, he’s so delusional he comes up to me after and says, ‘That went pretty well, right?’”
Lampanelli has been on the receiving end of barbs for herself, and she admits the jokes can get brutal.
“It’s always a struggle. You get made fun of for certain categories — they never say unfunny or dumb because I’m clearly funny and really smart. For me, it’s fat and ugly. They will be like ‘that fat cunt’ unless I am a size 6. My favorite one ever was when Artie Lange was at his obese, ugliest worst and he said, ‘Someone came up to me and said, ‘Aren’t you Lisa Lampanelli?’”
It’s one reason she has no sympathy for Sarah Palin when Bill Maher called her a cunt.
“People are so fucking stupid,” she says with the decorum that has made her a hit at christenings and golden wedding anniversaries. “Choice of words is the most ridiculous thing to attack when we have freedom of speech. I hate the Westboro Baptist Church, but letting them have GodHates Fags.com allows me to do what I do. And Sarah Palin is a cunt, by the way. I’m just sad I didn’t get in more trouble when I called her a ‘retard producer.’”
The reason Lampanelli’s acts works is because she’s an equal opportunity offender. And that only works when people laugh at themselves.
“Hispanics in general are very much more open with a sense of humor about themselves than other groups. Gays are great, of course. A few Asians will laugh it up at gay and black jokes and then I say ‘chink’ and they say, ‘No, that’s going too far.’ The jokes I get in trouble for are autism and retarded kid jokes. But people have come to me to say, ‘My kid is autistic; thanks for including us.’ It’s the least form of prejudice. If you’re gonna make fun of blacks, Asians and gays, you gotta laugh at everybody.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.
In this week’s episode we talked about the closure of The Bronx Cafe; new bars in Dallas and Fort Worth including Last Call, Club Reflection and Klub Wet; the anti-gay amendment passed by the Texas House last night; Dallas County’s nondiscrimination policy; and shows in Dallas this week including Dan Savage and Bill Maher.
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!)
In this week’s episode, Rich Lopez and I discussed the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s addition of sexual orientation but not gender identity to the county’s nondiscrimination policy, Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement of James Nowlin over Angela Hunt, Dan Savage’s upcoming appearance in Dallas, the Dallas International Film Festival, Bill Maher and more.