Bill Maher


Bill Maher
Bill Maher

Maher at a ceremony to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September 2010
Birth name William Maher, Jr.
Born January 20, 1956 (1956-01-20) (age 55)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Medium Stand-Up, Television, Film, Books
Nationality American
Years active 1979–present
Genres Satire, Political satire, News Satire, Observational comedy
Subject(s) American politics, current events, American culture, pop culture, freedom of speech, environmentalism, religion, human sexuality, recreational drug use, libertarianism, American liberalism, American conservatism
Influences Steve Allen, George Carlin, Johnny Carson, David Frost, Robert Klein, Don Rickles, Gore Vidal, Lenny Bruce
Notable works and roles Elliot on Charlie Hoover
Host of Politically Incorrect
Host of Real Time with Bill Maher
Religulous
Website BillMaher.com

William "Bill" Maher, Jr. (play /ˈmɑːr/; born January 20, 1956) is an American stand-up comedian, television host, political commentator, author and actor. Before his current role as the host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher hosted a similar late-night talk show called Politically Incorrect originally on Comedy Central and later on ABC.

Maher is known for his political satire and sociopolitical commentary, which targets a wide swath of topics: religion, politics, bureaucracies of many kinds, political correctness, the mass media, greed among people and persons in positions of high political and social power, the lack of intellectual curiosity of the electorate, among many topics.[1] He supports the legalization of marijuana and same-sex marriage, and serves on the board of PETA.[2] He is also a critic of religion and is an advisory board member of Project Reason, a foundation to promote scientific knowledge and secular values within society.[3] In 2005, Maher ranked at number 38 on Comedy Central's 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time.[4] Bill Maher received a Hollywood Walk of Fame star on September 14, 2010.[5]

Contents

Early life and education

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.[6] He was raised in his Irish American father's Catholic religion, remaining unaware that his mother was Jewish until his early teenage years.[7][8][9][10] Maher's family stopped attending church services when Maher was thirteen, due to his father's disagreement with the Catholic Church's position on birth control.[11]

Maher was raised in River Vale, New Jersey, and graduated from Pascack Hills High School in Montvale in 1974. He received a B.A. in English and history from Cornell University in 1978.[12]

Early career

Since beginning his career as a stand-up comedian and actor, he occasionally acts and tours. 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 a recurring role in Sara (1985), appeared in Max Headroom (1987), two separate appearances on Murder, She Wrote (1989, 1990), a recurring role in Charlie Hoover (1991) and other productions. He has also appeared in several films, usually in a comic role. His feature film debut was in D.C. Cab (1983), and he also appeared in Ratboy (1986) Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1988) and Pizza Man (1991), among others.

Television career

Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher

Maher assumed the host role Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, a late-night political talk show that ran on Comedy Central from 1993–1997 and on ABC from 1997–2002. The show regularly began with a topical monologue by Maher preceding the introduction of four guests, usually a diverse group of individuals from show business, popular culture, political pundits, political consultants, authors, and occasionally news figures. The group would discuss topical issues selected by Maher, who also participated in the discussions.[13] Jerry Seinfeld, a regular guest on the show, stated that Politically Incorrect reminded him of talk shows from the 1950s and 60s "when guests interacted with each other as much as with the host."[14]

Politically Incorrect won an array of awards, including an Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Direction, two CableACE awards for Best Talk Show Series, and a Genesis Award for Best Television Talk Show. Maher earned numerous award nominations for his producing, writing and hosting of Politically Incorrect, including ten Emmy nominations, two TV Guide nominations, and two Writers Guild nominations. ABC decided against renewing Maher's contract for Politically Incorrect in 2002, after he made a controversial on-air remark shortly after the September 11 attacks.[15] He agreed with his guest, conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza, that the 9/11 terrorists did not act in a cowardly manner (in rebuttal to President Bush's statement calling 9/11 hijackers cowards). Maher said, "We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly. You're right." Maher later clarified that his comment was not anti-military in any way whatsoever, referencing his well-documented longstanding support for the American military.[16][17][18]

In the context of the attacks, some corporate advertisers found the comment too insensitive and controversial. Several companies, including FedEx and Sears Roebuck, pulled their advertisements from the show, costing the show more than it returned.

The show was cancelled on June 16, 2002, and the Sinclair Broadcast Group had dropped the show from its ABC-affiliated stations months prior. On June 22, 2002, just six days after the cancellation of Politically Incorrect, Maher received the Los Angeles Press Club president's award (for "championing free speech"). Maher was on the board of judges one year for the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award.

Maher's remarks after 9/11 were not the first time he had sparked controversy on Politically Incorrect. In the same year, Maher was widely criticized for comparing dogs to retarded children. He apologized for his comments.[19]

Real Time with Bill Maher

In 2003, Maher became the host, co-producer and co-writer of Real Time with Bill Maher, a weekly hour-long political comedy talk show on the cable television network HBO. During an interview, Maher told Terry Gross (on NPR's Fresh Air) that he much prefers having serious and well-informed guests on his program, as opposed to the random celebrities that fleshed out his roundtable discussions on Politically Incorrect.[20]

As with his previous show, Politically Incorrect, Maher begins Real Time with a comic opening monologue based upon current events and other topical issues. He proceeds to a one-on-one interview with a guest, either in-studio or via satellite. Following the interview, Maher sits with three panelists, usually consisting of pundits, authors, activists and journalists, for a discussion of the week's events. In the segment "New Rules" at the end of each show, Maher delivers a humorous editorial on popular culture and American politics.

In late May 2005, Alabama Congressman Spencer Bachus sent a letter to Time Warner's board of directors requesting Real Time be cancelled after remarks Maher made after noting the military had missed its recruiting goals by 42 percent. Bachus said he felt the comments were demeaning to the military and treasonous. Maher stated his highest regard and support for the troops and asked why the congressman criticized him instead of doing something about the recruitment problem.[21]

Real Time has earned widespread praise. It has been nominated for more than ten Primetime Emmy Awards and six Writer's Guild awards. In 2007, Maher and his co-producers were awarded the Television Producer of the Year Award in Variety Television.[citation needed]

In early 2006, Real Time was released as an audio CD, along with another CD entitled Bill Maher's New Rules which features clips, segments and teasers from Real Time. Starting with Episode 67 (2-23-06), Real Time became available in the USA on iTunes as a free weekly audio podcast.[citation needed]

Maher holds the record for the most Emmy nominations without a win, having been nominated on 22 occasions and not winning once. Eleven of the nominations were for Politically Incorrect, while nine were for Real Time. The other two were nominations for two of his HBO comedy specials: Bill Maher: I'm Swiss and Bill Maher: The Decider.[22]

HBO announced in July 2011 the show was renewed for a tenth season.[23]

Christine O'Donnell

On September 17, 2010, Maher aired a clip of Delaware Republican Senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell from the October 29, 1999 episode of his old show Politically Incorrect on his current show Real Time with Bill Maher,[24][25] where she discussed that she had "dabbled in witchcraft." This was one of the most notable of numerous controversial statements by O'Donnell that made her the most covered candidate in the 2010 mid-term election cycle.[26][27]

Political commentator

Maher is a frequent commentator on various cable news networks, namely CNN, MSNBC, and HLN. Maher regularly appears on CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer[28] and is also a frequent guest on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews,[29] The Rachel Maddow Show[30] and Countdown with Keith Olbermann.[31] Maher has also appeared as a guest on HLN's The Joy Behar Show.[32]

Maher hosted the January 13, 2006 edition of Larry King Live, on which he is a frequent guest. Maher appeared as a special guest on the June 29, 2010 edition of the show, on which CNN anchor Larry King announced his retirement.[33] Maher co-emceed the final show of Larry King Live on December 16, 2010 with Ryan Seacrest.[34]

Since May 2005, he has been a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post.

Views and beliefs

Politics

Maher and Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA. Maher is on the board of directors of the animal rights group.

Maher eschews political labels, referring to himself as "practical".[35] In the past, he has described himself as a libertarian and has also referred to himself "as a progressive, as a sane person".[36][37]

Maher favors a partial privatization of Social Security, ending corporate welfare and federal funding of non-profits, and legalization of gambling, prostitution, and marijuana. Maher is a member of NORML's Advisory Board, an organization which supports regulated legalization of marijuana. He describes himself as an environmentalist, and he has spoken in favor of the Kyoto treaty on global warming on his show Real Time. Moreover, he often criticizes industry figures involved in environmental pollution.[38]

Maher is a board member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He 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 corporations urge upon the public. He maintains that mass consumption of high-fructose corn syrup is a contributor to the rise in frequency of obesity in the United States.[39]

Before the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Maher became candid in his stated opposition to the re-election of George W. Bush and in his support for John Kerry.[40]

Known for protesting against the demonization of the word "liberal", during the campaign Maher criticized Kerry for being ashamed of the word. On his show, the comedian has noted the paradox of people claiming they distrusted "elite" politicians while at the same time wanting elite doctors to treat them and elite lawyers to represent them in court.[41] Maher supports the death penalty, the legality of abortion and euthanasia. Since the 9/11 attacks, he has endorsed the use of racial profiling at airports.[42]

He was originally against the Iraq War, and has summarized his opinion by saying that the United States and the world have had to pay too high a price for the war. He is skeptical of Iraq surviving without civil war.[43]

In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Maher announced his support for Barack Obama.[44] Although Maher welcomed Obama's electoral victory, he has subjected him to criticism once in office for not acting boldly on health care reform and other progressive issues.[45]

Religion

Maher is highly critical of religion, and views it as not worth the bother. He has referred to himself as an apatheist, instead of an agnostic or atheist, on Scarborough Country on April 24, 2007, and again in July of 2011.[46][47] He has reiterated this stance in subsequent interviews, rejecting both the certitude of the existence, as well as the certitude of nonexistence of deities, concluding, "I'm saying that doubt is the only appropriate response for human beings."[48] He is an advisory board member of author Sam Harris's The Reason Project, a foundation that promotes scientific knowledge and secular values within society.

Maher and director Larry Charles teamed up to make the feature film Religulous (2008), described by trade publication Variety as a documentary "that spoofs religious extremism across the world." It was released on October 3, 2008.[49][50]

While Maher is critcal towards Christianity, he is an outspoken critic of religion as a whole, including Islam. On October 29, 2010, during a Real Time segment, Maher commented on a news story saying that the name Mohammed had become the most popular baby name in the United Kingdom. He asked, "Am I a racist to feel alarmed by that? Because I am. And it’s not because of the race, it’s because of the religion. I don’t have to apologize, do I, for not wanting the Western world to be taken over by Islam in 300 years? Sharia law is being institutionalized in England? Well, then I am right, I should be alarmed."[51] He later defended his comments on CNN, saying, "And when I say Westerner, I mean someone who believes in the values that Western people believe in that a lot of the Muslim world does not. Like separation of church and state. Like equality of the sexes. Like respect for minorities, free elections, free speech, freedom to gather. These things are not just different from cultures that don’t have them. … It’s better. … I would like to keep those values here." [52]

Maher received the Richard Dawkins Award for 2009 from Atheist Alliance International "for his efforts to further the values science and reason in the world."[53]

Health care

Maher has stated that the AMA is a powerful lobbying group and one of the primary reasons why the United States had failed to enact health care reform.[54][dead link][55]

On August 24, 2009, Maher was a guest on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and on the topic of getting universal health care legislation passed, Maher stated that Obama should forget about trying to get 60 votes for it, "he only needs 51." "Forget getting the sixty votes or sixty percent — sixty percent of people don't believe in evolution in this country — he just needs to drag them to it, like I said, they're stupid; get health care done, with or without them."[56]

Maher has expressed the view that most illness is generally the result of poor diet and that medicine is often not the best way of addressing illness. In an episode of the show about the 2008 presidential candidates' health plans, Maher stated that poor nutrition is the primary cause of illness, and that "the answer isn't another pill."

In a discussion with Michael Moore about the film Sicko, Maher asks, "The human body is pretty amazing; it doesn't get sick, usually, for no reason. I mean, there's some genetic stuff that can get to you, but, basically, people are sick in this country because they're poisoned. The environment is a poisoning factor, but also, we gotta say, they poison themselves. They eat shit. People eat shit, and that's, to my way of thinking, about 90 percent of why people are sick, is because they eat shit. Would you agree?"[57]

On October 9, 2009, on his HBO show, Maher debated the effectiveness of flu vaccinations with Bill Frist and stated, "Why would you let them be the ones to stick a disease into your arm? I would never get a swine flu vaccine or any vaccine. I don’t trust the government, especially with my health." Maher also expressed skepticism about the seriousness of the swine flu and whether completely healthy people could die from it. His comments have generated criticism, and his remarks have been called unscientific and even harmful.[58]

Maher responded to the criticism, noting, "What I've read about what they think I'm saying is not what I've said. I'm not a germ theory denier. I believe vaccinations can work. Polio is a good example. Do I think in certain situations that inoculating Third World children against malaria or diphtheria, or whatever, is right? Of course. In a situation like that, the benefits outweigh costs. But to me living in Los Angeles? To get a flu shot? No."[59] (see Vaccine controversy)

Criticism of 9/11 conspiracy theories

Maher has been a critic of 9/11 conspiracy theories. On October 19, 2007, Maher confronted several 9/11 truthers and had them ejected from his show audience after they interrupted the live show numerous times by calling out from the audience. The incident drew significant media attention and praise from Fox News talk show host and frequent critic John Gibson.[60]

Personal life

Maher has never married. In 2003, he began dating former Playboy Cyber Girl Coco Johnsen. In November 2004, at the end of their 17-month relationship, she sued him for USD $9 million for "pain and suffering" for alleged "insulting, humiliating and degrading racial comments." Her suit[61] stated that Maher promised to marry her and father her children, support her financially, and purchase a Beverly Hills home. Her suit also alleged that she quit her job as a flight attendant and occasional model to be with him. Maher's lawyers in their response filed on November 23, 2004, in Los Angeles Superior Court said Maher is a "confirmed bachelor, and a very public one at that" who "never promised to marry [Johnsen] or to have children with her."[62]

Maher's filing stated that "When the dating ended, [Johnson] (sic) launched a campaign to embarrass, humiliate, and extort ridiculous sums of money from Bill Maher." Johnsen accused another former boyfriend of rape and kidnapping in 1997, and the charges were later dismissed for lack of evidence.[63] Her lawsuit against Maher was dismissed on May 2, 2005.

Maher next to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September 2010

Maher enjoys his bachelor status and states that he does not want to get married. On his website, he is quoted as saying, "I'm the last of my guy friends to have never gotten married, and their wives — they don't want them playing with me. I'm like the escaped slave — I bring news of freedom."[64]

In 2005, he began dating Karrine Steffans, best-selling author and former hip hop model.[65][66][67] When commentators suggested there was a pattern to his dating because both his girlfriend and former girlfriend were black, Maher said, "People say I'm into black women. Robert De Niro is into black women. I'm just into women who are real, and they happen to be black."[66]

Credits

Bibliography

Filmography

Film
Year Title Role
1983 D.C. Cab Bob
1986 Rags to Riches Freddie
Club Med Rick
Ratboy Party Guest
1987 House II: The Second Story John
1988 Out of Time Maxwell Taylor
1989 Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death Jim
1991 Pizza Man Elmo Bunn
1996 Don't Quit Your Day Job! Comic's Table
1997 Bimbo Movie Bash Unknown
1998 EDtv Himself
2001 Tomcats (film) Carlos
2005 The Aristocrats Himself
2008 Swing Vote Himself
Religulous Himself
2009 New Rules: Best of Himself
2010 Sex, Drugs & Religion (2010) Himself
HBO Specials
Year Title Role
1989 One Night Stand Himself
1992 One Night Stand Himself
1995 Stuff that Struck Me Funny Himself
1997 The Golden Goose Special Himself
2000 Be More Cynical Himself
2003 Victory Begins at Home Himself
2005 I'm Swiss Himself
2007 The Decider Himself
2010 But I'm Not Wrong Himself
Television
Year Title Role
1985 Sara Marty Lang
1987 Hard Knocks Unknown
Max Headroom' Haskel
1989–90 Murder, She Wrote (2 episodes)
1990 The Midnight Hour Host
1991 Charlie Hoover Elliot
1992 Say What? Host
1993 Married... with Children Adam Gold
Roseanne Photographer
1997 Dharma & Greg Himself
1993–2002 Politically Incorrect Host
2002 Just for Laughs Himself
2003–present Real Time with Bill Maher Host
2008 True Blood Himself
2010 The Boondocks Himself
2010 Family Guy Himself

References

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  56. ^ "''Tonight Show'' with Conan O'Brien". Tonightshowwithconanobrien.com. http://www.tonightshowwithconanobrien.com/video/clips/bill-maher-pt2-082409/1149697/. Retrieved October 18, 2010. 
  57. ^ Maher and Moore Chew (Out) the Fat; Kerry Trueman, The Huffington Post; May 30, 2007
  58. ^ Parker-Pope, Tara (October 13, 2009). "Bill Maher vs. the Flu Vaccine". The New York Times. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/bill-maher-vs-the-flu-vaccine/. Retrieved April 1, 2010. 
  59. ^ Needling Bill Maher; Winnipeg Sun; October 28, 2009
  60. ^ "Hat's Off to Bill Maher". Fox News Channel. October 22, 2007. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,304240,00.html. Retrieved January 17, 2008. 
  61. ^ "Bill Maher Hit With Palimony Suit". http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/1111041coco1.html. Retrieved January 3, 2009. 
  62. ^ "Bill Maher Fights Back". http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/12-1-2004-62384.asp. Retrieved January 3, 2009. 
  63. ^ "Bill Maher". http://www.nndb.com/people/399/000022333/. Retrieved January 3, 2009. 
  64. ^ "About Bill Maher". http://www.billmaher.com/. Retrieved January 3, 2009. 
  65. ^ Calhoune, Sandra. "Plot Summary of Confessions of A Video Vixen". http://www.allreaders.com/topics/Info_35499.asp. Retrieved January 8, 2009. 
  66. ^ a b "Bill Maher — Smart, Snide, Still Single". http://www.savvyinsider.com/article.php?op=viewArticle&article_ID=305. Retrieved January 3, 2009. 
  67. ^ A Bawdy Lifestyle, and How to Shake It Washington Post; July 28, 2005

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