Pasa Reviews Bill Maher at Popejoy Hall
Bill Maher Popejoy Hall, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, Feb. 12
Feb. 12 was Lincoln’s birthday, but Bill Maher didn’t mention him in his 93-minute solo stand-up at Popejoy Hall that evening. He did talk about the reigning president, though, a lot. How could he have done otherwise? Maher has been in training for decades to confront our unthinkable present. He occupies a prickly and uncompromising bully pulpit in today’s media, drawing in his devotees through razorsharp wit and enlisting them as allies as he deflates the bloviating popinjays who make their handsome livings spewing selfserving talking points.
Events of early November did seem to leave him gobsmacked. The season finale of his HBO show Real Time With Bill Maher was scheduled for Nov. 11, just three days after the election, and he somehow got through it, ashen, trying to find his footing in a reality that, at the time, seemed merely surreal. It was assuredly not the show he had anticipated. His small-screen presence evaporated for more than two months, and the network announced his return only a week before it actually happened. He took to the airwaves again on Jan. 20, which was both Inauguration Day and his own sixty-first birthday. But he had been processing the new reality all along, working through current events onstage and stirring up his national fan base in person in Hawaii, Texas, and Utah before he reached New Mexico last Sunday.
Maher has always thrived in the bubbling brew of political chaos and social hypocrisy. Having polished the art of the sardonic in happier times, he embarks on our brave new world verbally and intellectually armed to a fare thee well. “We tried to not watch the news for a while, but we can’t,” he explained to his audience at Popejoy. “I mean, we live in the ******* world, OK? America’s under new management. It puts things in perspective for me. In 2012, I was so afraid of Mitt Romney becoming president that I gave Obama’s PAC a million dollars. I would gladly give that million dollars to Mitt Romney today for him to become president of the United States.”
Skewering the current occupant of the Oval Office, directly or indirectly, occupied perhaps three-quarters of Maher’s evening, with the remainder being devoted to sex and religion, invariably with a spectacular underpinning of profanity. Politics, sex, religion: all the topics we’re supposed to avoid except at dinner parties. A prominent atheist, Maher was unstinting in his dismissal of illiberal attitudes upheld by Muslim and Christian fundamentalists. His comments about the latter, warmly welcomed by the audience in general, seemed to cross a boundary for a few ticket buyers; at each of three spans during which he delivered particularly barbed attacks on loudly selfproclaiming Christians, pairs of attendees made unsmiling exits from seats near me. And yet, Maher’s condemnations were never irrational. “They always talk about how Christianity is under attack,” he exclaimed. “They really think? In America, 70 percent Christian? Ninety-two percent of Congressmen identify as Christian [long pause] — mostly on Grindr.” He elevated atheist naughtiness to a Himalayan level. “I love it that God is perfect, but he feels like **** when he **** s up,” he stated, introducing a risible retelling of the tale about Noah’s flood. “God felt bad about the flood, and he promised Noah he wouldn’t do it again. And we know this is how God felt because the Bible says this was the moment God created the rainbow and gave it to Noah as a gift. That was his ‘I’m sorry’ gift. … ‘It’s a rainbow. Is that gorgeous or what? Take it! Take it! Just don’t do anything gay with it.’ ” Much as Maher’s humor delighted, it did not disguise the anger and frustration that lay at its core. “When are Republicans going to do something? This is beyond politics. What has to happen? Does he have to roll around naked on the White House lawn — eating the grass and saying, ‘Vroom, vroom, I’m a lawn mower’ — before people do something?” It was an evening of top-tier comedy, to be sure, but also a call to action — a cri de coeur for liberal thinkers and all people of good will to get their act together by the time Americans return to the ballot boxes in 2018. — James M. Keller
Maher has always thrived in the bubbling brew of political chaos and social hypocrisy. Having polished the art of the sardonic in happier times, he embarks on our brave new world verbally and intellectually armed to a fare thee well.