Pasa Re­views Bill Ma­her at Pope­joy Hall

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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.

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