MA­HER’S SUC­CESS: POK­ING FUN AT OWN PO­LIT­I­CAL SIDE

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY CHRIS­TIAN TOTO

Bill Ma­her can be the left­ists’ most out­spo­ken cham­pion and their harsh­est critic — some­times in the same breath.

Fel­low co­me­di­ans say that gives his voice more grav­i­tas in th­ese in­creas­ingly tribal times. It might even earn Mr. Ma­her some be­grudg­ing ad­mir­ers on the right.

In re­cent months on his HBO talk show, “Real Time,” he has de­fended Amy Schumer against the “pro­fes­sion­ally of­fended” for say­ing her comedic film “I Feel Pretty” traf­ficked in “fat sham­ing.”

Mr. Ma­her also blasted lib­er­als for chas­ing Repub­li­can law­mak­ers out of pub­lic places, ref­er­enc­ing how din­ers tor­mented Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can, and his wife dur­ing a restau­rant out­ing.

He even in­vited con­ser­va­tive fire­brand Steve Ban­non to be a guest on his show. Pro­gres­sives con­sider the po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive to be so toxic that he was un­in­vited from The New Yorker’s fall fes­ti­val.

Mr. Ma­her will never be con­fused with right-lean­ing comic Den­nis Miller, whose ra­zor-sharp re­torts and rants typ­i­cally tar­get Democrats. He is will­ing to call out cul­tural of­fenses wher­ever he spots them — left or right.

Right-lean­ing co­me­dian Tim Young says Mr. Ma­her’s au­di­ence is more likely to pay at­ten­tion to his po­lit­i­cal punch­lines when he oc­ca­sion­ally smites his own side.

“When you have some­one purely left or purely right, it be­comes white noise,” Mr. Young said. “With [Mr. Ma­her], you never know what to ex­pect.”

Mr. Young, whose new book is ti­tled “I Hate the Democrats / I Hate the Repub­li­cans,” of­ten mocks the right in line with Mr. Ma­her’s ap­proach. It earns him blow­back from con­ser­va­tives, though.

Left-lean­ing comic Robert Baril said Mr. Ma­her’s opin­ions could hold sway over Democrats thanks to his comedic hon­esty.

“If they’re go­ing to lis­ten to any­body, it’ll be a fel­low lib­eral,” said Mr. Baril, whose re­cent com­edy al­bum is dubbed “Sex and Pol­i­tics.”

Mr. Baril com­pares the HBO host to Jon Stew­art, who reigned on Com­edy Cen­tral’s “The Daily Show” from 1999 to 2015.

“[Mr. Stew­art] was also left of cen­ter, po­lit­i­cally. He used politi­cians’ words against them,” said Mr. Baril, adding that his own con­ser­va­tive fa­ther has watched Mr. Ma­her for years with­out nec­es­sar­ily agree­ing with his stances.

Some lib­eral comics may re­sist Mr. Ma­her’s ap­proach, Mr. Baril said, be­cause they don’t want to “ruf­fle feathers” while Repub­li­cans con­trol the White House and Congress.

“What Ma­her’s do­ing is re­ally im­por­tant. It’s also how you grow as a party and a group. … With­out that, you’re not go­ing to evolve,” he said.

Mr. Ma­her still de­votes most of his air­time to smit­ing Repub­li­cans, some­times in a de­mean­ing fash­ion. Wit­ness his sug­ges­tion that Ivanka Trump cozy up to her fa­ther in or­der to pass more moder­ate leg­is­la­tion.

Pro­gres­sive comic Guy Branum ap­plauds Mr. Ma­her for dar­ing to re­con­sider pro­gres­sive talk­ing points.

“I think peo­ple be­ing will­ing to scru­ti­nize them­selves and scru­ti­nize their own po­lit­i­cal party is valu­able,” said Mr. Branum, a writer for shows such as E!’s “Chelsea Lately” and “The Mindy Project.”

Mr. Branum sug­gests that some of Mr. Ma­her’s stances re­flect his self-in­volve­ment over prag­matic rev­e­la­tions.

“In re­cent months, he’s loved to whine that #MeToo has gone too far. … His bud­dies are get­ting af­fected. He’s said noth­ing about the women who were af­fected,” Mr. Branum said. “Most of the time you see Bill Ma­her be­ing crit­i­cal of some­thing that’s con­ven­tion­ally left­ist, it’s some­thing he doesn’t care about.”

Mr. Branum said a bet­ter ex­am­ple of a lib­eral comic reach­ing across the po­lit­i­cal aisle is Sarah Sil­ver­man in her Hulu se­ries “I Love You, Amer­ica.”

Boris Ep­shteyn, chief po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst for Sin­clair Broad­cast Group, has ap­peared twice on Mr. Ma­her’s “Real Time” show. They don’t see eye to eye po­lit­i­cally, but Mr. Ep­shteyn said the host’s will­ing­ness to en­gage the other side isn’t lost on fel­low con­ser­va­tives.

“In a world where we con­sis­tently see con­ser­va­tive view­points cen­sored, even dis­in­vited from pub­lic de­bates, Bill sees the im­por­tance of en­gag­ing with those from all sides of the po­lit­i­cal aisle,” Mr. Ep­shteyn said.

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