By Judy Kurtz
Longtime viewers of Bill Maher on HBO’s “Real Time” may be surprised to learn the liberal-leaning host, who makes a habit of skewering Republicans on a weekly basis, is “considering” casting a vote for one come 2016.
“Rand PaulRand PaulRepublicans question Trump's trip to Scotland Hate TV customer service? So does your senator Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers MORE is an interesting candidate to me. Rand Paul could possibly get my vote,” the 58-year-old comedy veteran said of the Kentucky senator.
When ITK asked if Maher, who donated $1 million to an Obama super PAC in 2012, would be doing the same for a Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham Clinton'Hamilton' to take center stage at Clinton fundraiser Clinton camp blasts Trump over Brexit response: 'He patted himself on the back' Clinton camp raffling 'Hamilton' with Hillary MORE PAC, he quickly answered, “No, I don’t think so. First of all, I’m not as big a fan of Hillary as I am of Obama. So we’ll see who’s running. I’m not even committing to being for Hillary.”
When pressed on whether he was leaning towards the Republican lawmaker in a potential Clinton/Paul matchup (neither has announced any 2016 plans), Maher said, “I wouldn’t say leaning, but I would say for the first time in a long time I’d be considering the Republican product. I might choose their toothpaste when I’m in the aisle.”
The former face of ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” will play host to a slate of high-profile Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike — including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Jerry Seinfeld, and Andrea Mitchell — when he attempts a feat this week that likely no comic has ever done before.
He’s going live this Friday from Washington with his HBO show, and then high-tailing it to another D.C. theater for a live stand-up special.
So what’s the worst that could happen?
“A meltdown,” Maher replies with a laugh. “I could have a [Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)]-like filibuster. I’ll start reading Green Eggs and Ham. Then we’ll know it was a bad idea.”
Maher says the Sep. 12 back-to-back tapings of a live “Real Time” followed by “Bill Maher: Live From D.C.” are simply a way to “freshen the drink.”
Maher is also resuming the show’s 12th season with a big reveal for his show in the nation’s capital: the winner (or “winning loser,” as he says) of his “Flip a District” segment.
The goal is to “boot out of office” a viewer-nominated lawmaker. Maher says the thinking behind the segment “wasn’t ratings,” but instead “the idea that it’s OK for someone like me to get a little more involved without becoming obsessed.”
“You don’t want to be Lenny Bruce reading the Warren Commission transcripts,” he chuckles. “And I’m certainly not doing that. This is still mostly a comedy bit. But it’s serious. I think we can flip the district.”
Although, he admits, the scheme could backfire: “There’s the chance that we’ll help [the winner] because I’m not exactly a mainstream person. So I could understand how somebody could use our help against the opponent, you know. ‘Look, you’ve got an atheist pot smoker on your side; of course you should vote for the other guy.’”
Maher insists the drubbing he sometimes gives the GOP is nothing personal. On the contrary, he says he’s fond of many members of the party.
“I like almost all the Republicans who do our show. I like [them] on a personal basis. And when you get them in the greenroom after the show and you get a drink in them, they’re not as crazy as they sound," he says.
In fact, Maher says, he empathizes with some of them. Naming past Republican guests such as Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.), and Jack Kingston (Ga.), but speaking generally, the comedian says, “You know they have to appeal to a base that is quite frankly a bunch of knuckle draggers and so there’s part of me that feels for them.”
“I think there is a more reasonable person in there, very often, than is exhibited in public, and it’s because they have to appeal to that base," he adds.
For Maher, his far-from-P.C. one-liners have sometimes gotten him in trouble — controversial comments he made just days after 9/11 famously got him canned from his ABC show. The New Jersey native says he doesn’t get nervous about telling a joke because he’s so used to “people attacking” him that he feels “kind of inoculated.”
“I mean, I could say ‘Good morning’ on Twitter and the first 20 comments [are], ‘How dare you, Bill Maher, say, ‘Good morning!’” He continues with a slew of hypothetical mean tweets: “’Morning — are you kidding? Ronald Reagan owns morning. It was ‘morning in America’ from him and how dare you invoke morning!’ So in that atmosphere where people are just laying in wait constantly to attack anything you say, it almost doesn’t matter anymore because I know whatever you say is going to get attacked.”
The funnyman discloses what he says is the most misunderstood thing about him: “Maybe that I’m a provocateur just to be one… I just say what I think is true and that often upsets people, including my own audience.”
He adds, “Jokes are lies. We exaggerate and say things that aren’t true to elicit laughter. But the idea behind the jokes is always something I feel strongly and honestly about.”