Bill Maher shares his thoughts on the upcoming presidential election, the political issues on his radar for 2016 and beyond, and his upcoming appearances at the Palms Casino Resort’s Pearl Theater.
Bill Maher may be well into the 13th season of his hit HBO talk show, Real Time With Bill Maher, but the New Jersey native still considers standup comedy to be one of his first loves. Recognized for his unabashed honesty and relentlessly progressive thinking, Maher returns to the Palms Casino Resort’s Pearl Concert Theater this weekend for two back-to-back nights of searing political commentary. Days before the shows, we caught up with him to find out what he has in store for Vegas audiences (hint: it might not be what you’re thinking).
You’ll be performing at the Palms Casino Resort’s Pearl Concert Theater two nights in a row. What can audiences expect from the shows?
BILL MAHER: They can expect to laugh their asses off—that’s what they deserve and what I’m more than happy to give them. I feel like it’s been a love affair over there [in Vegas]. I played Vegas many years ago as an opening act in the ’80s, when I was a young comedian, and both me and the town were worse then. I always say it was sort of the deadball era of Las Vegas. It was after the Rat Pack—or when they were in their senescence, at least, when people would still go see them but they needed something like seven big-screen teleprompters to remember the lyrics. […] And yet it was also before Vegas had sort of reinvented itself. There were no nightclubs; that kind of stuff hadn’t come in at all yet. In fact, they hadn’t even gone through that brief phase where they were trying to be a family place—that was a bad idea, and I would’ve loved to be in on that meeting. […] I remember those days of opening up for Diana Ross and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and that kind of stuff, and that was tough. In the last 10 or 15 years that I’ve played there, it’s been so great. The audiences are just terrific. […] I feel like they’re very sophisticated audiences.
What are your predictions for the 2016 presidential election?
BM: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic Party’s nomination. On the Republican side is where the interest is going to be, because it’s completely wide open and there are many choices there—all horrible—but we’ll see. I’m from New Jersey, so I’m kind of hoping it’s going to be Governor Chris Christie. That’s a big “if,” though, because he has skeletons in his closet—of cows.
What major issues should the American public focus on in advance of the 2016 election?
BM: I always say the environment is the most important issue. In California, I don’t know if you heard, but last week they announced that we have one year of water left. To me, this is kind of big news. I’m just mystified that this is the third story on the news and it’s just kind of taken in stride. […] “We have no water—over to sports!” We only have enough water for a year!
There are many other issues—social issues—that matter to me personally. I’d love to see marijuana legalized. It’s actually embarrassing that there are four states that have legalized it and California isn’t one of them. California is supposed to be the hippest place, and we were behind on gay marriage, and now we’re behind on pot. If we’re behind on one more thing, I’m going to start calling California “West Arizona.” That’s a direct threat.
What do you think is the best way to respond to people who actively deny that global warming is happening?
BM: I don’t even know how to talk to a person like that, really. There are even Republicans now who don’t deny that it’s happening. At that phase of denial, you’re kind of hopeless. It’s like denying gravity. What can I say to a person like that? The problem with the Republican response is that they went right from “it’s not happening” to “OK, it’s happening, but it’s too late to do anything about it.” Somehow, we completely skipped that phase where we could actually do something.
What I would say to a reasonable person who’s open to thinking about this in an adult way, is that you’re not going to solve this problem, as so many people would like to think, with voluntary measures. It’s not going to be solved because you’re recycling or because you chose to get a Prius, which is all great and I’m glad we’re doing it, but this is an issue only government can solve. Only a carbon tax can really reduce the amount of carbon we put in the atmosphere. Only a president—like the one we have, who’s getting better on this issue, who vetoed the [Keystone] XL Pipeline—in this country is going to have an effect. He made a climate deal with China, but of course it’s doesn’t kick in for another 20 years. I don’t know if the country is going to be here in 20 years. Already people in Beijing and New Delhi, India, walk around during the day with masks on. You have to ask yourself, “What does it take for people to get the hints?” If we were having to walk around with masks on just to go outside here in L.A., where the air isn’t perfect but we don’t need a mask to go outside and walk the dog, I’d be in the streets. Forget government—I’d be in the streets protesting. And I think a lot of other people would, too.
How do you think the current political landscape will bear on millennials in the future?
BM: I’m always mystified by why young people aren’t the ones in the streets about the environment. They’re the ones who are going to have to be on the cleanup committee. I’m 60 years old, I’ve had my fun with the Earth. But if you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you see where it’s going—I mean, they say the oceans are dying, and we can’t live on Earth without the oceans. […] It’s like pulling the thread out of the sweater; if you pull enough thread, you won’t have any sweater left. That’s one thing that’s important.
I gave the commencement speech this year at [the University of California,] Berkeley, and the student who gave the student address said something I thought was interesting. She said something like, “I’m 100 percent sure that there’s someone in this audience here today that’s going to cure cancer, solve world hunger, and fix global warming.”
I thought to myself, “I’m not.” And that’s a great excuse for not doing anything about these problems—to think that there’s someone else in this audience who’s going to figure it out. […] But I wouldn’t count on that at all. I think everybody has to get out there and do it. It kind of reminds me of all of the people I hear complain about President Obama and say, “I was with him in ’08 when it was all about hope, but it’s been disappointing and he hasn’t done what he said.”
To which I always say, “Really?” The slogan was “Yes We Can.” We. He can’t do it all by himself. I’ve had my quibbles with this president, but I think he’s been a pretty awesome president and done about as much as he can do. Where it’s fallen down is because other people didn’t pitch in to help like they should’ve. The effort and the struggle didn’t end on election night in 2008. That was when it was just beginning. I think millennials really have to understand that all of these issues—debt, global warming—they’re their issues. They’re the ones who are going to be affected by them more than anyone, and they need to vote more. Baby boomers got theirs. There’s a reason why most of the money in this country goes to older people—because they vote.
You’re one of the executive producers for HBO’s news series Vice. How did you first get involved with the project?
BM: Vice is awesome, but I take no credit for Vice other than to slap my name on it. I helped them when the show was first being launched. They were moving from an Internet show to a television show, and they really had no experience in television itself. But they were still 90 percent of the way there. I helped them when they tried to shape it a little more for a television audience, but basically they know what they’re doing. They’re so brave and so smart, and the stories they do are unlike anything else you see on TV. There was a desperate need for a show like that, I think, that shows Americans the world as it is.
Do you think the growth of contemporary media—and online media, in particular—has been good or bad for politics?
BM: I don’t have a high opinion of media, especially political media in this country. The media that I have great respect for are foreign correspondents, the people who go to other places in the world, like Vice does, who cover ISIS and the world over there. These people are really brave, and we’ve lost so many of them. And very few newspapers have desks overseas. It’s just too expensive and perhaps too dangerous, so we’re really depending on just a few foreign policy desks that are overseas for our news. […] The media [isn't] liberal, [it's] not conservative—they’re shallow. What they want to do is find a scandal or something really easy to understand, and that’s not what the media is supposed to do. Don Hewitt of 60 Minutes said it best years ago when he said something like, “Our job—what we’re supposed to do—is make interesting what’s important.” Well, most journalists in this country completely abdicate that responsibility. They go for the easiest, lowest-common-denominator thing. Something that already would get eyeballs. If you want to do that, just put porn on the evening news.
You also wrote and starred in the 2008 documentary film Religulous. Do you have any plans to get involved in more films?
BM: No real plans, but I have a Hawaiian vacation—a working vacation—that I do every year, where I go to Hawaii and play New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day there, and I always stay with some friends. This year, Larry Charles, the director of Religulous, came with me, and we did talk about it. I’d always say no, but you can never say never. […] We never really tackled the Eastern religions, which a lot of people think are hipper, even though I just kind of think they slapped an “organic” label on it. They’re, in general, less warlike, even though the Japanese in World War II were largely Buddhist and it didn’t stop them from trying to kill a lot of people in the world. People in Myanmar, formerly Burma, are mostly Buddhist, and they’re ethnically cleansing some of the Muslims there. Obviously nothing is stopping these people from doing the savage things they’re going to do. But that would be interesting—to go to India and Japan. That might be something interesting. It’s possible but not probable. Or, you know what? Let’s just say it’s up to God.
You’re a very polarizing figure, even to people who consider their political beliefs to be closely aligned with yours. Why do you think that is?
BM: I’ve never been a team player. I’ve always been an intellectual free agent, I’ve never joined a political party–although I’m obviously closer to the Democrats and the liberals on most issues. One of the main problems with our country is that people aren’t very independent [in the way] they think. I’ve always believed that, and I see it in our studio audience here. They’re on the blue team, they applaud for anything that’s pro-blue, and all you have to do is say “Sarah Palin” and they laugh. It’s not always well thought-out. And I think one of the things people appreciate about this show, as opposed to literally every other political comedy show, is that I’m not afraid to challenge my own audience. I’m not afraid to challenge the liberals when I don’t think they’re right and educate them when I don’t think they know enough about a certain subject.
What’s the best piece of advice, personal or political, that you could give to someone younger than you?
BM: Having never had kids, I unfortunately haven’t given that question a lot of thought. But I would think it would be: be an individual. Don’t do something because the group does. Constantly ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Why do I think like this?” And if the reason is because everyone else does, or because that’s the way it’s always been, then that’s not a good enough reason. I think that if you do that, you’ll be in a much better place in life. As history shows us, it’s the people who think for themselves who end up making history—and usually making money, as well.
Bill Maher performs at the Palms Casino Resort’s Pearl Concert Theater this Saturday, March 21, and Sunday, March 22. Purchase tickets here.
PHOTOGRAPHY VIA FACEBOOK.COM/MAHER