By G. Michael Dobbs
Bill Maher is arguably one of the best known comics in this country as he and his guests on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” have made headlines for their remarks.
But for Maher, performing his brand of politically-tinged stand-up is still his first love.
“It’s the longest and most successful relationship in my life,” he said with a laugh during an interview with Reminder Publications
Stand-up for Maher is an insurance policy for his career. “At some part TV puts you out to pasture,” he said.
Maher will be performing in Springfield Symphony Hall at 7 p.m. Oct. 27.
Maher explained that other comics might seek “evergreen” material for their acts but he enjoys providing commentary on current events.
“The act is always fresh to me and fresh to the audience,” he said. “It’s a lot of work to keep up with the act, but that’s what the plane is for.”
Maher’s comments on “Real Time” have been known to raise the hackles of some viewers, especially conservative ones, but he doesn’t worry too much about hostile audiences.
“Those people don’t come to the show,” he said.
Maher has played in “red” states such as Alaska, Alabama and Arkansas but said, “It doesn’t matter. The more redneck, the better the audience.”
He explained that liberals “are marbled into the population.”
Although Maher attracts between four million and five million viewers each week to his HBO show, he wouldn’t undertake a “stadium” tour as other comics have attempted.
“To play theaters of 2,000 to 3,000 [seats] – that’s as good as it gets,” he said. “Comedy should be intimate. It’s not for arenas.”
When performing live, Maher is listening to how the audience reacts and explained, “Every laugh has information attached to it.”
Because of this interaction, Maher said, “No two shows are alike.”
Maher became known to many people due to the success of his television show “Politically Incorrect,” which ran on Comedy Central and then ABC from 1993 to 2002. The premise of the weeknight program was to assemble four celebrities to speak about the affairs of the day.
Maher compared that show to his current one by using a sports analogy: “‘Real Time’ is like football – we only have one shot on Sunday and we better get it right – while ‘Politically Incorrect’ is more like baseball.”
“Politically Incorrect” was not as “polished,” as his current program, which started in 2003 and he said the challenge is to put together a panel of “smart people” viewers want to see.
“There are not that many celebrities,” he added.
One would think that one show of “Real Time” versus producing a nightly “Politically Incorrect” would be easy, but that would be wrong.
“It’s so much work,” Maher admitted. “It’s counter-intuitive that with a show that’s once a week that you would work more, but that the nature of the beast. This show kicks my ass.”
He gladly works hard as he “wants it to be so good.”
Maher views “Real Time” as a “digest of what’s happening [in news] in an entertaining way.”
“Politically Incorrect” broke a key television rule about talk shows, Maher said. Due to the successful template established by Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show,” the unwritten commandment was “never let the audience know your politics.”
The reasoning, he explained, was that a host would alienate about half his or her audience.
That show worked because “the powers that be underestimated the audience,” Maher said.
Speaking of the most recent news, Maher said, “The Republicans are the gift that keep on giving.”
He added that he had donated to President Barack Obama’s campaign, but that in hindsight perhaps he should give to the Republicans.
“I’m so grateful I found this niche,” he said.
For ticket information on Maher’s Springfield appearance, log onto www.symphonyhall.com