Maher Wears Thin on ‘Real Time’


I’ve been a fan if not devotee of Bill Maher for more than two decades, staring with his show Politically Incorrect. Up until recently, Real Time has been required weekly viewing for me. I’ve loved watching and laughed at his standup specials, and enjoyed seeing him perform once in the late ’90s. I interviewed him for the Austin, Texas, daily paper in advance of his show and enjoyed our talk.

It makes sense that Maher would be someone whose appeal snares me. We’re nearly the same age (he’s almost exactly two years younger than I am). We attended colleges in upstate New York that are within proverbial spitting distance from each other, and are sometimes even mistaken as one being the other: He went to Cornell University and I’m a graduate of Colgate, some 60 miles away.

We both strive to see the humor in what are too often the outrages and even horrors perpetrated by the GOP and conservatives. We also push back at what we feel are the excesses of political correctness.

So for many years I’ve enjoyed Real Time. and appreciated Maher’s, jabs, quips and humorously pithy observations. I respect how well-informed and prepped he is on pressing matters. And I cannot deny that he has given me many (many) laughs when I have oh so needed them. The show has been one of the few places where dialogue between left and right sometimes actually happens. It’s an important and valuable resource in these politically troubled times.

But recently, I found myself resistant to watching Real Time. Part of that may be that, being a news junkie who scans a number of media websites every morning, I am so troubled and sometimes disturbed by the horrors of Trumpism and the heartlessness and ignorance of the GOP, I don’t wish any more exposure to it. Even if it’s to laugh about it.

But then there’s things about Maher that over time have grown to somewhat irk me.

First, as I am not alone in observing, there’s his smugness. Being correct and landing on the right side of the issues is something to be proud of. But being smug about it, as Maher sometimes comes across, can even alienate those who you generally agree with you, such as me. It’s the least appealing aspect of his personality.

On occasion he can be a skillful interviewer in his initial one-on-one talks at the start of the show. But sometimes it feels like Maher wants too much to be liked. And with some right-wingers, even if his niceness is a way for him to feel he is being fair, this can let them off the hook when he should press the point home.

His biggest issue and I feel greatest failing is Maher’s wholesale rejection of religion, and too frequent derision of any and all people of faith as deluded fools. Lord knows there are enough false and twisted religionists today to give him more then enough ammunition to sustain his attacks. But his point of view, frankly, is an insult to genuine people of faith whose practice is based in goodness and love, and honor to whatever form of God they revere.

And then there’s how he extends that to a dismissal of Islam as a force for evil, a religion without any merit. Yes, radical Islam is one of the great dangers of our current world. But to tar the billions of common folks who are also believers is misguided. Perhaps I just need a break from Maher for a while. Maybe he’s run his course with me. Time will tell.

Populist Picks

Book: The Profiteers by Sally Denton – Although the construction-based Halliburton company has gotten the lion’s share of attention as a government contractor in recent years, the Bechtel firm and its public/private ventures here and abroad and revolving door between its executive staff and the government have been even more significant ever since it built the Hoover Dam during the Great Depression. This look at its history and activities is essential reading into compromises and conflicts of interests well beyond anything Trump may be up to, and illuminates much about where real power resides in the American system.

TV: Homeland – I wondered where this show might go after playing out its initial string about a CIA agent and a captured American soldier compromised by Islamic terrorists. But its sixth season is among its most compelling yet. Heroine Carrie Mathison, so skillfully played by Claire Danes, has left the CIA. But she cannot escape both terrorist plots and the power struggle between politicians and the intelligence community, masterfully paralleling current affairs without roman à clef or even obvious intent. The series has proven itself over time to be right up there with such modern TV masterpieces as The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2017

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