The Cable Guy

Bill Maher on stand-up, terrorism, and turning 50


| July-August 2005


Bill Maher’s come a long way from his first stand-up gig at a Chinese restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey. The 49-year-old comedian got his big break back in 1993, when he launched the roundtable show Politically Incorrect on Comedy Central and unveiled an uncanny ability to riff on and satirize the day’s headlines. 

In 1997 the popular show moved to ABC, claiming the plum spot after Nightline, but was canceled in 2002, soon after Maher made his now-infamous comment that “cowardly” was not how he would describe the 9/11 terrorists. (“We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building—say what you want about it—is not cowardly.”) 

All’s well that ends well, though. In 2003 the self-described libertarian (and patriot) debuted Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, a critically acclaimed weekly show that combines roundtable discussions and one-on-one interviews with Maher’s patented one-man rants—the “New Rules” segment from the show—on just about everything under the sun. Best of all, in the promised land of pay cable, Maher is free to go where his mind—and his mouth—take him. Witness just a few snippets from the show: 

Airport safety: “Did you hear the latest? As of next month: no lighters on the plane. This, of course, will do nothing to change the safety equation, but it will ensure that if the passengers enjoy the terrorists’ work, they still can’t bring them back for an encore.” 

Oil: “How come we have cars with global positioning systems, satellite radio, and voice-activated Web access, and we still power them with the black goop you have to suck out of the ground? Well, I hate to tell you this, folks, but gas doesn’t cost too much; it costs too little. Ooh, I know, I know. You hear about gas prices over two dollars a gallon, and it makes you nearly choke on your four-dollar latte. We bitch about gas, but adjusted for inflation, it’s the same price it was back when the Pope was a Nazi.”

Anthems: “Stop wallowing! Three years after 9/11, ballparks still insist on a giant seventh-inning buzz with a somber rendition of ‘God Bless America.’ You know, there’s a thin line between loving America and stalking it. Please, we’ve already sung the National Anthem. Now let me honor America the right way: by getting drunk on over-priced beer and yelling obscenities at millionaires on steroids.”