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Real Time with Bill Maher returns to HBO this Friday, August 25th at 11PM/10c.
Here's a recent interview with Bill Maher posted at HBO.com about the upcoming season of the show.
So looking forward to the new season, do you see storm clouds on the horizon that should provide good material for the show?
Bill Maher: [Laughing] God, this country has nothing but storm clouds right now. We have environmental storm clouds and we have war storm clouds and we have debt storm clouds.
I tell you, George Bush might get out of office without another disaster on his watch, but he certainly is leaving behind a number of ticking time bombs that will go off when he's retired in Crawford, Texas.
Do you find it easier or harder to make the show in times like these?
Bill Maher: You know, there's always news. I've been doing this show, and 'Politically Incorrect,' for thirteen years and I've never really found such a thing as a slow news week.
I think we live in pretty dire times. You know some of my liberal friends are mad at me now again. They get mad at me from time to time because I take a stand that's against what they think is the Party Line. But I'm not against the NSA wiretapping of phone calls coming in from foreign countries.
Because, you know, it's terrible to invade people's privacy. You know what else would be terrible, if a dirty bomb went off in Long Beach. That would really put a crimp in my day.
I don't think George Bush is a good president by any imagination, but when he said, 'If you're talking to Al-Quaeda, we want to know what it's about,' it just proves one thing: If you're president long enough, you will one day say something that is true.
Does everybody always assume you're a steadfast liberal?
Bill Maher: People who watch my show don't. It's just people that hear about me second hand.
Do people come up to you a lot? If you're at lunch do they come up and tell you that you hate America?
Bill Maher: Never. People who don't like you almost never come up to you. You know we were on ABC for six years and Comedy Central for three years before that, and this is the fourth year on HBO. That's a lot of years of saying things that I know a lot of people in this country hate me for. And the number of times someone has come up to me and said something negative, I could count on one hand.
Bill Maher: It's not because people don't dislike me - they do. It's because if they don't like you and they see you across the room, they go 'what an asshole' to their friends. And they finish their lunch.
And you know after all of these years, people say to me all of the time, 'Boy, it's great that you're on HBO, you can say what you really think.'
I always said what I thought. I never held back. Of course, on ABC I eventually got fired for it.
Can you tell us a little about the formula, about what makes the show work? What do you look for when you're making the mix of guests?
Bill Maher: Since it's only a once-a-week show, we try to find three people who can talk about anything. On the old show, on 'Politically Incorrect,' we used to try to match the guest to the subject matter. We'd look at the board and say, you know Pam Anderson is probably not going to be really comfortable talking about the earned income tax credit. But she is good on animal rights issues.
When I signed on to do the new show, I said I'm never gonna do that again. I only want the A-Team on this show. I want Gore Vidal and Andrew Sullivan and the Prime Minister of Canada. They all have to know everything about everything.
The mixing of guests was part of the joke of 'Politically Incorrect.'
Bill Maher: That was part of the charm of the show. And that was what the press wrote about, especially early on: 'Oh, look, did you see Bob Dole was on with Carrot Top.'
But I always say to my staff that we were so lucky to get cancelled, because after nine years, I think the gimmick was over for me and the audience.
And it's nice to get cancelled on a First Amendment issue.
Bill Maher: Oh yes. I have on my wall in my office the newspaper headline that says: 'White House Keeps Heat on ABC's Maher.' It's one of my proudest mementos.
So you like guests who can talk about just about anything?
Bill Maher: Yes, I like people I'd really be talking to if I was having a party at my house, and I could only invite six or eight people.
Do you have to make sure that everyone doesn't agree on everything?
Bill Maher: No, that's another huge difference. On the old show, we tried to set a snake against a mongoose, many times.
And we did try to make sure there was ideological balance. On this show, very often, we don't.
We try not to ignore the conservatives, because it's harder to get them to come on television, and it's always harder to find them in Hollywood. And, of course, members of the administration don't like me, so they're not going to come on, in general.
We work hard to make sure that conservatives are represented, but you know what? If, on any given night, we don't really have a giant ideological battle, that's fine, because I don't want this show to look like all the shows that, in many ways, ripped off my old show.
There was too much yelling on that show, too much talking over each other, too much cross-fire. Just predictable ideological talking points, battling with each other. I want this to be a much more adult conversation. Nobody yelling at each other. Nobody diametrically opposed to anybody else.
You're a comedian. Do you ever find yourself saying what the hell am I doing up here with Mike Huckabee?
Bill Maher: All the time. As you say, I'm primarily a comedian, and I think I've been doing this long enough - and I have a great staff around me - that on any given Friday night, we are genuinely saying things that are more insightful than you'll hear on conventional news shows, shows that don't have the imagination that we do.
But yes, I think that all the time: Oh my God, why am I talking to the Attorney General?
But you've always had a strong interest in current affairs?
Bill Maher: Absolutely. My father was a newsman. He worked in radio news, that was what put food on our table when I was a kid. Unlike most American households, which watch TV over dinner, we talked about what was going on in the world.
It's much more of a European way to do things. In the rest of the world, people sit in cafes, and they talk, and the kids are not idiots. They know what's going on because they hear their parents talk.
Are there guests that you have targeted in your head, that you would love to get on the show?
Bill Maher: Yeah, sure. There are a lot of politicians who are just afraid to come on a show like this. But you know, Bill Clinton is number-one on my list, because I was a great defender of his when he was going through his troubles. I've also criticized him at times. But in general I am a big fan of his, and I would love for him to do the show.
When you get politicians on the show, do you find that it's hard to penetrate their talking points?
Bill Maher: Yeah, that's why I like to do the show, if possible, without politicians. Present office-holding politicians tend to be the most cautious, most predictable, party-line...and also the most nervous.
If someone on the panel says something off-color, they can't be near it. But if you get somebody who has just left office, they're good, because they're mad. They're bitter.
What would you want to ask Clinton?
Bill Maher: I'd like to know his perspective now that Bush is such a fuck up. Does he feel like he wants to say, I told you so? And doesn't everyone in this country feel a little ridiculous about the fact that my vice-president couldn't become president because he worked for a guy who got a blow job?
That's how uptight this country is. He wasn't even the guy who got the blow job. I mean he lost to a moron for that dumb-ass reason.
I mean, it's five years later, doesn't he want to say to America, my god, do you see what idiots you were?