October 22, 2012


Comedy Isn't Pretty : The religulous journey of Bill Maher. (CHARLOTTE ALLEN, 10/22/12, Weekly Standard)

Bill Maher's fans worship him. Some 4.1 million of them faithfully watch his Real Time with Bill Maher, whether at its 10 p.m. Friday time slot on HBO or in its on-demand and digital-recorder formats. Those are niche numbers compared with the weekly 14 million or so for ABC's Dancing with the Stars but still fairly impressive considering that Maher's show is on premium cable. Also, he aims for an audience that considers itself many cuts in sophistication above the "mouth-breathers," one of his favorite synonyms for the "rednecks" (another Maher bon mot) who take in mass-market network fare--and who vote Republican and go to church on Sunday, two other things that Maher can't stand.

Indeed, HBO has renewed Real Time, which wound up its tenth season in June, for another two years. Its season opener in August drew 1.9 million viewers when you count a replay at 11 p.m. (The numbers aren't in yet for Maher's Oct. 5 post-presidential-debate show, where he declared that Barack Obama had "sucked.") Studio audience members go crazy during Maher's hour-long combination of pundit and celebrity interviews, panel spar-offs, and monologues that veer between conventional standup and lengthy political editorials. They hoot, they cheer, they clap, they roar with appreciation.

But there is one thing that they almost never do: laugh. [...]

At some point in the history of standup comedy--and maybe it began with Maher's hero, George Carlin--certain comedians who had once been genuinely funny, as Carlin was early in his career, decided that the point of their routines was not to generate laughs but to vent political rage to the like-minded. The Carlin curse has afflicted an entire generation of liberal-activist comics, rendering them deadly: Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, to name a few. Their "humor" goes by the sobriquet "edgy," which is a shorthand way of saying "preaching to the leftist choir." 

Maher likes to tell the story of how, when he was 13, his father stopped taking the family to Sunday Mass because he didn't like the Catholic church's position on birth control. There is an irony there because in some ways Maher is a Catholic priest manqué. Like Catholic priests, he has taken a vow never to marry, and he uses his stage appearances essentially as a pulpit, except that the sermons rail not against sin but against conservatives, the evils of religion, or whatever else.

In Maher's church, as in all churches, you'll see plenty of devoted and enthusiastic worshippers. But you won't hear many laughs.

Thanks to Friend Driscoll for this one. For easily comprehensible political reasons, you can eith/er by liberal or funny, not both.
Posted by at October 22, 2012 5:25 AM

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