It’s 6 a.m., way past bedtime. He’d like to lie down, but instead Bill Maher pours over another page of scathing commentary. As long as Americans are idiots, Maher will have plenty of work to do, at least that’s the way he sees it.
His days of ticking away the hours with celebrities and big-name politicians may be gone, but Maher is still hard at work. He moved past his prime-time gig as the host of the late-night talk show “Politically Incorrect” to focus solely on solving the woes of the “uneducated”.
When we spoke, Maher was embarking on a nationwide comedy tour, in promotion of his new book “When You Ride Alone, You Ride with Bin Laden.”
The book, subtitled “What the Government Should be Telling us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism,” features political commentary surrounding fake government ads. As Maher puts it, these are the ads the government should be using to inform the public.
We know he’s a comedian, but Maher is also a hard worker. As he told The Hatchet, he’s been laboring ever since he left “Politically Incorrect.” Why is he so dedicated? Well, because he really does think you’re stupid.
Hatchet: How you doing man?
Bill Maher: It’s going OK. I have a tight schedule today.
H: Where are you?
BM: I’m at home, but I’ve been on the phone for five hours so I might be a little punch-drunk.
H: If it were me, I’d have gotten little drunk-drunk after that much time on the phone.
BM: Not a bad idea. Anyway, I’m good to go.
H: Now that you’re not doing “Politically Incorrect,” what are you up to?
BM: I’ve been working almost exclusively on this book. It’s a concept I came up with in June, and it’s coming out in November, which is a tribute to my insane publisher.
H: What kind of schedule have you been on? How do you get in a mode to work that intensely?
BM: I’m a late night cat. In this situation I just stayed up even later. I normally went to bed, in the days when I was doing “Politically Incorrect,” at like 3:30 in the morning. Writing the book, I went to bed at like 6. I would just write all night.
H: In the book you talk a lot about war and war posters. How has the government changed its messages to the people since say, World War II?
BM: There was absolutely no political correctness back then. There was a lot of “Jap, you’re next.” And “Beat the crap out of the Japs.” But they were keeping it real. At least they were unabashed about pointing the finger at the citizen and saying, “get in the fucking game.”
H: Do you think then that the government needs to be more aggressive in getting people involved?
BM: People want to do something. They just have not been pointed in the direction. The government doesn’t suggest you do anything, except shop.
H: What do you think that people should be doing then?
BM: There are many things. A lot of it has to do with embracing change. If we change for the better then we win. A lot of people have this attitude, ‘Well I’m a gluttonous stupid pig, and if I change, they win.’
H: So you feel like too many American are gluttonous pigs?
BM: Yes I do. They are. I think it’s mostly a national problem. When we treat the rest of the world a little less like our servants and a little more like fellow human beings, we will be more secure. Remember after 9/11 that was all anyone could talk about, “why do they hate us?”
H: Yeah, people seemed so amazed. You think people have figured it out?
BM: After about a month people got bored. ‘Well, whatever the fuck. They hate us. Who cares? Who’s Pamela Anderson dating now?’
H: So what does that mean?
BM: Well the idea that we are living, suspended over a vast pool of hate, it’s true. And it’s not just the people that are attacking us. We’re just lucky that the only people who are acting out violently are the Arabs. There’s a lot of people around the world who hate us just as much. They’re just not taking it in the 72 Virgin kind of way.
H: What’s your job then?
BM: My job is to do what government hasn’t been doing, which is to point people in the direction of things they can actually do. Don’t use oil. Learn something about the world. Pressure politicians. Supposedly we’re a nation transformed, except the latest reports from last week says nothing has changed. They say we in just as deep shit as before 9/11. Why don’t people get outraged about that?
H: If the American people are so apathetic, do you think they’ll take notice of your book?
BM: To me laughter is the best way to get people to change their mind. You get people to laugh, that means a light has gone on making them think “Oh there may be some truth to that.”
H: Do you feel like you have to simplify the issues? I mean you have a pretty expert knowledge.
BM: The problem is that people simplify the issues. I feel like my job is to help people make those connections. Sometimes it is complicated. The point is, stop just swallowing it. People need to hear this shit.
H: Now that’s a sound bite if I’ve ever heard one. Do you think now is a time for people to wake up?
BM: The fundamentalist enemy is still out there. The reason we haven’t been hit since 9/11 is that they’re reloading. It’s not because we’ve made ourselves impregnable. If people are going to lull themselves into a sense of false security, they’re just going to be rudely awakened again.
H: How to you break through that sense of false safety?
BM: It’s just humor. That’s what I have that most people who agree with me don’t have. They probably couldn’t do it with a punch line. It has the effect of unsettling prejudices.
H: One thing that you’re in a unique position to know is how politically aware is America’s average celebrity?
BM: Very little. Boy, when they’re dumb, they’re really dumb.
H: America really is a celebrity-driven culture. Do you think the ignorance of those elite affects the public?
BM: People take their cues from celebrities. If they were involved and informed then people would want too. But we live in a democracy, and it should be everybody’s business. I hate it when people say they don’t follow politics, as if that makes them clean. It doesn’t make you clean. That makes you’re derelict and dumb. It doesn’t make you better. It makes you worse.
This article appeared in the November 7, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.