The Roots Report: Bill Maher Comes to Town

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 23:  Television host and comedian Bill Maher performs at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort on March 23, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by David Becker/WireImage)

LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 23: Television host and comedian Bill Maher performs at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort on March 23, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/WireImage)

Okee dokee folks … I, like many, am a fan of stand-up comedy, though the style that I prefer has more of an intellectual edge — stuff that really makes you think. George Carlin and Bill Hicks were masters of this. Nowadays, it seems we get more truth from comedians — like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert — than we get from the news media. In my opinion, one of today’s best comedians is Bill Maher, but he goes far beyond the simple label of comedian. He is also a writer, producer, political commentator, actor, media critic and television host.

I became a fan of Bill Maher in the late ’90s when the show “Politically Incorrect” was on network television. I faithfully watched that program every night because I felt he was aligned with the way I thought. I was fortunate to be in the LA studio audience for a taping of two segments of “Politically Incorrect” a few months before it went off the air, victim to the post-9/11 frenzy of fear, because of supposed politically incorrect comments Maher made shortly after 9/11. In 2003, Maher came back strong with a new program on HBO called “Real Time,” now in its 12th season.

In 2008, Maher released the documentary film Religulous, inspired by his critical view of religion. He is a supporter of animal rights and is a board member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He supports same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana. He is an environmentalist and owns an all-electric Tesla automobile that he uses as his main vehicle. Maher has recorded comedy specials, been in television programs and films, and appears regularly on late night talk shows. He keeps his live, stand-up comedy chops fresh and travels around the US performing on a regular basis. I saw him last in RI as part of the Newport Comedy Series a few years back, and he will return to the Ocean State on November 15 when he brings his sarcasm, satire and wit to the Providence Performing Arts Center.

I had the opportunity to speak with Bill a few days ago when he called me from his LA home. At first it was like one of those “can you hear me now” commercials. His landline was down and he called from his mobile phone, which had poor reception. My mobile had even poorer reception so I asked him to call me on my landline. When we finally connected he had to walk around his house to find a spot with the best reception for the conversation. Unfortunately all of the “can you hear me now” significantly ate into the time scheduled for the conversation and he had another interview call to make, but we did get to talk for about 10 minutes.

We spoke briefly about “Politically Incorrect” and how September 17, 2001, was the beginning of the end for the nightly program. That night a segment featured discussion of the 9/11 terrorists during which Maher disputed using the word “coward” to describe them. The ensuing controversy and the retreat of ad sponsors were the death blow for the show. The statements that were made were rational and logical, but emotion had the best of the public at that time.

We moved on to the election. I had just watched the latest episode of “Real Time” to prep for the talk and Bernie Sanders was a guest that night. I asked Bill if Bernie was his choice for president and he told me that he was. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Maher contributed one million dollars to Barak Obama’s election fund. I asked if he was going to do the same for Bernie if he wins the nomination. He told me, “Because of the way that Sanders is receiving contributions, none from super PACs, I will only be able to contribute $5,400. Phew! I can save some money this time!” He did add, “But if you can’t get the fish, then have the chicken!” This was a statement he used on the latest “Real Time.” Basically he is saying if Bernie doesn’t get the nod then go with Hillary; don’t be foolish and abstain from voting.

We talked a little about Fox “News” and how that network exists in a bubble, as does its viewers. He said, “They never talk about actual issues, they discuss nonsense.” I told Maher that I agree with him on just about 99% of what he says. To that he replied, “I hear this a lot and it brings me great satisfaction knowing this. This is one of the reasons that I drag my ass all over the country. People like us don’t really have a church or communion, but the venues that I perform are the closest thing.”

Maher’s shows cover most of the topics he feels strongly about — religion, politics, bureaucracies, political correctness, the mass media, marijuana and whatever else he has a mind to rant about. There is a lot of truth to the punch lines. To me and to many others, most of what he says makes a lot of sense. And he makes it entertaining to hear. Do yourself a favor and enlighten yourself to the views and comedy of Bill Maher. Go to “church” with him on November 15. For more, Real Time over to PPACRI.org. By the way, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band is coming to PPAC on December 5, you WILL want to get tix now!

Here are a few other shows to check out. Chris Monti will celebrate the release of his newest album, Box Guitar: Songs for Acoustic Guitar, with a party at The Parlour on Saturday, November 7. Joining the party will be Shamanic and Big Biscuit (theparlourri.com). Michael Johnson, best known for his songs “Bluer Than Blue,” “Give Me Wings” and “That’s That,” as well as being a classically trained guitarist, an off-Broadway actor and an ex-member of the Chad Mitchell Trio, will be the featured performer at Stone Soup Coffeehouse on November 7. Kirsten Maxwell, the 2015 RI Songwriters Association Songwriter Winner, opens for him (StoneSoupCoffeehouse.com). Remember “Romeo’s Tune”? Well, Steve Forbert will be at the Courthouse Center for the Arts on November 14 (CourthouseArts.org). Aztec Two-Step will perform a classic duos show at the Guild Hall at St. John’s Church in Newport on Saturday, November 21 (401-848-2561). Common Fence Music presents The Horn of Plenty Music #5 featuring Michael Tarbox, Warbler Roost, Chris Monti, and The Sometimes String Band on November 21. Live music begins during the “folk-tailgate” chow-down when the doors open at 6:30 (CommonFenceMusic.org).

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading! JohnFuzek.com

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