If you've got tickets to see Bill Maher perform his standup at Overture Center on Aug. 1, you probably have a good idea of what you're going to get. And yep, the Emmy-nominated host of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher says he'll be letting fly about Sarah Palin, "tea-baggers," the BP oil spill and, of course, religion. But even if the targets aren't surprising, the material should be. "Comedy is not like music," he says. "You don't want to hear the old jokes. You want to hear the new jokes."
Are there people in your audience who disagree with you, or are you largely preaching to a choir at a show like this?
I think it's overwhelmingly the latter, and that happens even in places you would think of as very conservative - the progressive people always come out of the woodwork. But there is almost invariably, right in the front row, somebody with their arms folded just staring at me with dagger eyes. And I can never understand why this person came.
I think among some people - I've been one of them, at times - there's a reaction to you similar to how people often feel about filmmaker Michael Moore: "He's right about a lot of stuff, but he seems so smug." Do you ever worry about turning people off your message?
I do, but you can only be who you are. I'm sure I have come across as smug sometimes. But there are issues that are just so frustrating. Because let's be honest - it's a stupid country. There are so many stupid people in it, and so many things are done in Washington in such a stupid way.
You're pretty well known as an opponent of organized religion, so I was surprised to see you told the A.V. Club in 2002 you did think there was a God. Is that still true?
No. That was part of my evolution, I think. There was a long time when I was not an atheist. I don't know what I was, but I used to bargain with God. But at a certain point, you realize you're bargaining with nobody.
So how depressing is the state of the world today, as compared with 10 years ago?
Oh, I'm not depressed. But the oil spill was the most depressing story I've ever had to cover. The really depressing thing was that it really didn't change anything - people in the Gulf still want to drill. And that's really sad, because tragedy should change people.