For years, I have been sitting on an article about the continuing erosion of Bill Maher’s relevance in politics and pop culture in general. On the right-wing liberal boogeyman Mt. Rushmore his face resides amongst Michael Moore, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Jimmy Carter…wait this analogy is getting out of hand…still, Maher is that “Go-To” Liberal that conservatives love to hate. Boo-hiss and all that!
It wasn’t until The AV Club published the article “Bill Maher isn’t just politically incorrect — he’s politically irrelevant” that elucidated my newfound notion and this post too outlines much of what I think as well. Bill Maher is white knuckling his relevancy in the face of old age and being sent packing.
At 61 years old, Maher will soon be hearing more and more people suggest he hit the dusty trail along with his other late night compatriots David Letterman and Jay Leno, both of whom fucked off from the late night grind at around six decades on this earth. Unlike Leno and Letterman, however, Maher hasn’t had nearly the platform or impact that I assume he thinks he deserves and increasingly is trying to raise his profile to justify HBO keeping him on the air for a few more years.
There is plenty of younger, more relevant comedians champing at the bit to host a show not too dissimilar to Real Time, and would have no issues filling seats for the panel. It’s not as if any of Maher’s guests are “big gets’ and it took him Obama’s entire presidency to get him to do a sit down interview. He gave the man a million dollars in his 2008 re-election bid and Obama couldn’t even bother to cast a shadow on the Real Time set? Maher had to truck to D.C. and do some ball washing, limp interview that clearly wasn’t worth the million dollars.
Funnily enough the current season of Real Time has been given a new overall, new set and new intro song with the salvo of “We’re still here.” said smugly by a smirking Bill Maher mugging the camera/audience for a laugh break. Which is another current issue with Real Time: the forced laughter?
You could just set a laugh track from Maher’s opening monologue, and the viewer at home wouldn’t know a difference. Better yet, it would mask the bevy of bombs that seem to inhabit the stale opening moments of the show where Maher insists on the antiquated “hot takes of the week” monologue. Last weeks episode included a bomb so heavy that Bill Maher insisted “Laugh.” after the punch line died of loneliness. His next guest, Republican Darrel Issa, even made a joke about it (at 4m14s) in his segment.
AND he got to fire off another topical Caitlyn Jenner punchline! Hooray! At least it wasn’t a Sarah Palin joke…so relevant!
This antiquated “Late Night” comedic vibe is what makes the show such a nonstarter anymore. A nearly an hour the show is a ten pound bag of shit trying to squeeze in to a five pound bag. If there ever are a panel of quests that start having a compelling conversation on the weeks topic, it is most assuredly ground down so that Maher can insert a dick joke or move on to a bit that is essentially “Republicans are dumb!” or “Religion is dumb!”
The AV Club talks a bit about Maher giving right-wing firebrands a platform with which to spew their frothy shit with little pushback, and that is indeed the case for the most part. He recently had to admonish his audience to “be nice” when introducing Ann Coulter recently, so she could crow about calling the Trump presidency, on top of a bunch of other racist bullshit that Maher just didn’t even bother pushing back on. This rhetorical trick of letting “sunshine be the best disinfectant” only works if your audience is smart enough to understand how ridiculous people like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos are!
To conservatives, they see those two on a platform such as Real Time and that legitimizes the crazy bullshit that froth out of them. If they weren’t full of baloney, why would they be allowed such a “great” platform as Bill Maher offers?
This idea of “sunlight is the best disinfectant” only works if any sun actually shows up. In these kid glove interviews, Maher essentially takes a back seat and states that the person is indeed crazy, but so much fun o have on and offers no real push-back to anything. That the bulk of right-wing ideologues never grace the panel stage is proof enough to this. Why get contested on your silly bullshit when you can have ten minutes (or so) of uninterrupted frothing bullshit lies masked as truth and facts while Maher preens and mugs to the audience?
The panel segment itself isn’t so bad when the right alchemy of guests is there, but for the most part, it never is. Moreover, why should there be compelling guests and discussion when they’re hurried through so many topics that wind up with one or two panelists trying their damnedest to spew political rhetoric and not actually discuss the issues. There was a sliver of a time where Maher would do post-show fact checks of the more erroneous guests, then quickly realized that the bulk of his republican guests were just making shit up. You cannot bring them back on if you call them out, so it was quietly dropped.
This to me is endemic of the more galling nature of Real Time not really offering of substance to a viewer; sure, if you’re a young college liberal atheist, then there is plenty on offer for you. Nevertheless, as one surely ages and gains real ideological knowledge, Bill Maher loses a lot of his liberal folksy charm. He offers no real solutions outside the purview of what Maher is really in to: weed, no religion…Caitlyn Jenner?
Maher’s problem is more a general problem that has ensnared the left wing in the nigh decade of cool president Obama. Liberals just got lazy, and since they couldn’t rail against the president for fear of looking uncool…or racist…they let shit slide and stop worrying about facts, graphs and figures and started leaning on emotional arguments masked as “common sense solutions” to problems that demanded much more nuance and thought than that.
I don’t agree that Maher is being reckless with his platform, as the AV Club and others suggest, he’s just trying to stay relevant in a time that has already left him behind. Perhaps it’s time he rolls one last fatty in the Real Time studio and say his goodbyes while he’s still smugly self appointedly on top.