Love him or hate him, Bill Maher is coming to KC and he’s got a new routine
Comedian and social critic Bill Maher has always been a congenital smartass, and whether you love him or hate him he’s still a prominent voice in American political discourse and satire. He’s coming to Uptown Theater on Sept. 11, so brace yourself.
In a recent interview, we chatted with him about politics, his tour, and the state of the world.
Those who follow current events might know that Maher seems to have rebranded—even distanced himself from the current American left, politically out of place as that may seem. We spoke the day after the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, and it was remarkable how charismatic the off-camera version of Maher is compared to his unflappable, merciless, and smug on-camera persona.
He said that the chaos of the last few years can’t and shouldn’t lead to some kind of national divorce or unrest. “We can’t split apart, we just can’t, we have got to come together and find a way—it would be worse than the Johnny Depp trial. Alabama would put shit in our beds,” Maher says. “We have got to find a way to stop hating each other.”
Ever incisive and quick, the texture and content of what he does have changed recently, transitioning from a strident left winger in some aspects to someone who is more centrist, politically misplaced, and even conciliatory in his social analyses and political satire.
These days Maher, 66, articulates more of a bigger picture in the social and political landscape and draws his outrage not just from both the political right and now the political left.
The targets of Maher’s comedy and criticism have shifted in the COVID era, and as we inch away from the pandemic, his targets now include internet activists, Gen Z, pandemic restrictions, and government bureaucracy, among other Republican-sounding talking points.
Maher is an equal opportunity offender and his jabs at the left sting just as much as his jabs at the right did during the Bush years. He has become more and more of a pragmatist, sifting through and distilling the ideological with the practical and what he has called a search for common sense.
And while Maher has never identified as any type of a conservative, at this point in his career it’s also safe to say Maher is something of an anti-anti-conservative as well.
His political sympathies have evolved in some aspects, with his primary concerns being the environmental crisis and the preservation of American democracy.
Maher’s work requires a sharp wit, as evidenced by over 40 years in standup comedy, nearly 30 years on television, and almost 20 years on HBO—plus 12 standup specials. His work requires keeping up with world and national news, historical trends, global culture, and social theory while hosting a comedy show about politics, ad-libbing funny things about both sides, and making friends with his ideological opponents. This is no small feat.
In addition to his longstanding role as host and commentator of HBO’s Real Time, Maher spends the other half of his year performing his standup routines. He is now the host of the podcast Club Random and recently had his twelfth standup special #adulting debut on HBO.
Maher believes that while in music it is often commonplace for the audience to want the band to play their most popular songs, it’s the opposite in comedy—that is, no recycled material. Maher explains that the material in his current tour is almost exclusively new material. “The fear is after doing a standup special the audience is just going to hear the special again, but I would never do that,” he says.
Perhaps more of a man with a country than he lets on, Maher says, “I would much rather play a place like Kansas City than I would a place like San Francisco. The audience in San Francisco goes too far down the road of ‘oh no you can’t say that.’” Maher believes that this attitude is the “enemy of comedy.”
When we asked him if he thought comedy had a salutary and restorative effect on his audience or the broader American landscape, he seemed hopeful. But he recognized the valid and hugely difficult challenges, as he has played mostly to mixed political crowds in recent years.
“I love it when I’m doing a show and I can see someone in the audience get maybe a little upset when I make fun of Trump,” Maher says. “And I can also tell when maybe people on the left get upset when I call out their craziness, but everybody’s laughing together and that’s what needs to happen.”
Maher ended our discussion with some advice about the state of the country: “We can’t split apart, we can’t have a divorce, we need to learn to live together.” For Maher, that’s a new routine.
Bill Maher will perform at Uptown Theater Sunday, Sept. 11. Doors are at 6:30 p.m. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $55.