Bill Maher = Fred Parhad

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Posted by Jeff from ( on Saturday, May 25, 2002 at 0:01AM :

Interview With Bill Maher
Aired May 24, 2002 - 21:00 ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Bill Maher! Exclusive, not just politically incorrect, the show's canceled. Is he upset? What happens now? Bill Maher, in his first interview since losing the late-night gig. We'll take your calls. He's next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It's always a great pleasure to welcome Bill Maher to this program. He has been on many, many times. We have had him on a much happier occasions. But we now begin with the sad news of the loss of his show. Were you surprised?

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: Well, you make it sound like I died of cancer.

KING: No, no, no. It's not that serious, but it's close. It's show business.

MAHER: Yes, but, you know, we had a good run, nine years. That's a long time to have a television show. And I'm very OK with it. I can go back to my first love, Larry, which is illustrating children's books.

KING: Nine years. What, was it five on Comedy Central?

MAHER: No. Five and a half on ABC and three and a half on Comedy Central.

KING: How do they let you know when something like -- who calls? How does this happen?

MAHER: You know, I cleaned up my office on September 18th, which was the day after I made those remarks about the terrorists not being cowards.

KING: You mean, you expected it then?

MAHER: Yes. I pretty much knew it. I mean, you could just feel it. I've been in trouble over there many times. And I was just moving more closer and closer to that executioner's day. And I knew that was kind of it.

I thought it was interesting about two weeks ago, Bush called the terrorists very clever killers. And I thought, boy, the last time I complimented them, I lost a show, which really just shows you how much things have changed in the eight months since September 11. And it really is about timing. You know, what I said -- if I said it today, no one would even blink.

KING: Do you think -- it wasn't ratings? It wasn't loss of advertising?

MAHER: That's what made me angry, was I read in the press -- and by the way, the press is not conservative as people -- some people say its too conserv -- some people say, oh, the press is liberal. It's not either. It's lazy and obnoxious.

And they just got it wrong. I read in the first three stories, I read sinking ratings. Well, that is such an insult to our audience which never went away. And they had to go through a lot of obstacles to see our show. I mean, I don't want to give you the gory details and I've never been into network bashing. I'll remember the good stuff about ABC.

KING: Ted Koppel never promoted you, right?

MAHER: Never even mentioned it. I mean, we were never promoted. And in the last nine months, when we supposedly had these sinking ratings, which we didn't, we didn't exist. They wouldn't even acknowledge us. We were like the bastard stepchild, the mistress you don't want to talk about. We were Monica Lewinsky.

KING: Advertising dropped off everywhere, so that wouldn't have been the reason. And that was coming back.

MAHER: Well, I don't know if it was. But certainly he network as a whole was not in a good place. I mean, it was fourth among three networks, Larry. That's not easy.

KING: How were you told? Who -- did somebody call? How did they handle this in Networkville?

MAHER: Yes, somebody called.

KING: Somebody called you directly and said...

MAHER: Yes, and said, you're fired. You know what I mean, that's what they basically -- you know, they try to couch it in networkese. But that's what it is, and I knew it was coming. And it's completely OK because, you know, as I said in the first newspaper report about it, and it's true, if I had to choose between losing my soul or losing my show, I'm glad I chose losing my show. You know, I never sold out. When I came over to the network, everybody said you're going to lose your edge. You're going to sellout. Well, I didn't and I got fired. And that's OK.

KING: But are they hearing -- I imagine your fans, which are very loyal, have been bugging the network since.

MAHER: You know what? On the first show after we got the news, I said on the air, I said I appreciate everyone calling and e-mailing and letting me know that you want to protest. Please don't.

KING: Don't? MAHER: Don't because, look, this was never going to improve the situation at ABC. And that's not a bash of ABC. It is just a marriage that didn't work. You know, first...

KING: Five and a half years is a pretty long marriage not to work.

MAHER: Because I have a stuff that is tenacious and because I'm a fighter, too. And we kept that show on. You know, it was a plant that got no sunlight and no water and still managed to live.

KING: Why would a network not promote its own? Then why put it on?

MAHER: Because I think when they bought it, they thought "Politically Incorrect," that's a good title but he's not serious about being -- well, yes. I was very serious about being politically incorrect all the time. So, you know, it was just a situation where I was a little too much of a hot potato for...

KING: Did you ever call Ted Koppel and say, Ted, why don't you say stay tuned for "Politically Incorrect?" I mean, that's done all the time in television.

MAHER: Well, no...

KING: Jay Leno says stay tuned...

MAHER: Oh, yes.

KING: They all say it.

MAHER: And they have a seamless switch to the next show, whereas we had six minutes of commercials between "Nightline" and us. It was almost as if the network was...

KING: Why not ask why not? I would've ask why.

MAHER: Well, I guess I did early on.

KING: What did you say?

MAHER: First year -- well, you know, I don't want to talk tales out of school. But, you know, I did write Ted early on and I sent him a kind of a nice letter saying it is an honor to be behind such an esteemed show. And he wrote back. I guess he thought it was funny, but it came across to me as just pompous and nasty.

KING: What did he say?

MAHER: He said something like if I knew you could be so obsequious, I might have done a promo for you. But, I guess that's his sense of humor. But, you know, they never lined up that duck. I mean, when we were brought over there, it was supposed to be, oh, "Nightline," hard news into "Politically Incorrect," comedy news. What a nice, seamless -- but Ted never got that memo. And I'm sure he kind of never said he would do that. And they just assumed they could bring him over and they couldn't.

KING: Was cable a safer place for that show?

MAHER: Well, I guess in the sense that it wasn't canceled. When we were on Comedy Central, we were the big deal there. You know, Comedy Central was a very young network. We moved over to a network that had a lot of other problems, which were sometimes good for us because we were not on their radar.

But when we got on their radar, I don't think they ever watched the show except when there was trouble, except when something bad happened. And they never really understood my point of view about the world or my -- excuse me -- fearlessness in defending it. And so, that's OK. But, you know, I do think I could do what I do somewhere else and be a little more appreciated.

KING: Is "Politically Incorrect" dead or are you talking to people about taking it somewhere else? Today, there's a lot of big universe out there.

MAHER: First of all, I can't -- I wouldn't talk about that on the air because nothing is done.

KING: But, is the show going to -- is there a possibility this show will be seen somewhere else?

MAHER: Well, first of all, I do not want to do this exact show anymore.

KING: Oh, you don't?

MAHER: No. I mean, nine years with one format -- not that that's bad. I mean, you've probably had this for more than nine years.

KING: Seventeen.

MAHER: Seventeen, OK. But, you know, I'm ready to do a slight variation. I would call it P.I. 3.0. I'm ready to go a -- but, you know, I do understand what it is I do that the audience appreciates about what I do. And, so, that's a good thing. But it has evolved a little from when I started the show. I was 10 years younger. I was considered just a comedian then. People now, and I can tell because I hear what they say when they come up to me, they see me a little more as someone with a point of view, a commentator. Someone...

KING: You've been compared to Mark Twain. That ain't bad.

MAHER: Well, just by you.

KING: From someone who is a stand-up comic to be put in the Will Rogers, Mark Twain league ain't bad.

MAHER: No, but I thank you.

KING: Our guest is Bill Maher. We are going to be showing you through the program tonight some of the best moments of "Politically Incorrect" on the air.

And by the way, tomorrow night, Lynne Cheney will be our guest for the hour. And on Monday night, Altovise Davis on the life and times of her late husband, Sammy Davis, Jr. Bill Maher will be taking calls. We'll talk about a lot of other topics as well. We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Republican party should be entitled to a little bit of symbolism to show that this is a party that really does now reach out to women and tries to reach out to blacks.



MAHER: You're laughing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the funniest line of the whole night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got TV-14, right? This show, TV-14, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who gave it to you?



DENNIS MILLER, COMEDIAN: The death penalty has a P.R. problem because, you know, death penalty sounds so horrible. You know, it should have guys in the life relinquishment program.




MAHER: So when people say why don't you run for office, or why did you get fired? Folks, let me sum it up for you. I think religion is bad and drugs are good.


I think America causes cancer. Longevity is less important than fun, and young people should be discouraged from voting.

I think stereotypes are true. Abstinence is a perversion. Bush's lies are worse than Clintons. And there is nothing sexy about being old or pregnant.


KING: Other than that, the man has no thoughts on anything.

MAHER: And that went on for another three minutes of...

KING: Bill Maher, the moderator of "Politically Incorrect." How many more weeks? When does that show end?

MAHER: OK. We are going until the very end of June. I think June 28th is the last show.

KING: Are you planning a special last show?

MAHER: Well, I don't know if we could...

KING: Tom Cruise going to dance across the stage? Roseanne will come on...

MAHER: Ben Affleck came on tonight's show. Yes, so, it's not -- I've really landed on a bed of feathers in this in a lot of ways because people have been so nice and they let me know immediately that they either missed it already, it hadn't even gone away yet, or somebody people have called up and said I want to come on just before you go?

KING: Any special plans for closing night?

MAHER: I haven't thought about that yet. But I think I would just talk to -- you know, the audience has really been the relationship of my adult life.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) do it yourself? Why not do a stand-up closing night?

MAHER: I could. That's not a bad idea. I was planning to have on the four people who I met through the show and who I became the closest friends with because I got some great friends.

KING: Who are they?

MAHER: Well, one of them would be Arianna Huffington. I mean, there's a lot to choose from. Christopher "Kid" Reid from Kid 'N Play, my boy. Michelle Phillips is a great friend of mine. Ann Coulter -- people think...

KING: You disagree a lot.

MAHER: Yes. But, you know, that's one thing the show taught me. You can disagree and still...

KING: Rumors that you're going on the radio.

MAHER: Yes, there are rumors. Again, I'm not going to say what I'm going to do because nothing has been sealed, signed and delivered. But it intrigues me because I've been in a place for nine years where, in only a half-hour, it's so hard to get out everything I want to say and to be clear and have the time to explain myself, and to create the kind of intimacy with an audience. And everybody who knows me, who actually knows me, says if people could only know the real you...

KING: They would know you.

MAHER: They would know me because you have the time. Radio is all about expanding.

KING: Do you know or have any feelings about Jimmy Kimmel, who is going to do the program that replaces yours?

MAHER: I love Jimmy. I mean, Jimmy was a good guest on our show. And I'm a big fan of "The Man Show." You know, I think everyone is curious how if we were not the appropriate companion to "Nightline," what Jimmy is going to be able to do to bridge the "Nightline" gap. That I think we're all curious about. But, you know, that's his problem now. But I wish him luck. He's a great guy and he's a very funny talent.

KING: What about conforming and dissent since 9/11? As Dan Rather recently told the BBC -- and Dan's going to be with us in a couple of weeks -- patriotism became so strong in the United States after September 11, that it prevented us journalists in the United States from asking difficult questions. Rather says a form of self- censorship has been at work.

MAHER: Well, that's him. Yes, it wasn't at work for me. Right. If you were going to cow to that feeling, yes. But some people didn't. Ted Rahl (ph), the cartoonist, did some amazing things. You know, I'm sure I'm not the only one who got fired or lost his job.

Yes, I mean, it's a matter of putting up or shutting up. But, yes, I would say that one of the big complaints I do have about the Bush administration is they did try to link dissent with treason. Ashcroft said those who would hamper me are aiding terrorists. And Tom Daschle, the leader of the Senate, the opposition party's leader, said something very benign a few months ago about -- before we commit anymore money, we really need to know what direction we're going in. That's all he said. And the response came back from Lott and DeLay, disgusting -- they basically called him a traitor.

And, you know, if you're going to start calling people traitors or bring that up, I could mention a few people who I think are much more traitorist, beginning with companies that move their operations to Bermuda so they don't have to pay taxes. I mean, we're finding out about Enron and those kind of companies that they basically have been doing for the last, I don't know how many years.

What caused that Asian market collapse in the late '90s? Wealthy people did all sorts of ridiculous accounting tricks to hide the money that they were making or not making, counting on corrupt politicians, who they had bought off to look the other way. Well, that is what's sort of going on in America now.

KING: And they're investigating companies that maybe screwed California in the energy crisis. It wasn't a crisis. MAHER: Absolutely. To me, this is a lot more traitorist than Tom Daschle asking, hey fellas, I'm the leader of the opposition party. Could I find out where we're going?

KING: What do you make of this current squabble about the president getting the memo early on?

MAHER: I defended him. You know, I am not, as people think, anti-Bush from the get-go. I do have a lot of problems with him and I could go into those, and I'm sure we will. But when he says something or does something which I think needs or requires defense, I will come to that defense.

And I thought it was disgusting what the Democrats were doing. They were doing to him exactly what the Republicans did to Clinton. We're going to get him. We'll work backwards about how. That's not important. The Democrats are too afraid to take on the real issues because Bush has this enormous popularity rating. So, it's sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. They don't criticize Bush because of the approval rating. But because they don't criticize him, he has that high approval rating.

So they go after these kind of little nitpicky (ph) things. What did he know? Well, you know what? That's not really the issue because I'm not so concerned with what Bush knew before September 11. I'm much more concerned with what he's done after September 11. And before September 11, the Republicans, the Democrats and all the people in this country who vote for Republicans and Democrats, we all made a pact: terrorism was not our No. 1 priority. So to look back and start pointing fingers and to pick out the one memo that, oh, see, we found the one that correlates to the thing that happened and now, you're guilty, that's exactly the kind of stuff they did with Clinton.

KING: But how about the FBI story today in Minnesota, where they really recommended -- let's look into this guy? Let's tap into his...

MAHER: Yes. And certainly our law enforcement agencies need a good shaking up. But I will say this: One of the reasons the FBI is hamstrung is because in the last 15 or 20 years, they've been hamstrung with so many more doodies that pandering politicians, when they run for election, will say, we should make it a federal crime to this, to that because, of course, that gets votes.

But then when it becomes law, somebody actually has to do it. So, you know, you have a lot of FBI agents pursuing things that they really probably shouldn't be pursuing because somebody ran on a platform and didn't care about the repercussions down the road.

KING: Bill Maher's our guest. We'll be showing you highlights during the show of wonderful moments from "Politically Incorrect," a show any thinking American is going to miss. We'll be right back.


JAMES CARVILLE, FORMER POLITICAL CONSULTANT: That is not right. That is not right. What is right is President Clinton is the first president since World War II to reduce the deficit three years in a row. It now stands at its lowest point since -- for a long, long time.


CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: What's the first thing they say when they talk about Colin Powell? What's their compliment? He's well-spoken. Well-spoken is not a compliment. Well-spoken is something you say about people you don't expect to be able to speak. How do they expect Colin Powell to sound? Like, "I'm gonna drop me a bomb today!"





JAY LENO, HOST: And the Vatican, the Vatican has criticized Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Aniston and Catherine Zeta-Jones for wearing crucifixes as fashion accessories. Still, that's good news, isn't it? It's nice to see someone in the Catholic Church looking at women for a change. At least, that's a step up. Come on. At least they're paying attention. Come on.



KING: Bill Maher. Last month, Bill got the First Amendment Award at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. He was also selected as this year's recipients of the President's Award by the L.A. Press Club. Since Leno was talking about it there, what do you make of this Catholic situation?

MAHER: Well, you know, I was raised Catholic, Larry.

KING: Catholic and Jewish, right?

MAHER: Well, I wasn't raised Jewish. My mother is Jewish. But I never even knew I was half-Jewish until I was a teen-ager. I was just so frightened about the Catholics and everything that was going on there in the church -- and I was never, you know, molested or anything. And I'm a little insulted. I guess they never found me attractive. And that's really their loss.

KING: You were special, Bill.

MAHER: I was very special. You know, I'm just -- I'm shocked that people are finding out that priests are no altar boys, you know. It's the institution that really needs fixing, and of course you really can't fix an institution when it is religion. Because when you say religion, immediately you can get away with anything. I mean, look at what the Muslims did with women around the world. If you did that to anybody else, if it wasn't under the guise of religion, you could never get away with stuff like that. So...

KING: You see no good in religion?

MAHER: Not very much, no. I don't. I mean, as long as there are people who think that this is the only way, you're going to have wars and killing and death. I don't think the hate that comes from the Muslim world comes from religion. The hate comes from some place deeper. But the religion gives it a noble framework to put it in. So, that's why it's extremely dangerous.

KING: So this act I'm doing is a noble thing, I'm doing it for a higher power.

MAHER: For a higher power, exactly. And as long as one religion says, "I am the way and the truth and the light and the only way to the Father is through me," and the other one says, "Mohammed is the only prophet and Allah is the only God," and people believe that to the death, I mean, they're going to...

KING: Why hasn't the church, Bill, come down harder on the priests who have done this?

MAHER: Because they didn't have to. Because again, it's religion. It's the thin black line I call it. You know, it's like the cops protect each other, so do the priests. And it's just amazingly hypocritical that they have zero tolerance for just about everything else. I mean, you know, I remember when I was a kid being deathly afraid when I got to be 12 or 13 of what they called "a nocturnal emission." Do you know what that is in the Catholic Church? Sounds like something from NASA. But it means, you know, if you should have a...

KING: A release.

MAHER: ... a release in your sleep -- I couldn't stop it when I was awake, but you know -- in your sleep. That's when I said, you know, I'm never going to satisfy these people, these are -- but I mean, that was a sin. But when you screw around with a kid -- you know, say three hail Marys, and you know, we'll send you to another diocese.

KING: Some other things.

MAHER: Yeah.

KING: Color signals for terror. We're in a yellow now. We are in yellow. I had Vice President Cheney on the other night; he acknowledged that yellow is serious, and we've got the Memorial Day weekend. What do you think of this color idea?

MAHER: But they don't really ever say what to do. It's like yellow -- take a sweater. You know, I mean, I don't know what's supposed to come after that, you know. It's...

KING: Be on guard. MAHER: Be on guard. It's just all so much covering their ass. I mean, they really made me mad this last week when after the "Bush knew" flap hit, the Republicans threw a little temper tantrum, because they're not used to being questioned. And as I just said, I think the Democrats were not right to say that, what did Bush know and how did he mispronounce it. No, that was a bad question.

But they shouldn't have thrown this temper tantrum this week, with, oh, you know what, you want to know what we know -- you want a warning? It's going to hit you in your apartment building, it's going to be in the water, that thing we do...


MAHER: Bridges are coming down. That was not a good thing. And I know in Washington, it's a big trick of theirs to lower expectations. You know, I remember when the Iraqi oil fires were burning, they said, it's going to take five years to put them out. Well, they were out in eight months. Y2K, remember, we were all going to be foraging for food with mutants. You know, AIDS was going to explode into the heterosexual community.

None of this stuff ever happened. But you know, this is war now, fellows. You really got to do a little better than just, you know, beating the expectations is not as important as beating the terrorists. And I think they don't have that through their head.

KING: When they say something is going to happen, not will it happen, it will happen, what do you do with something like that, logically? Terror will occur again. What do you do with that?

MAHER: Well, they did -- there was one time, it was back in the fall, they said 100 percent chance tomorrow -- and I thought, that's a very high percentage. How do you know that? Are you doing it? I mean, how do you know -- and of course nothing happened. And I think the more -- I don't know what you do, actually, Larry. I mean, if they say it's going to be the bridge, stay off the bridge, obviously.

But I think at a certain point, we hear this over and over again, it becomes crying wolf. It becomes, oh, you know, we're on yellow again. Great. So, you know. And people become very fatalistic about it.

I think the more important thing is to get people to change their attitudes. You know, the other thing I'm mad about Bush is, he had a golden opportunity, he had a window of about -- I would say -- six weeks, maybe two months, when we were ready to change as a people. And he did not take advantage of that opportunity. And now, that window is completely closed.

KING: Change as how?

MAHER: Change our attitudes. I mean, this past week the news was filled once again with Gary Condit and sharks, Larry. When it's back to Condit and sharks, nothing has changed. But I mean, after September 11, until about maybe Thanksgiving, people I think were ready to adjust their attitude a little. To have some priority adjustment. How have we changed? Not at all. I mean, people act like if you say to them, well, you should drive a car that gets better gas mileage like you're affronting the Bill of Rights. I'm an American and I'll drive whatever I want.

I mean, can you imagine in World War II, when we were saving tin and stuff like that, if somebody said, you know what, I'll use all the damn tin I feel like. I'm an American. This is nonsense that we have to be loyal to our flaws. Yeah, I'm dumb and I don't know much about foreigners and I eat like a pig and I waste a lot of stuff, but that's American. You know, I mean, this silly theory people have that if you do anything differently, they win. Well, no. If you become less gluttonous, less greedy, less myopic, more savvy about the world in general, they don't win; you win. We all win.

KING: Bill Maher's our guest. We're going to be including your phone calls for Bill Maher of "Politically Incorrect." Don't go away.


GEORGE CARLIN, COMEDIAN: I think one of the problems is attaching the spiritual need and hunger to a thing called God. The fact that we are taught to believe there's an invisible man who lives in the sky who has a list of 10 things he doesn't want you to do, who watches you every minute and if you do something he doesn't like you're going to burn forever -- yet he loves you! He loves you!





MAHER: You defended the Menendez kids. What do you care about facts?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You actually don't know anything about facts.

MAHER: I know they blew their parents heads off.


MAHER: What did they do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They unloaded shotguns in their direction, but they...



KING: Great moments from "Politically Incorrect." And he's had...

MAHER: That's one of my favorites.

KING: ... a ton of them. That was great. Altovise Davis on the life and times of her late husband Sammy Davis Monday night. Lynne Cheney tomorrow night. Let's include some calls for Bill Maher. Houston, Texas, hello.

MAHER: Uh-oh.

CALLER: Hello.




CALLER: You just gave all these reasons why you wouldn't run for office, but I don't see -- those views are the very reason you should run. And you can be more representative of a large group of people. How do you use that as a reason?

KING: That's a good question.

MAHER: OK. And thank you, I think, for the support. And I love all the people who do support those views. But we are a minority, a distinct minority. And minorities don't win.

KING: How do you get to be a majority?

MAHER: You don't. Not in my lifetime. Do you think in my lifetime people are going to believe all those things I said, that religion is bad and drugs are good? And you know, I'm for mad cow disease. You know, these are...

KING: You're for mad cow disease?

MAHER: Yeah.

KING: Why, Bill?

MAHER: That's the truth, a lot of -- it needs explaining. Because if there were a few cases of mad cow disease in this country, so many lives would be saved in the long run, because people would stop eating meat, which is an ecological disaster, to say nothing of what it does to you internally.

And I'm not, look, I'm not a communist. People can do whatever they want. I'm more of a libertarian. If you want to kill yourself, kill yourself, fine. I'm pro-death. But to have some of these substances that are poisonous on the OK list and some of them get people in jail I'm not for that. And meat, it takes -- I think it takes 7,000 pounds of water and 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat. So it's not good for the part of the world that's starving. It's not good for us. And factory farming causes way more pollution to our rivers and streams than anything in industry.

KING: But you think if you ran for office, you'd be just the still small voice in the night, even if you were elected?

MAHER: Yeah. I mean, you could never -- you could never overcome what I cons [snip - maximum size exceeded]

-- Jeff
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