CHRIS PUMMER: Bill Maher’s name surfaces more and more these days for the controversial things he says. Is this how he’s staying relevant?
To be completely honest, for me Maher is a cultural anachronism. I don’t think of him often because of his HBO show. When his name comes up, I still think of him from his days hosting Politically Incorrect, first on Comedy Central (where you’d obviously turn for political coverage with gravitas) and then on ABC.
Until I can shake that predominant image of him in my mind, it’s hard to feel like he doesn’t belong in a time capsule with the haircuts from the first season of Friends, the soundtrack to the movie Reality Bites, and maybe the last existing six pack of the soda Surge.
Sadly, Maher’s tendency of late to lean towards the inflammatory rhetoric that makes his right-wing counterparts look like clowns isn’t helping keep him relevant to me.
You have to be fair to Maher, that as a comedian first and foremost, he’ll have a tendency to toe the line of decency more often than a faux new-commentary talking head would or should. And it was his penchant for crossing that line that partially led to Politically Incorrect being axed early last decade.
Given the context of history, it’s not even fair to say Maher was wrong, so much as misinterpreted, when he said in a hamfisted way that the 9/11 hijackers were less cowardly than the U.S. military’s strategy of using cruise missiles. Even in a hyper-patriotic environment back then, such punishment shouldn’t be the price of dissent.
Maher landed on his feet, his subsequent show Real Time on HBO perhaps a better platform for less-filtered discourse that leads to laughs and even provoke some thought.
Still, it’s hard to embrace Maher as part of the serious discourse of politics and policy. And maybe it’s best that we don’t. Instead we can leave the distinction between comedian and commentator, and instead laugh at the clowns who try to create a false equivalence between the two.