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Bill Maher brings his “politically incorrect” humor to Northern Nevada

Comedian Bill Maher, host of the popular late-night show <i>Politically Incorrect</i>, will perform in Reno and Lake Tahoe this weekend.

Comedian Bill Maher, host of the popular late-night show Politically Incorrect, will perform in Reno and Lake Tahoe this weekend.

Bill Maher is best known as the host of ABC’s popular late-night show Politically Incorrect, on which a diverse panel of entertainers, journalists, politicians and other celebrities delve into both comical and controversial subjects. But occasionally, Maher revisits his stand-up comedy roots, which is what he will be doing during two Northern Nevada shows this weekend.

Maher, 45, got his start as an emcee of New York’s Catch A Rising Star comedy club. Steve Allen and a talent scout for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson discovered him a few years later. During the 1980s, Maher made TV appearances on The Tonight Show and Late Night With David Letterman. In addition to hosting P.I., he has performed several comedy specials on HBO and has written two books: Does Anybody Have A Problem With That?: Politically Incorrect’s Greatest Hits and True Story: A Comedy Novel.

The RN&R spoke to Maher by telephone last week.

RN&R: Politically Incorrect seems like a dream job, where you get to go on television and vent. Did you always want to go on television?
Maher: I did have this idea for many years, before anyone was crazy enough to do it. It’s like therapy and comedy all rolled into one. And sometimes it’s with a supermodel.

Is there some sort of conscious effort to find diversity in the selection of your guest panels on the show?
I think we once put on Marilyn Manson with Florence Henderson … It always has been one of the fun aspects of the show: getting people on there who wouldn’t be in the same room together, let alone conversing.

Have you ever had a panel that you wish you hadn’t put together?
Oh, sure.

Any recent ones come to mind?
I tend to forget the show before I leave the studio [laughs]. I do it every day. You tend to forget. The thing about our show is, sometimes it is a train wreck. And even train wrecks can be can be interesting. … It’s just so backwards and so wrong that it becomes an interesting train wreck—at least I hope.

Do you ever have people who turn you down that you have wanted on the show?
Movie stars. You can go down the list. There are only a few brave ones, like Michael Douglas and Alec Baldwin. They are some great guys and great girls who will do the show. That’s because they are smart, brave people who don’t care what their publicist tells them to do.

Do you think most people believe that people from Hollywood and Washington, D.C., don’t live in the real world and don’t want to see themselves exposed?
That’s true. The other shows are entertaining shows. They are basically service shows for entertainers. … They plug whatever they’re plugging. They pump up their products. They pretend to laugh at their jokes. … Now, I’m not picking on them. They do a very different show than we do. We do none of that.

How would you rate President George W. Bush on his first 100 days as president?
I’d rate him about a one. I didn’t like him when he ran, and I didn’t like his father. I don’t think he really won the election. I think he should have shown a little more humility. … And he’s turned out to become quite the liar. He has turned his back on so many campaign promises—mostly the environment. People who care about the environment—we’re not going to take this lying down. Arsenic in the water, carbon monoxide in the air … when you lie about things like that—I know it’s not as important as oral sex, but it’s still important to me. … That’s a real interesting definition of compassionate [conservative].

Do you think he’s serious about campaign finance reform?
He’s fighting it tooth and nail. He should fight it. … If it wasn’t for the corrupt money in politics, he wouldn’t be sitting where he is. That’s why every decision he makes is based on the people who sent him to this prom. That is No. 1 on my list of what has to be cleaned up, is that sewer of open bribery we call a government.

What about the last president? You were pretty candid in sticking up for Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Absolutely. People in this country cannot differentiate between an important lie and an unimportant lie. They get so agitated about “Bill Clinton lying to us.” So what? They all lie. It’s what they’re lying about that is important. Of course he is a liar. He’s the best liar we’ve ever had. That’s why we elected him. Twice. He’s a genius liar. But he wasn’t lying about something that is important to me. When George Bush says, “Global warming—we need more studying,” that’s a lie bought by an oil company. … Hundreds of scientists have all said global warming is happening. When he says we need to study it, that’s an out-and-out lie.

Did you vote in the last election?
I did. I voted for Ralph Nader.

Do you think a third party candidate has a chance?
I was turned off by Al Gore also. Some of the positions that “Bore and Gush"—as I used to call them—took were so identical that I just got so fed up with them. I thought we should work toward, in this election, establishing the idea that a third party is viable. Where else in America would we be satisfied with only two choices? If there was only two fast food outlets or two gas stations, nobody would put up with that. Yet we do put up with that in politics. However, having seen what George W. Bush has done in the first 100 days—especially on the environment—maybe that wasn’t the right decision.

You achieved success at a really early age. What advice would you give to people who have aspirations for doing stand-up?
Come see my shows in Reno and Tahoe. You’ll learn a lot. I’ve been doing it for 20 years. My advice would be: Don’t even start unless you are willing to throw yourself into it 100 percent. It’s a tough taskmaster. I still work really hard at it. I still do a lot of stand-up. I did my fifth HBO special last year. I’m working on another one right now. … It takes a lot of time and dedication. … It looks easy. Most things do. You really, really are going to want it bad.