Bill Maher knows what Paula Deen is going through.
Maher, who was fired from his “Politically Incorrect” show on ABC for comments he made after the 9/11 terror attacks, won’t defend the Southern-cooking impresario for her admitted use of a racial epithet.
But he criticized the public’s impulse to punish someone for saying something they don’t like, and he predicted that Deen – like Don Imus, like the Dixie Chicks and like Maher himself – eventually will be forgiven for offending society’s sensibilities.
“This whole idea that we have to disappear people because they say something that upsets us, or they make a single mistake, is ridiculous, and it’s very, very un-American. And besides that it doesn’t get rid of racism,” Maher said in a phone interview with The Buffalo News.
The longtime host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” is bringing his standup act to Buffalo on July 14, for a show at Kleinhans Music Hall, his first local appearance since 2010.
It’s part of his “Making Back My Million Tour,” a reference to the $1 million he gave to President Obama’s 2012 campaign.
Maher is an unabashed liberal who also has a strong libertarian streak and isn’t afraid to debate the elected officials, journalists and celebrities who join him on the set of “Real Time,” where he landed in 2003 after he was kicked off network TV.
In a free-wheeling interview, Maher took on Deen’s downfall, Anthony Weiner’s attempted comeback, social media, the pope’s economic theories and the prospects for legal pot.
Maher has connections to upstate New York because he went to Cornell, and he can still recite the “Ithaca is Gorges” pun favored in the Finger Lakes.
An atheist now, Maher was raised Catholic and he likes what he’s heard from the new pontiff, Pope Francis.
“I love this pope. If you listen to what he says about economics, he sounds just like Elizabeth Warren,” Maher said, referring to the progressive U.S. senator from Massachusetts. “He said poor people shouldn’t have to pay taxes. The cardinals are like, ‘Let’s prepare the poison, just in case we need it for this guy. Luckily we have a spare pope.’ But, yeah, he’s a real subversive.”
Maher got a lot of attention for his hefty contribution to Obama’s campaign. Asked, given the president’s uneven job performance in his second term, whether he wanted his money back, Maher laughed.
“You know, when I look back at how lame Mitt Romney really was, I can’t believe I was that scared. Like America was really going to elect this cold, robotic tax cheat from a polygamy cult?” Maher said, with typical understatement. “But you know what, it was important to define him, early, and that’s what that money went to doing. And look, as long as it came out the right way, I’m still happy I did it.”
Maher is even happier about the momentum toward legalizing marijuana, and he quipped he looks forward to marking its eventual acceptance “the same way I celebrate every night.”
He noted that two states have voted to legalize marijuana entirely, while others allow its use for medical purposes.
“We did something on our show a few weeks ago where I said pot legalization is the new gay marriage. I think it’s the next social brick to fall in the wall, and that’s going to be great,” Maher said.
Maher is on Twitter, where he has more than 2 million followers, after fighting the idea for years because he thought the comments were too trivial. (“What do I care that you just had a banana and watched ‘F Troop?’ ” he said.)
But he’s since embraced it as a way of communicating with his fans, and keeping tabs on pals such as Albert Brooks and Steve Martin, and he believes at least one founding father would have liked it.
“I think that Benjamin Franklin would have enjoyed Twitter. If you look at ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack,’ it’s all these very short – I’m not sure they would fit into 140 characters, but about that – little epigrams, little bits of wisdom throughout the day, little observations that were short and punchy, and that’s all Twitter is,” Maher said.
For selfish reasons, Maher hopes Twitter victim Anthony Weiner, who resigned his congressional seat after he was caught sending sexually suggestive comments and pictures to women who weren’t his wife, succeeds in his campaign for New York City mayor.
“As a comedian, of course, it’s always welcome news when someone who we refer to as ‘comedy friendly’ in the business comes to the fore,” said Maher.Speaking of second acts, Maher predicts that Deen will be able to rebuild her career soon enough, following the standard protocol for celebrity scandals that Maher experienced when he was fired by ABC after agreeing with a guest that the 9/11 terrorists weren’t cowardly.
“I mean, how long was it before Don Imus was rehired? It wasn’t that long. How long was it before the Dixie Chicks had a comeback album? I had my show six months after I left ‘Politically Incorrect.’ I was back on the air on HBO,” he said.Maher, who is 57, said he does about 70 to 75 stand-p gigs each year. He said he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll stay on TV, and he feels good about “Real Time,” but he knows any show is on borrowed time.
“They put Johnny Carson to pasture when he was 67 years old, and he was the biggest star in television. And it still didn’t matter. They still went, ‘You know what? Time to go, old man.’ That’s only 10 years from now for me,” he said. “So if I’m still doing this in 10 years, let me put it this way, I’ll be surprised. And that’s one reason that I really love still doing standup. Because I started with standup when I had nothing else, and the television will go away at some point, and I’ll still have stand-up. And I’ll still love it.”