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Bill Maher explains why he may stop stand-up, but not TV show

Neal Justin, Star Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

MINNEAPOLIS — We're used to Bill Maher throwing curve balls, but in May he delivered a real doozy. On his podcast, "Club Random," he told guest Jerry Seinfeld that he may retire from the stand-up circuit before the end of the year.

That means his appearance at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, as part of the WTF? Tour, may be a farewell to local fans.

Maher has a long association with the Twin Cities. He filmed his first HBO special at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater in 1995 and has kept returning to the market like clockwork. He chatted recently by phone about possibly giving up road gigs, the success of his new book, "What This Comedian Said Will Shock You," and why this 22nd season of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" won't be his last.

Q: I was surprised when you said you might give up stand-up because I know how much you love it. I always assumed you would give up the TV show first.

A: I love them both. It's like having two kids. You don't know which one you love more. I would miss stand-up, but the travel is getting to me. But I don't want to make any formal announcement and then wake up and say, 'What the hell was I thinking?' I don't want to be like the Who or the Eagles. Remember when they said they wouldn't reunite until hell freezes over — and then they named their comeback tour, Hell Freezes Over? I loved that. At least they owned it. I think I could do TV as long as they will have me. I'm still at the top of my game. I'll be 70 in a year and a half. Mick Jagger is on tour now. He's 80 and the reviews are great. And comedy is not like music. I don't have to jump around and be sexy. I look at the news, give you a point of view and make you laugh. I don't know why I can't do that when I'm 80.

Q: You got into the podcast game kind of late. What made you decide to do it and how have you made it different from the hundreds of other podcasts that comics are doing?

A: We did make it different. Very different. Podcasts are usually stage-y and brightly lit. It looks like they are on a set with everyone wearing headsets and a producer looking things up on a computer. On mine, no one else is in the room. Cameras are built into the walls. It's exactly what it's like sitting around and smoking pot with me.

Q: And then there's the book. Because it's a collection of the editorials you've done at the end of "Real Time," I'll bet a lot of people think it was just a matter of regurgitating old material. I assume it was a lot more work than that.

A: It was a labor of love. Thank God for the strike or I wouldn't have had time to do it. Just reading them from the past 10 or 15 years took a lot of time. Then I had to cull the best from that and put them in an order that made sense, update a lot of stuff and get rid of redundancies. But I'm glad I did it. It's every good thing I said in one book.

Q: I always wonder if David Letterman ever got tired of having to do the Top 10 List. Are there parts of "Real Time" that you wish you could blow up?

A: The pandemic forced us to go from three guests on the panel to two, which was good. Three was too crowded. But it'd be silly to blow up the format. Show business is tough, even when you're at your best. My advice to kids is that if you're doing something well, stick to that. I comment on the news of the day. That's cake that nobody else has.

Q: I think you have one of the smallest writing staffs of any late-night TV. Why not have more contributors? Make it easier on yourself?

A: The other shows have a head writer, who everyone submits to and then he picks out the best stuff, submits it to the star of the show, and then it's culled even further. I never liked to work that way. I'm my own head writer. I like to read every word. So you can't have a lot of writers. I can't absorb that much material. I always tell them, "Be brave. I can always edit stuff out." We have a Really File, where we put jokes that make me go, "Really? You thought I was going to say that on TV out loud? I'd be canceled tomorrow." But that's OK. I would rather they go way out there because I can always pull them back in.

Q: There are weeks where you seem to have become the darling of Fox News. What's it like to be embraced occasionally from a media outlet that you've been so tough on?

A: It's so amusing to me. I'll do a show where 80% of the material is knocking the right, but they don't show that. They focus on the one thing they love. That's my big complaint about corporate media. You never hear the full story. I definitely don't look at cable news anymore. I used to watch the nightly news on the networks, but I can't even take that anymore. It's so much water-cooler video, like a bear in someone's hot tub. An airline had a rocky landing. So what? Call me when they die. I get my information by reading a couple newspapers. My psyche is better that way.

 

Q: A lot of the other late-night hosts seem to be best pals. You get the sense that they go skiing together on weekends. Why aren't you part of that club?

A: I don't know if it's a club. I love the Jimmys. I just saw Jimmy Fallon last month. I love Jimmy Kimmel as a person. Stephen Colbert? No, we're not friends, but we're not enemies. All those guys, their points of views are all interchangeable. When it comes to politics, they could do each other's jokes. I'm going to give you something completely different. I'm not constrained.

Q: Is that why "Real Time" has never won an Emmy?

A: I'm not going to get into that. The reason we haven't won an Emmy is not because it wasn't the best show. It might be because it is the best, because it's the bravest show, but that's not what's rewarded. The Emmy voters are virtue signalers and my politics doesn't jibe with theirs.

Q: Who would you love to have on the show that hasn't come on yet?

A: I could start with Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger. So many celebrities think they're not smart enough. Well, maybe they're not smart enough for "Real Time," I give you that, but they can come on the podcast. That's not really about politics. But publicists are always protecting their people from me. It's so frustrating.

Q: If this does end up being your last stand-up show in Twin Cities, it's going to end a pretty long tradition.

A: It does bring back memories. Right after that HBO special in 1995, I took a Midwestern vacation with my girlfriend at the time. We rented a car and saw Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, which is like the Grand Canyon that needs a better publicist. I've never done anything like that before or since. Some of it was corny, but it was cool. What can I say? I love America.

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Bill Maher: The WTF? Tour

When: 8 p.m. July 13

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis

Tickets: $84-$130; hennepinarts.org

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©2024 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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