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The former host of "Politically Incorrect," comedian Bill Maher was fired by ABC for being, well, too politically incorrect. His outspoken humor soon found a home on HBO where "Real Time With Bill Maher" airs every Friday. You can also see him doing hosting duties on the Internet at Amazon.com's "Amazon Fishbowl." His book, "New Rules, Polite Musings From a Timid Observer," is now available in paperback. He will be bringing his stand-up act to Heinz Hall at 8 p.m. Sept. 28. Call 412-392-4900 for tickets.
Q: Were you always so outspoken?
A: No. No, I was very shy as a kid. I didn't really fit in. I don't think I was ever meant to be a kid. Even when I started doing comedy, I was 22, 23 years old and of course a 22-, 23-year-old kid talking about politics and world affairs -- you don't have a lot of authority. Nor, by the way, should you [laughing] have a lot of authority to talk on those subjects when you're that age. So I kind of had to grow into it. Sort of the way a character actor has to grow into what he does because he puts on the seasoning that only age can give you.
Q: Do you think the real reason you are considered so controversial is that you change your mind and neither conservatives or liberals can feel safe with you?
A: Right, you're right and that's good. I don't want them to feel safe. And you are right, I will change my mind, and that's one of the nice things about being out of politics. When you're in politics you can't change your mind. That's so stupid. Changing your mind is a sign of growth and evolution and learning. New facts come along, and we change our mind. That's the way intelligent people do it. That is not how George Bush does it. George Bush's view is "I'm resolute, so if I change that means weakness." So of course the result is, every day more and more Americans and Iraqis have to die in a war that everybody realizes at this point, months if not years ago, is a lost cause.
Q: You must spend half the day looking at the news.
A: When the show's in production, I don't have much of a life.
Q: Is "Real Time" more serious than "Politically Incorrect" was?
A: Yes, yes. Well "Politically Incorrect" was lighter, sillier. I don't think "Real Time" is less funny. I think "Real Time" is probably more funny because we have more time during the week to actually prepare written, polished comedy pieces.
Q: And you are using heavier hitters as your guests.
A: But that's it, yes, it's more of an adult show. First of all, the other show was on every night and had four guests. That's 20 guests a week. I mean, to fill that many seats, you have to cast a very wide net. You can't be picky about whether the people are that well-versed in public affairs. The idea was just to throw people on with different ideologies, different backgrounds, different professions and see what happens. But that is not what we are doing here. That was great; we did it for nine years, and I was happy about it. But it was time to move on. And so to anybody who gets fired like I did, my advice would be you never know -- it could be a good thing. It really could.
Q: Are you freer to say what you want to say?
A: No. I think that is a misconception. I always said what I wanted on ABC, I just got fired for it eventually. I mean, I was in trouble more over there, but I never sort of, you know, held my tongue. On this show, I don't even have to think about what the consequences are because I know there won't be any.
Q: Writer Christopher Hitchens seemed to have a hard time with the audience on "Real Time" recently.
A: Some created by him. Yeah, he is a smart guy and he's a great writer, and I think he's completely wrong about Iraq. I don't know why he, who is not in politics, can't see fit to change course when the facts on the ground change. But for whatever reason, he's going to stick with that horse. I think sometimes he says things just to be contrarian.
Q: Are there guests who are afraid to come on?
A: Oh, yes. Yes [laughing]. I think people in politics are afraid to come on. People currently holding office or running for office, those are the ones we have the most trouble getting because, as you said, they don't trust me. I might ask a follow-up question [laughing].
Q: You've been outspoken about your distaste for organized religion. Do you find anything redeeming about it?
A: I'm not blind to the fact that religion is helpful to people and does a lot of good. I mean, there are Christian missionaries all over the world who are feeding people and helping them overcome calamities. I understand that. I just don't understand why before you give a kid a sandwich you have to make him believe in Jesus Christ. That doesn't seem to me Christ-like.
Q: You told Larry King recently you would never say never to marriage. Are you in a relationship now?
A: No, of course not. Yes.
Q: Have you found that the women who end up in a relationship with you pretend they feel the same way you do about ...
A: That's a great question. It's funny because when I was younger (and not nearly as successful) I used to be the one who lied. When I was 28 years old and a girl said to me, "Do you like children?" I'd go, "Well, you know, not right now, but I think someday." That was a complete lie. I never liked children. I never wanted children, and I was just saying that because I didn't want to lose the fish that was on the end of my hook. I noticed as I got older, I got more honest (because I was able to), and the women were the ones who started to lie to me. So, if I said I didn't like children, they'd say, "Yeah, I don't like children either." I was like, "Really?" All these women don't like children? Typically women like children.
Patricia Sheridan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613.