Good morning Austin:
Bill Maher of HBO’s Real Time will be at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater on Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president (and the day after Real Time returns from hiatus with new shows), which would be a very good time to see him if that inauguration concerns you. However, if you don’t already have tickets, the show is sold out. (Though tickets are still available through on-line marketplaces including Vivid Seats and StubHub.)
I interviewed Maher by phone Friday, and here is a transcript of our conversation. I edited my questions for length, but his answers are as given, with the exception of a few deleted expletives.
FR: Do you have any special affinity for Austin?
MAHER: I come as often as I can. It’s always been one of my favorite spots on the comedy tour.
It’s so hip I find myself wishing it were a little more Texan. What’s the point of coming to Texas if I don’t see anything Texas about this place. It’s much closer to coming to New York.
I still have my `Keep Austin Weird’ t-shirt.
FR: This election Texas was less weird than the rest of the country. Trump did less well relatively speaking than he did elsewhere, like the Midwest.
MAHER: Oh there was even talk before the election that she might be winning Texas. Then they couldn’t carry Pennsylvania.
FR: If they could have kept their eye on the ball.
MAHER: No they were going for the landslide. So they didn’t take out any ads in Wisconsin, so that was in the bag. `If we could pry open Arizona, Texas and Georgia’. Yeah good luck.
FR: What are your leading suspects for why Clinton lost.
MAHER: First of all, she won. Let’s not forget that. It reminds of when a basketball team loses 112 to 110 and then they spend the next half hour talking about the reasons they lost – they have to do this and change that, but really? Because if one more shot goes down you’d have to talk about how the other team needs to do this. Only in this case, the team that lost actually won, by almost 3 million votes.
If some future historian looks at this election, you know, when the incumbent party has unemployment below 5 percent and the job market has been tracking upward for 75 months and the approval rating of the party in power’s president has been as high as Obama’s was, it’s very likely that that party is going to be returned to power. It’s only that under our shit system, you know, the other guy was able to get it because of this thing called the Electoral College. But having said that, she still did lose the election by the metrics we use and I think the reasons why were a perfect storm.
She was a crappy candidate. Lesson Number One – go where the energy is. Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old man was a rock star filing arenas with 20-year-olds. Hillary Clinton was a nice women who couldn’t fill the function room at the Olive Garden. So they just nominated her and I thought she was going to win, blah blah blah, but there wasn’t a lot of energy for her.
But let’s not forget because of Putin and (FBI Director James) Comey, and Comey should have been the guy who was going to keep Putin in check, but somehow they wound up on the same team, the team that was trying to get Trump elected and this is just a giant story and I know it’s been a big story, but it’s even more important than they’ve made it out to be, that the Russians would hack one side of an election. It’s like she was playing a poker game with somebody and only her hand was face up. So they can pooh-pooh this all they want, this is a major reason why she lost the election and the FBI – the most frightening part of it to me, the FBI, which is supposed to be a completely non-political organization, it is our internal police department, turns out the FBI was totally in the tank for Donald, and Comey had to release that letter because he was losing control of his own agency. Who’s going to fix that? Not Donald Trump.
FR: For the work you do, is Trump beyond comedy, beyond parody?
MAHER: Beyond comedy? He’s certainly not beyond comedy. He’s comedy gold. I did everything I could to make sure that he didn’t get elected, and now that he did get elected, I’m sweating like a whore in church, but there’s no doubt about it that he’s good for business.
FB: The New York Times and the Washington Post moan and groan about Trump, but their audience is way up.
MAHER: Absolutely. We had record ratings last year and I would have expected that with Hillary this would be a down year. Mostly after an election, the horse race is exciting, then it’s over and we go back to a non-election year. But that’s not the case now. People had time to turn off after the election. I did that. You couldn’t look, it was so distressing. But you can’t live your life like that, and now I think people can’t help it, they want to know what’s going on, they want to know what this maniac is doing, and I said on the last show, I’m on the barricades with you, we’re still here. We are still here and we are going to keep on fighting and I think more energized than ever on the left. If they’re not, if Trump can’t energize them If you can’t work for the good guy when this guy is the villain in the movie, then you’re not paying attention.
FR: But when every day brings more seemingly outlandish things, do you have to go to basic, Three Stooges, slapstick comedy, people getting hit by two-by-fours?
MAHER: I see what you’re saying. He’s so ridiculous, parody is almost written into reality. This is a guy who believes the Enquirer as much as any newspaper. I watched that clip the other day when he’s going on and on about how the Enquirer should win Pulitzer Prizes. It’s very hard to parody that.
FR: In Austin, you are coming to the hometown of Alex Jones.
MAHER: He believes in the lizard people.
FR: He had Sy Hersh on Dec. 30 for a very respectful half hour.
FR: He has a huge audience.
MAHER: I know Trump loves him. I remember dealing with the lizard people in (Maher’s 2008 documentary) Religulous when we dealt with the guy who promulgated that – David Icke.
The theory is that there are people in the world, like George Bush was one of them, the Queen of England was one of them, who, when they turn the corner and you don’t see them they turn into lizard people, I’m not kidding.
So the president of the United States is a big fan of this guy. So he hasn’t exactly jumped on the lizard people theory but just the fact that you would give any credibility to someone who believed in the lizard people.
FR: What’s going to happen?
MAHER: It really depends on what Trump does. He could be successful, especially in the early going because there’s a tremendous tail wind with the economy right now. And Donald Trump his MO his whole life is not to do anything, just to stand in front of something and slap his name on it and take credit, and I could see him doing that with a lot of Obama’s accomplishments.
You know, with ISIS, I could wipe them out quickly. Well no one could wipe them out quickly but Obama basically did it slowly. ISIS is pretty much on the run but at the last minute he’ll stand there and take credit.
Or the infrastructure proposal. When the black guy wanted to rebuild our infrastructure it was horrible idea to Republicans -`You’re bankrupting our grandchildren.’ Republicans are so funny. When they’re in office you can just spend any kid of money whether you have it or not because they are the good people. When the Democrats want to spend money, you’re bankrupting our grandchildren.
But yeah, he’ll probably get that infrastructure deal passed that Obama wanted to pass and that’s a giant stimulus program that will help the economy. So I think he could have success. What’s going to happen, though, I think at some point, you know character is destiny, I don’t think he can sustain it forever, so when the shit starts hitting the fan … And I think there will be more Trump scandals. I can’t believe a guy who is on tape saying, I grabbed pussy whether women give me permission or not, doesn’t have bodies buried everywhere. I very much doubt that he has been faithful one day of his marriage and he’s basically bragged about sexual assault, I can’t believe there’s not going to be something, so at some point, you know, things aren’t going well and tapes emerge of him doing God knows what sexually, that could be enough to take him down, but we’ll see.
FR: But will his supporters believe anything negative about him?
MAHER: It is scary. It only took them a few weeks to turn fake news into anything. Fake news has a real meaning, like ‘the Pope has endorsed Donald Trump.’ That’s fake news because it’s easily checked. In fact what the Pope said is that he prays for his enlightenment, to which God said, `I’ve done a lot of miracles, but give me a break.’ Now anything that is slanted against them is fake news. So yeah, you’re right, there is no there there in America anymore
FR: Everyone has their own reason for distrusting what they read, it’s not for the same reason, but combined, there’s a generalized feeling that nothing can be trusted so you might as well go with what suits your fancy.
You’re coming to the home state of Ted Cruz. Would you have been any happier if he had been elected?
MAHER: It would have been better. Ted Cruz was within the parameters of normal awful. So is Mike Pence, within those parameters. I don’t think either Ted Cruz or Mike Pence is going to blow up the world. Trump, I have no idea. No one has an idea. He knows nothing about politics. He is just learning about it for the first time. He’s not interested. He is interested in two things – adulation and revenge.
That’s where his attention would be always wanting to brag, only interested in giving credit to himself.
If there’s a terrorist attack – “Told ya, I got it right.” As if one couldn’t have predicted there would be more terrorist attacks.
Or putting somebody down who has the temerity to in any way criticize him.
Why is Putin his best friend? Because Putin compliments him so Putin is brilliant.
FR: Do you think he benefited from the fact that no one thought they were voting for someone who was going to win, so they thought they had an immunity to vote for him
MAHER: He didn’t think he was going to win.
FR: Maybe he would have been happier with the reverse outcome – if he won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote, so he could have asserted that he was the real winner but wouldn’t be burdened with actually having to serve president.
MAHER: Exactly, because then he could indulge the whiny little bitch side of him. What he and his followers really like after all – we did something a month before the election on the show, `You’re going to like it better if Hillary Clinton is president because you don’t really like to govern, because all you do is talk about how government is awful and doesn’t work. and now you have to run it. You don’t want to do that. What you want is to stand outside and piss in. What’s going to be fun for you is impeaching Hillary. You could do it on Inaugural Day’ He doesn’t want to live in Washington. And he doesn’t want a job. It’s a job being president
FR: Preview your show in Austin.
MAHER: Stand up comedy is for making people laugh out loud very hard. That’s the whole thing. If you’re doing anything else in a stand-up comedy show, to me, you’re doing it wrong.
So there’s plenty of material and the great thing about doing political stuff is it’s always new. You’re not going to hear any of the jokes from the last time I was there or any of my old specials because it’s always changing, especially now.
I certainly wasn’t doing a whole act on Donald Trump the last time I was in Austin. But that’s what it is. It’s not just for working out the stomach muscles laughing, at this point it’s a cathartic experience, to all be in a room with people who basically think like them and commiserate about what happened, and laugh about it and hopefully take something optimistically into the future.
FR: Austin’s not exactly Trump country, but when Trump had a rally in Austin he drew a huge and very likable crowd, many of whom were there for the experience and reveled in it.
MAHER: Exactly. It’s free entertainment. One of the myths about the Trump voter was that they were doing terrible economically. No, actually, they were doing better than the average American economically. It’s just that a Trump rally was free entertainment. They went there because they already saw the Captain America movies.
He does his greatest hits – `build the wall,’ “bring jobs back,” threaten companies that send them overseas. Throw somebody out. It’s like going to a Foghat concert.
FR: Where were you election night?
MAHER: What was I? Weeping. I was with a friend and when we couldn’t stand it anymore we walked around the block and smoked a joint. i went through a very dark period there for a while. One foot in Canada. Just too many messages from people, We need you now more than ever.’ It’s like a movie. `OK, I’ve got to stay and fight this evil,’ and I will.
FR: You weren’t one of those who threatened to leave the country if Trump won.
MAHER: No no, that’s ridiculous, that’s silly. No, you’ve got to fight for you country, not leave it. I’m not going to let them win in the long run if I have anything to do with it.