Comedy Impact Report '08: Tube Titans

The host of HBO’s “Real Time” has been an outspoken voice since “Politically Incorrect” debuted in 1994. But in the most dramatic election year of his professional life, as a majority of the nation coalesced around his anti-Bush views, Bill Maher’s influence has never been greater.

“It used to be that when I was asked if comedians can change anything, I would say, ‘No.’ I can’t honestly say that anymore. Too many people have stopped me and said, ‘You actually changed my mind,'” he reflects.

That 2008 also saw the release of “Religulous,” Maher’s provocative docu that brings a skeptic’s eye to faith and its adherents, is a fortuitous coincidence that helped focus attention on one of the comedian’s most passionate — and unpopular — views.

It’s now the seventh-highest-grossing docu of all time, but its success doesn’t mark an evolution for Maher’s career so much as a detour he’s thrilled to have taken.

“I’m not interested in making movies, I was just interested in this one because it deserved a bigger canvas than TV,” he explains. “It was my ‘Moby Dick.’ I harpooned that whale and now I’m completely happy going back” to TV.

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