Bill Maher Courts Danger by Working Live on HBO

Bill Maher Courts Danger By Working

When Bill Maher takes the stage at the start of his weekly “Real Time” program on HBO, he feels like he was just shot from a cannon.

By the time he opens the program with a monologue, he has spent every waking hour since getting up on Thursday preparing for the show, he said in an interview. He has little choice. Unlike most other talk shows, Maher’s program is live and he must pivot from standup comedy to serious encounters with authors and politicians, and then wrap everything up with the delivery of one of TV’s most barbed commentaries – all without a break.

“Live on tape means ‘not live,’ of course. It was live at some point. The difference with our show is it is ‘live’ live. As I’m saying it, you are seeing it,” he said. “It does add an extra, kind of tightrope element to it, because you can’t take anything back or editorially fudge it. It is what it is.”

Maher, a veteran of the latenight arena, has become a sort of Warren Zevon of talk-show hosts, using edgy humor to call attention to topics that get little air on mainstream counterparts. His stuff can be polarizing, and the live nature of the show accentuates the danger. In recent weeks, Maher has contended with being insulted by guest Fareed Zakaria and with panelists whose unsolicited comments threatened to derail a comedic bit in the middle of the program. Some of this stuff may get a broader audience, now that HBO is allowing Maher and his staff to post clips from the program and its online-only “Overtime” segment on YouTube.

His staff is taking steps to burnish the you-are-there elements of “Real Time” as audiences begin to embrace more shows like it that use satire to analyze current events. Maher, who hosted “Politically Incorrect,” a show with similar themes on Comedy Central and ABC, pioneered a genre that has now attracted everyone from John Oliver to Larry Wilmore, not to mention a cadre of garrulous Jim Henson creatures holding forth on news of the day over at small cable outlet Fusion, part of a show called “No, You Shut Up.”All of these other programs, however, are taped.

Maher has not considered joining the pack. In recent weeks, he has urged staff to select a live audience that is less ruffled by some of the decidedly “politically incorrect” material he delivers. Nearly every week, it seems, the “Real Time” audience expresses outrage or dismay at some of Maher’s pointed comments about liberals or conservatives – precious seconds that can detract from the show. Maher has on at least one occasion actually left his stage and gone out into the audience to help remove people who heckled the show and interrupted the discussion. He recalled the episode as “an out-of-body experience.”

“I think you should be shocking your audience,” said Maher, who has recommended the crowds for “Real Time” be more like the people who pay to see him do standup around the country. Paying fans “are much less politically correct. I want to keep going with that,” he said. “I’m not politically correct and the audience should know that. I’ve only been on TV for 22 years! I come pre-advertised. I think the brand is plain.”

He does not seem eager to get rid of the live broadcast, no matter the potential for hiccups. “If you tape something, and then the next day something happens to undo what you were talking about, you look like an idiot,” he explained.

Instead, Maher wants to push the envelope. Last year, he did a broadcast of “Real Time” from Washington, D.C., and then immediately followed it with a live hour of standup at the city’s Warner Theatre, also covered by HBO. He enlisted the help of Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore, who did live play by play as he made his way from where “Real Time” had been broadcast a few blocks away.

He likes the element of risk and thinks it gives“Real Time” more distinction. “What lends our show the element of danger is that we cover ideas the  other shows would never go near,” he said. “Other shows pretty much pander to their audience, and never say anything that upsets their audience or changes their way of thinking.”

And while Maher scoffs at traditional evening newscasts – “All of the network newscasts blow,” he remarked. “They are absolutely committing journalistic treason” – he realizes “Real Time” functions as a sort of news outlet. In each broadcast, he said: “I want to touch what I consider to be every important story that happened that week. I don’t mean it’s every story the media thought was important.” But he also wonders if people who rely on just his program for the news are on the right information diet: “It’s like saying I get all my nutrients from the Cheesecake Factory,” he cracked.

The pace of “Real Time”  takes its toll on the host. Maher estimated he spends about 12 hours a week honing the four-minute monologue that develops out of the show’s “New Rules” segment. And he admits to being on edge as the program starts each week. “It’s a show with so many different elements, and I have no time during it to react. I’m very nervous about that before I go out. “ With commercials or taping, he might be able to stop after doing standup and gear up for the show’s serious interviews or pause before debating his panel. “I don’t do that,” he said. “A bit of my gray hair is largely because of that element.”

It’s a fair bet Maher will return for more, and keeping the show live means offering viewers something they can’t get anywhere else. “If you are doing something somebody else is doing, then the audience has a choice,” Maher said. “”I want the audience to have no choice. If they want something like I’m doing, they have to come here.”

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  1. Kath says:

    The next time a guest such as Fareed Zakaria or Reza Aslan try to take Bill to task over Islam by pointing out what a wonderful, peaceful country Indonesia is… he may want to remind them of the Bali bombings which killed 202 people in 2002 – mostly tourists – and the fact that Indonesia has its own violent extremist group in Jemaah Islamiyah. I could not believe either guest selectively ignored this, but then I suppose if it happened it the southern hemisphere it is out of sight, out of mind for people in the US?

  2. Bill, the most interesting part of the show; is with the panel. Unfortunately, that part of the show, is less, and less as time goes. You all get into a subject, on the surface, there is never enough time to delve into these topics. Too many parts to the show, you’ve gotten away from discussion!!

  3. Mike Farr says:

    Hey Bill, you can be a real arrogant prick sometimes; maybe that is why I like you. I did not like what Fareed said about you the other night. He is nothing but an apologist for the sick system that we have in the USA. I used to respect him, but not much anymore. I hope you keep it up. What you say about Islam is totally true so why pretend otherwise. Maybe what you said about Islam will not make any difference, but at least it is the truth. Why pretend that those people are not fanatics? Obviously, they are.
    Too bad for me Real Time is no longer available in Colombia–just another reason you should keep on being Politically Incorrect.
    Mike Farr

  4. Steve Palfy says:

    It’s exactly why I watch this show.

  5. I suppose Bill goes a little far sometimes, but I have respected HBO having the American way by broadcasting live the freedom of speech. I find Rush Limbaugh, Tea Party, etc, obscene, not Bill Maher. But I have the right to choice watch/listen on whomever are entertaining and, for Bill, does present up-the-date events and discussion.

  6. Free says:

    Been a fan of this show for about ten years now. And while I generally like Bill, there’s a difference between being politically incorrect, and just being an Islamophobe. I’m glad Fareed (and others) have called him on it, even if it offends him (really, Bill? You make blanketed statements about a religion, and YOU’RE offended?). Hopefully election 2016 will improve the quality of the show, too, because it’s sucked for the past year.

    • lxwvdb says:

      “Because it sucked for the past year.” -very insightful, maybe you’re bitter as well over being wrong about Muslims. You say “blanketed statements about a religion” like 2/3 of Muslims believe dont believe in killing someone that leaves th religion… What more attrocities can Muslims support and believe in before it is called out; the hate and indifference isn’t going away on its own.

      • Albert says:

        He is not wrong about Muslims. Maher rightfully challenges the foundations of a religion that encourages violence. It’s not a myth or a few bad apples. It’s a psychosocial problem that plagues the Muslim world. Maher calls on reform from within. He is so correct. Believe. Stop buying into the liberal BS of the religion being peaceful and only a few bad apples exist. It’s far more complicated than that buddy.

  7. We love Bill but, he seems to be a little hypocritical when it comes to religion, Judaism, and Islam. His sympathy for Israel does not seem as rational nor as subject to humor as his take on other things. His open disgust with Islam is not encouraging.

  8. I have seen Bill Maher live doing stand-up and I watch Real Time every week. It’s amazing how I feel I have a voice when he speaks! Sometimes when news is happening during the week I’ll say to my husband “Bill Maher is going to have fun with this”. He’s tagged the slot of FAVORITE SHOW in this household.

  9. IT 2 IT says:

    It’s called being CANNED without CUE cards.

    Quite a feat.

    Only the tops in mind control can pull this off.

  10. This article reads like a poorly written puff piece by Bill Maher’s publicist in an attempt to rehabilitate Maher’s rapidly diminishing reputation. I expect more from a senior Variety editor.

    • Brian Steinberg says:

      Douglas, I disagree, but that’s why it takes all kinds of giraffes to make up a zoo. Not everyone likes Maher’s aggressive humor or his politics, but the show has certainly thrived and he has gone on to take part in other ventures, like being a producer for HBO’s Vice. Thanks for the comments

  11. terryzxz says:

    Bill is a GREAT Entertainer and deserves each and every laugh that he has worked so hard to earn. Bill is the one comedian that can cheer me up any time I see him….and I truly thank him for all that he gives to us. He is one of a kind.

  12. Al Riz says:

    Hi, I’m from Jakarta, Indonesia. And I’ve been following Bill’s show since the very beginning of knowing that there’s such a thing as torrent in 2009. Sorry I pirated your show (not really), because HBO doesn’t show your show in this region. I never failed to miss one of your shows and it really helped me stay sane ‘wink wink’.

  13. Galene Stockwell says:

    This show is the best !! The guests are tops, and Bill lets them GO, with their opinions, and some with ribald humor—-Love it. A few tend to hog the time thing, with their particular, political leanings (you know you are) The last half of the show, always has a delightful personality, and the rapport with Bill is superb——and sometime brilliant

  14. Pavana Kaine says:

    I love that show so much! I never ever miss it because I DVR it in case I’m not able to watch it when it’s on, and a lot of times I’m late but I just go to the DVR and boom there it is! I hope the show goes on forever. I’m sorry it’s hard for you Bill, But do know that your audience does love you and your show a lot! 😜

  15. Susan Ahern says:

    Live in conservative Richmond, VA, and my husband and I reserve Friday nights for a bottle of wine and Bill Maher.

    Hubby and I are from liberal northeast and listening to Maher’s smart, often hilarious commentary, we feel at home!

    Hope his show never goes off the air.

    • Polly Esther Sunshine says:

      Unfortunately, the city of Richmond, Virginia is not predominantly conservative anymore, but if you and hubby are the sort who are comforted by divisive Cultural Marxist enemies of mainstream America such as Bill Maher, perhaps cannabis has impeded your ability to notice.

      • The south sucks says:

        What an awful comment by Polly Esther Sunshine. Cultural Marxism = get along with all people, right? This is why we look down at you fools from the northeast and west coast – because you are backwater and ignorant

  16. He takes risks, and pays a price with those who are endemically intolerant of free thinking people.

  17. Carl says:

    What a pompous tool. Watched his show… once.

  18. davidsep says:

    Maher is the reason I have paid so much for premium cable over the years… I need HBO for my live Real Time fix every Friday… When he’s gone, the cable monopoly can kiss my ***

  19. Lynn Sweeten says:

    Love bill….good article… all re the here and now…thanks

  20. Judy kossin says:

    can’t bill maher’ show hire effective security people? What’s wrong with the people who are supposed to do this so bill can do his thing? Ineffectual jerks should be fired!

  21. Susan says:

    I used to watch Politically Incorrect, I’ve seen Bill’s stand-up show, and I never miss Real Time. This is one of the best shows on TV. The world has become way too PC and I love Bill’s irreverence, whether I agree with his view or not. Thanks, Bill, for your intelligence and wit.

  22. Anne Absalom says:

    Keep up the great job Bill. I appreciate that you treat your audience like we have a brain that can tolerate different points of view without our heads exploding. You are the highlight of my week!

  23. gobackunderyourrockbill says:

    he man handles people out of the audience??? WTF??? What a pompous ASS. No need for this type of crap. The majority of America is NOT PROGRESSIVE. As Cali looses water, it looses brain cells.

    • Pamela says:

      Anyone interrupting a taping of a national TV show should be manhandled out of the audience. Quit acting like those idiots had any right to disrupt the broadcast just because you don’t like Bill. As for the majority of America, in poll after poll, progressive views win, so you’re wrong on that point, too. However, you are correct that Bill is a pompous ass. That doesn’t mean he’s not right most of the time, tho.

  24. Marg Brubacher says:

    My husband and I LOVE Bill Maher on HBO and his fearlessness in telling it like it is. We look forward to his show more than any other on TV, and frankly, it’s the main way I get my news. I hope he never quits!!!!!

  25. jo says:

    You want to shock the audience, but also want them to be less ruffled?

  26. ric cobo says:

    Like how he exercises the independence.

  27. David hoyt says:

    Keep it coming. If you weren’t on HBO I wouldn’t subscribe. Really.

  28. Vangel Figueroa says:

    Bill Maher is a very much like George Carlin. An intelligent comedian, who is great with logic and common sense. I agree with him on almost everything.

  29. Lala says:

    Maher’s show is the reason I pay for HBO also. I can’t believe his schedule! Must be jumping on the trampoline that makes him so good with his quick replies and ability to make a live show look seamless! I don’t always agree, and he often shocks me, which I think is a good thing. I do think two panelists would be better because a lot of times the person in the middle gets shut out. Or someone less assertive anyway. I adore New rules and his monologue at the end. He’s doing a great job I hope he stays at it for a long time!

  30. Cauleen Stanley says:

    Real Time is my absolute fav show. There’s no other host that comes close to Bill Maher. I love your irreverence, your wit, your ballsy approach to anything and everything and I most especially love the way you revere Barack Obama, Bill Maher but, aren’t afraid to not cut him some slack, at times!!! And that coming, from a Canadian, no less…:)

  31. Konnie says:

    the likelihood of any real shockers while live are minimal. every guest comes pre-packaged with talking points they are eager to put forth and a paycheck to protect. four letter words are practically required. viewers know Bill’s schtick and views on religion. He is overly polite in the extreme. Unless someone would start stripping I can’t imagine what would trigger the censor or even come close to insulting or outraging the audience.

  32. Carlos Soto says:

    He is the man,for some people the truth hurts and he tells it in a funny way

  33. Jerry Hall says:

    The Bill Maher show c osts me $17.)) and change a month cause its seldom HBO has anything else I bother to watch. Not long ago. I canceled HBO on Monday and had it turned back of Friday for fear I would have missed something, and as it turned out. I would have. Maher’s my all time fave even beating out Don Imus in the morning’s old msnbc basement show that I seldom missed. I thot it sad he got the ax, but hes show just never was the same above ground anyway…

  34. Taxes Masses says:

    i love Bill. He gets the best guests and the show flows effortlessly. I forget that it’s live!!! I love a host that is a voice instead of an echo.

  35. Dennis Hastings. says:

    I love Bill Maher. Is he always right? Probably not. I mean, who is? But with sarcasm and wit he lays our world out so we can see it and decide for ourselves what WE actually think, instead of just buying in to the commercial news outlets. I found the segment where people were yelling in the audience to be both troubling and heartening. If people have an opinion they should be brave enough to stand on a street corner with a sign and stand behind what it is that they think is right or what they think is wrong with America. But going on a comedy show and disrupting the presentation with fringe beliefs just makes them look like crackpots.

  36. dean says:

    Maher courts danger by saying exactly what he thinks about the Muslim faith, and taking other politically incorrect stands.
    He is an important personality in this dangerous era.
    That being said, the show format needs freshening. There are too many panelists. Frequently, the more interesting can get marginalized by some loud, boring windbag.

  37. James Maloney says:

    What a puff piece of crap about a hypocrite, particularly when it comes to religious affiliation. Maher continues to select his guests from a carefully chosen “usual suspects” including the criminal Issa and other right-wingers. Perhaps it is time he bring on a panel that does not constitute “celebrities” but ordinary knowledgeable Americans.

  38. Bob Dickson says:

    Bill Maher is a joke. And I mean that in a good way.

  39. My guess is that he’s starting to feel John Oliver’s heat on his neck.

  40. Benjamin says:

    You can’t find what he does anywhere else. I do hate when the audience feels they have to clap every 30 seconds to prove how liberal they are… but Maher is smart, provocative, and -oh yeah… pretty damn funny!

  41. John says:

    Once in awhile Bill steps on the public’s toes, but they should understand, that he is going to say what he wants to say. He is unique in modern television, cut from the same mold as Mort Saul. They take their lumps and keep on going, making political commentary more meaningful.

  42. rosa frick says:

    Great job Bill. Look forward to the show every Friday

  43. Katrina says:

    I love Bill’s show and look forward to it every Friday night. I miss him when he takes a week off or goes on hiatus. Do I agree with everything he says 100%? No, I don’t, and sometimes I literally gasp at what he says but that is a function of no one else saying it at all! I love it and hope he never changes it.

  44. Ally Raymond says:

    Bill Maher ROCKS, no matter the crazies. Love that about him.

    • Debunkzter says:

      But he’s not anti-PC about everything, climate change, for example. He balances those things very well, and I agree with most of his tendencies on each side of that balance. Unfortunately some in his audience will include yahoos who don’t understand what a joke or irony is. I think it’s only some. Keep it up Bill!

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