How does a brainy, razor-tongued Hollywood comic who famously skewered devout believers in the documentary “Religulous” play in Savannah, Ga., Oklahoma City or Norfolk, Va.? How does Bill Maher’s searing wit go over in areas of the country where the Belt is more Bible than Borscht?
“The audiences are better, if anything, because the people in red states who are the progressive thinkers … they are thrilled that somebody who thinks like them came to their town where they are normally mostly surrounded by rednecks.”
Maher recently played Tulsa, Okla., and used that city as an example of the reception he often gets from enthusiastic fans who might be blue over the preponderance of red.
“I remember being there the last time and getting a five-minute ovation just for walking out,” he says. “That doesn’t happen in San Francisco. Not that San Francisco isn’t a great crowd, too, but there it’s a little more predictable — what they’re going to be, what I’m going to be.
“In Tulsa and places like that,” he adds, “it’s just more of a rarity that I would come and I think they’re very appreciative that I didn’t write off the whole region and say, ‘You know what? Those are a bunch of hillbillies there. I’m not going there.’ Because I’ve discovered that wherever you go in America, no matter how red the state is, there are a lot of liberal people marbled into the population.”
Although much of his act may remain the same from city to city, Maher says he strives to tailor a portion of it to the local market. He might wind up doing 15 new minutes based on breaking news or developments in that specific area.
“One reason I do like to travel is because I like to get the local feel and get a little bit of a thumb on the pulse of real America as opposed to just sitting here in my ivory tower in Hollywood. So I always ask when I get on the ground — the cab or limo driver, or the people in the airport or bars — I do try to find out what’s the local story and what are the issues people care about.
“People are thrilled in any local market, even if it’s just a couple of minutes of the show if you say, ‘I was in Hawaii on New Year’s Eve and was talking about Gov. (Neil) Abercrombie and Sen. Brian Schatz.’ They just love that stuff because it’s what’s in their paper and on their news everyday,” Maher says.
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