A petition for President Obama to appear on “Real Time With Bill Maher” elicited more than 320,000 signatures. Why do you think the White House has yet to commit?
Bill Maher: That is something that you would have to ask them. I don’t know. That is what we are trying to find out. But I have great hopes that before his term ends, he will come by here.
What would you like to ask him?
BM: Gosh, so many things but I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. If I started thinking about that, I would jinx it.
In 2012 you gave $1 million to Priorities USA Action, a SuperPAC supporting President Obama’s reelection. Would you give again, now that it is supporting Hillary Clinton?
BM: I don’t know. I would have to see what the race is going to look like. I am not as inspired by her as I was by Obama. But I also think that the stakes are even higher. I was no Mitt Romney fan, but the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency is enough to scare money out of my bank account. Yes it is.
You mentioned the million dollars. The reason I gave that million dollars was because it was February of 2012, and the Republicans were amassing this giant war chest because it was the first presidential election since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. The previous election the most anyone could give was I think $2,300. And then the number went up to infinity, which I felt was kind of a big jump. Now of course you had to do it through the sham of a SuperPAC, but I think we all knew what the SuperPACs were doing — they were working for the candidates. So when you gave money to Paul Begala’s SuperPAC [Begala is senior adviser to Priorities], of course it was going to go to elect Obama. I was trying to get the liberal millionaires and billionaires to understand that the game had moved to the million-dollar level. That is why I did it early, and that is what the accompanying narrative was about, which was that if we are going to win this election, we are going to have to at least try to match the rich folks on the Republican side.
Bernie Sanders has attacked SuperPAC money going into politics.
BM: Well I think everyone agrees, including Hillary Clinton, that we would be better served by getting money out of politics. It’s a reasonable argument that Hillary makes, that ‘Yes we should do that,’ but until we do do that I am not going to unilaterally disarm. It is one thing in the primary season. Bernie has done amazingly well. But the Koch brothers said they are going to spend $900 million on this election. Well, that is going to be kind of hard on Bernie’s army of small givers to match what the Koch brothers can do. So I worry about the generally election. I admire Bernie greatly, He is still my candidate, until he is not in the race anymore. But I do see the other side of it.
Have you tried to get Donald Trump on ‘Real Time’?
BM: [Laughs] When he sued me last election cycle, he was saying in the press [imitates Trump], ‘The reason why we have this feud is because I refuse to do his show.’ It is true that over the years, we did ask Donald Trump to do the show, probably starting back in ‘Politically Incorrect’ days in the ’90s. Over the years there were times, I am sure, where we reached out, and he doesn’t live out here and he never did it. Which is fine. Lots of people don’t do my show. This was not the basis of our feud. There was no feud. What it was was he got into my area — the political arena. He is the one that started with that birther bullshit, and that’s what made me want to do a comedy bit about his birth certificate. Of course in his egomania, he thinks the whole thing is because he refused to do my show, like I could really give a shit.
I take it Trump’s lawsuit against you was dismissed.
BM: Of course. I had to spend money. I had to hire lawyers and have them show up in court just so this moron could present his birth certificate proving he wasn’t born of an orangutan. I mean, that is what it was. People think it was a lawsuit about defamation, that he was suing me because I said something mean about him. But of course in America you can’t do that. We do have the First Amendment here. The lawsuit — it is so insane that I cannot almost make it come out of my mouth — but the lawsuit was after Trump … offered Obama $5 million — he tried to bribe the president of the United States into releasing his college records. So I offered Trump $5 million if he could prove that he wasn’t the son of his mother and an orange-haired orangutan, and we have shown the picture many times. So he actually goes into court and says, ‘Bill Maher owes me $5 million because here’s my birth certificate and look, it doesn’t say orangutan on it.’ I mean, I can’t even begin to describe how insane that is.
Do you buy into this that Trump has changed permanently the way candidates wage campaign?
BM: I think what he has changed is the idea of political incorrectness being a third rail. That is different. All of us thought that he would be out as soon as he said that thing about John McCain not being a war hero. We thought, ‘Well, this is the end of him.’ And then he said Carly Fiorina was too ugly to be president. And he said Megyn Kelly was having her period. And he made fun of a guy with cerebral palsy. I mean, what does this guy have to do to get people to turn off to him? Fart in Jesus’ face — I mean it is crazy. He could end a rally by fucking a pie with his tiny cock. And I have always attributed that to the fact that America has been choking on political correctness for 20 years or more. I mean back in ’93 is when I started a show called ‘Politically Incorrect’ because I was sick of it way back then and it hasn’t gotten better since. So I think America just really embraced the idea of somebody who doesn’t walk back every thing he says that makes someone somewhere in America uncomfortable. And by the way that is a very attractive stance to take. It is just unfortunate that it is being taken by someone who is such an idiot.
Could another candidate get away with it like Trump has?
BM: I don’t think so. He is somehow uniquely qualified to do this because he has been on the scene for so long. I mean he was famous as far back as the ’80s. And he has always been a larger-than-life character. People got used to him on ‘The Apprentice.’ So it was sort of baked into the cake that he is this bombastic figure. And then when you look at his fan base. … I think what he is doing is he is matching the emotions of his fans, who feel like they have been screwed over. And somebody stole their country from them. and they are always losing and they want to blame somebody else. They just feel fucked over and what they want to do is lash out and blame it on somebody. And that is exactly what he is good at.
If he gets the nomination, do you think he has a chance in the general election?
BM: No, I don’t. I think the American people are fed up in a lot of ways, many of them justifiably, and they are playing a game of chicken. They are saying, ‘Look, we are so fed up that we might actually go ahead and drive this car right off the cliff with this insane person at the wheel.’ But I think at the last minute they won’t do that. I think they are going to turn that car around before they go over the cliff, because you know what? The truth is, as much as the Republicans talk, about what a shit hole this country is, it is actually in way better shape than it has been in a long time. Unemployment is below 5%. … But people in America now just feel more angry. They feel like they are getting fucked over, and I think the big difference there is the ghettoized media we have. Half the country listens to Fox News, half the country listens to some liberal outlets that they like, and somehow they have this idea in their head that the other side is completely evil. And so when Obama is in office, the way they talk about the country, it is like nothing good has happened since he took office.
What do you think of candidates tapping into pop culture?
BM: You have to go where the voters are, and the voters are not on PBS anymore. It is constantly a race to the bottom as far as intellectualism goes in America. The people who are really guilty are the so called news outlets. People talk about how they have to get the money out of politics — first they have to get the money out of the news business. … You don’t get any news anymore on CNN or MSNBC. All you get 24 hours a day is covering this reality show horse race. Not that that is not news. This is a presidential election, but it is not the only news.
You also have been outspoken about gun control.
BM: Nothing is really going to change in this country as long as we have a Second Amendment. And that is not going away any time soon, or probably ever, certainly not in our lifetime. … I think liberals have this idea that if we pass all the legislation that they wanted to pass, then things would be radically different in America, and they would not be radically different in America. They want to get rid of the worst kind of guns — OK, I am for that. But it is not going to change the fact that if some nut wants to go to a school and he has to fire two guns with eight clips instead of one gun with 20, that is what he will do. Assault rifles don’t even seem to be what are used in most mass shootings in this country.
Does the entertainment industry have a responsibility in how they depict violence?
BM: Responsibility, yes. Am I hopeful that they will listen to that responsible angel on their shoulder? No, because they are capitalists. And by the way, this is an industry that does very well and doesn’t need any socialist help. I know the conservatives like Ted Cruz are always talking about New York values and Hollywood values. Well, we are never asking for handouts like farmers. We are not welfare queens out here, and we pay our own freight and this industry does very well domestically and abroad. And part of the reason it does well is they give the audience what they want. And what the audience in America wants endlessly is violence. It wants to see guns going off. It wants to see explosions. It wants to see people walking away from explosions without turning around to look at the explosion, because they are so used to it. This is what makes money in the movies, so as long as that is where the money is, I just don’t see it changing.
Another issue is immigration. Candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz say this is a jobs issue. Do they have a point?
BM: You know, it is funny, there is a quote from Bernie Sanders seven years ago, and he is saying something and if you didn’t know it was Bernie Sanders you might think it was one of the Republican candidates. … Yeah, there are whole industries like the construction industry that are probably dominated by immigrants in this country now. Latino immigrants. That is the dynamic nature of capitalism in America now. You have to sort of earn your wings every day here. So I don’t know. John McCain said it years ago, and no one has ever improved on it, when he said, talking to the white people, ‘I am sorry my friend. These are jobs you just can’t do. Try to stay out there in the hot sun picking fruit. You can’t do it my friend,’ and he is right. What can we say? White people in America don’t want to do yard work anymore.
One of the most memorable debates on your show was over Islam, between you and Ben Affleck, in 2014. Why kind of response do you get when you talk about it now?
BM: What I have noticed is a big change in attitude, a change coming much more over to my point of view. Which I find very heartening, because I have always maintained that I am the liberal in this debate, and that I never understood how the liberals could look upon all the kinds of people they see as the oppressed people of the world … all these groups, and then look upon a woman who is forced to wear what I have always said looks like a beekeepers suit all day long in the hot sun and not think that that is oppression. And it is a complicated issue, because Muslims are oppressing other Muslims. That is where it gets complicated for liberals. I think liberals would like to believe it is governments who are oppressing the people, when unfortunately, actually, it is often the reverse. Pakistan has been trying to enforce a recently passed no- children-marriage law. They passed a law saying you can’t marry a 9-year-old. And this didn’t go over well with a lot of the population.
We had the Beverly Hills Hotel boycott over the sultan of Brunei.
BM: Well, I was very much against that boycott, but it is the perfect example of the kind of tokenism that I despise. This is so typically of liberals. Doing something that costs them absolutely nothing. I mean, there are a hundred restaurants besides the Polo Lounge where you can get a great gazpacho soup in L.A. But by not going to this one restaurant, they think that they are contributing somehow. Sharia law is not just in Brunei, it is in 40 different countries, including Saudi Arabia. So if you really want to boycott something, why don’t you stop driving and using oil?
What about studios threatening to boycott Georgia over a religious liberty law, or condemning anti-transgender laws in North Carolina and other states?
Again, it just shows the complete lack of perspective. They are up in arms that somebody in Mississippi passed a law — which is wrong, I am not saying it is not wrong. But they passed a law in Mississippi — I call them bathroom birther laws — same thing as in North Carolina. A transgender person has to use the bathroom aligned to the sex when were born. I was reading an article where one of the cops said, ‘This is completely unenforceable. What are we going to ask for everyone’s birth certificate before they go to a bathroom in a bar?’ [The law] is just for show. It is nonsensical. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t change anything. But this is what they get exorcised about, as opposed to 9-year-olds being married in Pakistan or women in Saudi Arabia who are not allowed to drive or leave the house without a man, or hold a job.