Bill Maher Previews How ‘Real Time’ Will Handle President Trump: ‘We’re Entering Uncharted Waters’

real time with bill maher
Courtesy of HBO

After doing 14 seasons of his scathing “Real Time” for HBO, Bill Maher had planned some tweaks. But in the wake of the presidential election, the outspoken comedian decided instead to delay some of his plans (though he’s sticking with a new set).

“Let’s not go too far with the changes, because what people are going to want right now is comfort food,” Maher tells Variety. “We already had the big changes — the big change is how fascism has come into power. That’s enough for people to absorb for awhile.”

Maher has never been afraid to blast politicians, pundits, and presidents. He spurred controversy when he hosted ABC’s late-night “Politically Incorrect” that largely led to the demise of that program, and continues to do so today. And he has tangled with Trump before. The real-estate mogul sued him in 2013 after Maher vowed on NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” that he would offer $5 million to Trump’s favorite charity if Trump could prove that he was not the “spawn” of an orangutan. Trump later filed a breach-of-contract suit,  but ended up withdrawing it.

JAKE CHESSUM for Variety

Could a president-elect fond of suggesting limits on free speech change Maher’s tune? We checked in with him to find out.

The last “Real Time” broadcast — post-election and before your hiatus — was a cliffhanger. You chastised liberals for mistakes they had made, and passed out hats with the phrase “We’re still here.” What happens when “Real Time” returns later this week?
Well, I hope we’ll still be here. I don’t know. We’re entering, as everyone says, uncharted waters. I know I’m sweating like a whore in church thinking about what this maniac is going to do.

Judging by his tweets and comments against “Saturday Night Live” and others, Trump doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. Will late-night and satire shows have to muzzle themselves?
Nothing has ever been off-limits for me. I can’t speak for the other shows. I’ve never really seen great “Profiles in Courage” in a lot of other places. Stephen Colbert, at the time he did the White House Correspondents’ dinner with Bush, is the one example that comes to mind. You know, I’ve been sued by Trump and fired by ABC, and I think we all know where the true balls are.

What’s on your mind as you prepare to do the show once Trump is in the White House?
We come back right on Jan. 20, so it’s Inauguration Day, which also happens to be my birthday. It falls on that Friday, and I’m getting Donald Trump for my birthday…. We’re going to be living with Trump for a very long time. It sounds like a pharmaceutical commercial: “I’m living with Trump, but I don’t let Trump control my life.” I think that’s going to be the attitude of
most liberals.

“I think we all know where the true balls are.”
Bill Maher

You sometimes scold the audience a bit when it seems cool to a joke or remark. Do you think your live crowd will be more sensitive to certain topics under Trump?
If you listen to every Trump voter, what they always say is, “We’re not assholes, and we’re not that stupid, but what we love is that he wasn’t politically correct.” I feel like I was way ahead of my time with my show “Politically Incorrect”; I was on to something way back in the ’90s. We’re choking on this political correctness. We’ve got to stop doing that. We’ve got to stop taking the bait when Trump says, “I’m going to make it OK to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” Well, fine. I never objected to “Merry Christmas” in the first place. Don’t take the bait. Liberal Democrats in this last election made the white majority feel like a minority and vote like a minority. And that’s pretty amazing.

You and HBO have tried to get “Real Time” out digitally, through “Overtime” on YouTube and live streaming. Do you want to do more of this?
You’ve got to go to where the people are. I don’t even know how these talk shows survive anymore, because who’s watching? You follow the format that was pioneered by Steve Allen in the ’50s, and it hasn’t changed all that much. Who’s still sitting there watching that between their toes in bed at 11:30 at night? What’s happening on those shows now is people watch if you do something that goes viral. People watch it as catch-up on YouTube. But it doesn’t seem like the way to get the message out there anymore, or the way to reach anyone under 1,000.

You recently got an interview with President Obama. Would you want one with Trump?
Of course, I’d want him on. He’s the president. It took Obama eight years [to do “Real Time”], and maybe Trump would do it in the third week. You just don’t know with this guy.