Bill Maher bears no grudge against us. Even though, two years ago, St. Louis' ABC affiliate was one of the first TV stations in the country to yank his "Politically Incorrect" late-night talk show off the air following controversial comments he made in the wake of September 11, the stand-up-comedian-turned-acid-tongued-social-commentator will still spew his bipartisan bile this Sunday night at UM-St. Louis. And despite his East Coast upbringing and West Coast home, Maher claims he's a Midwesterner at heart.
"I would rather play St. Louis than San Francisco, to be perfectly honest," says Maher. "Not to knock San Francisco, but they're so politically correct, and political correctness is the enemy of comedy. I think the Midwest is the last part of America that's still real. It's the last place where you go out at night and everybody isn't wearing black and putting on a front."
Although Maher gained his fame from the hot-potato political shows that bear his name, including HBO's current "Real Time With Bill Maher," the intent of his one-man shows is just "stand-up, belly-laugh comedy," he says. "I want people walking away from my live shows thinking that I was funny, and that they got their money's worth. I love doing the political stuff, but I see politics in a lot of things -- relationships, men and women, more traditional stand-up subjects. So long as there's some meat on it, I'll talk about it. I don't do, 'Isn't it weird when you go into the elevator and people keep pushing the buttons?'"
Another different dimension to Maher's in-person performances is the talk-back session he has with his audiences, something he honed most recently during the three-week run of his Tony-nominated Broadway debut, Victory Begins At Home. Having a Q&A, says Maher, "is a great way to do an encore. You don't want to come back onstage after people have been cheering for you and go right back into what you just did." Besides, he adds, a little audience discussion is "as much fun for me as it is for everybody. I have a very bright crowd, and I love hearing what they have to say."
Likewise for Maher's fans, obviously, who tend to lean towards the left. There's been some talk among Democratic higher-ups lately about starting a liberal media network to counteract highly popular right-wing sages such as Bill O'Reilly, and, well, everybody else on the Fox News Channel. While Maher may seem a natural fit for such an endeavor, along with such liberal comics as Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo, Maher thinks the Dems would be mighty disappointed with him.
"I have too many conservative opinions; the liberals would string me up after a month," says Maher. "I'm very pro-military, I'm very anti-unions, I'm against suing tobacco companies, and I have no patience for people who don't take personal responsibility. After a while they'd start to wonder why they hired me."
Keeping a playful distance from both parties is just the way Maher likes it.
"As long as I get equal amounts of angry mail from the left and the right," he says, "I know I'm doing my job."