An Evening with Bill Maher

Photographed by: Gary Lambert
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The winter storm that raged through Santa Barbara on Friday was nothing compared to the tempest inside the Arlington Theatre Saturday night as Bill Maher, fresh off a holiday hiatus, back in production on his HBO Real Time show, days away from Barack Obama’s fourth State of the Union address and armed with a surfeit of topical fodder, didn’t miss a beat(down). Receiving an opening standing O from a packed house as the distinctive bass-line from his cable show’s theme played, Maher proceeded to preach, screech, beseech and admonish the choir in a 90-plus minute set that took aim at a wide spectrum of salient hot-buttons encompassing politics, religion, race, immigration, sex, death, taxes, the deficit, gay-marriage, the media, Italian disaster-cruise Captain Francesco Schettino and the veracity of Cialis commercials, “Seriously, on what planet does folding laundry turn into ‘one of those’ moments?”

S#%t Republicans Say

But first, the news: With the day’s ascension of Newt Gingrich, “So slimy, he could be killed with a box of salt,” to the head of the Republican primary race in South Carolina, Maher took the opportunity to review the entire line-up (past and present) of unusual suspects in the conservative candidate-roulette carousel (predicting a Gingrich/Romney showdown, or, as he termed it, “Alien vs. Predator”). Noting that the field was thinning faster than the annoying teenagers at the beginning of a slasher film, Maher singled out the three candidates who claimed they were anointed early on in their candidacies and told to run for President through direct conversations with God… and had subsequently dropped out of the running.

He also assailed the qualifications of Sarah Palin and her many historic gaffes, “She had a show on The Learning Channel. That’s like me having a show on the Christian Broadcasting Network,” the business acumen of Trump, “The only man who could go bankrupt running a casino,” the orientation of Rick Santorum, for whom, “You don’t even need gaydar, two of your five basic senses will do,” and Rick Perry’s (“George Bush’s brother-from-another-mother”) tenuous grasp of reality, “He thinks praying in a stadium will somehow amplify the signal, as if God’s going to drop the call while driving through a canyon.”

Despite an audience that seemed cognizant of the Maher M.O., the comic still managed to elicit some “Ooh’s” from the audience during some of his more scathing fusillades, to which he responded “Oh, get the stick out of your ass, who did you think you were coming to see, Wayne Brady?!”

“I don’t want to be political, but…”

With the Republicans still squarely in his sights, Maher challenged their established dogma, specifically the disdain of all government, likening it to the genitalia of Jersey Shore’s Snooki, “Too big, services too many people and nothing good will ever come out of it,” as well as the dreaded socialist stigma, although ,”We’re all closet socialists. We all take money from the government constantly in the form of farm subsidies, Medicare, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc…” and the conservative penchant for, “Zygotes and the hereafter, but not really great with the living human beings in between.” He also lamented the disappearance of the old-school Republicans of twenty plus years ago, suggesting that with the arrogance of ignorance and disregard for facts displayed by today’s members, the party should re-name itself “Joe Billy Bob’s Confederate Gun Club.”

His ire not strictly reserved for conservatives, Maher took his jabs at the Democrats as well, for their lack of backbone and inability to pass legislation, “These guys couldn’t sell a cub scout to a pedophile,” and, noting Obama’s mixed-race heritage, awaited the “Black half of his presidency. We’ve only seen the white half…he’s gonna grow his hair out next term.”

Maher’s focus then shifted to the economy and the state of our union, beginning with the deficit, which he illustrated in comprehensible layman’s terms, “You know what 1.6 trillion dollars looks like? Take the current value of your home… and add 1.6 trillion dollars to it.” Attacking the Pentagon’s profligate spending, he pointed to the 80 billion dollar F-22 fighter that, despite three current wars, has yet to see action, “Phil Spector has killed more people than this plane.”

“Our kids is stupid.”

Maher then tore off on an extended rant about America’s place (and placing) in the world, remarking wryly that the US currently ranks 35th in math and science competency, 90th in women in government, 10th in achieving the American Dream, and that most people think Darwin, “was the second husband on Bewitched.” He also lauded the immigrants, ”who cook our meals, clean our houses, pick our crops, and do the work we think we’re entitled not to,” adding, “When I was growing up, my Dad had help… ME! All for the bargain-basement price of ’I’ll beat your ass if you don’t do it!’” He also blasted Arizona’s thinly-veiled racist immigration and enforcement policies, stating, “It is now illegal in the state of Arizona to fry beans more than once.

“I try not to judge…”

Of course, the night would not have been complete without religion winding up in the cross-hairs, “I know what eternity feels like, I sat through Inception,” and Maher used his own Catholic upbringing as a touch-point, “Remember how we used to not be able to eat meat on Fridays, then suddenly the Pope said ’Meat’s OK’ and we could?” As an atheist he still feels conflicted anytime someone sneezes, “I still say ‘God Bless You’ and I don’t know why. Maybe we should just change the response to ‘Ewwww!” He also riffed on the flexibility in dogma for other religions, harping particularly on Mormon Doctrine, before delineating his own belief system: Pro-Choice, Pro-Death Penalty, “As long as DNA science keeps improving, we’ll kill the right people,” Pro-Animal Rights, Pro-Assisted Suicide and Pro-Regular Suicide, “Anything that gets the 101 freeway moving.”

Maher concluded the evening on a hilarious high note as he tore into a rant on the pervasiveness (and perverseness) of erectile dysfunction advertising in our lives, lamenting how cinematic sex-pectations never live-up to the real thing, as frenzied couples in the throes of passion, feverishly clear tables in the heat of the moment only to exclaim, “Wait, not that! My mother gave me that!” Ending the set with yet another standing ovation from an audience that had a real (good) time.

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