Comedian Bill Maher, currently touring in the southern United States, explained that he can never write off former President Donald Trump’s supporters because he’d have to hate “half the country.”
Speaking to AL.com just ahead of the first anniversary of the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill, Maher said that he believed American democracy was coming to a crossroads. “January 2025 is going to be where the rubber hits the road in this country. We’ve been heading towards this cliff for a very long time, and we always think we’re the country where it can’t happen. Well, we thought that about terrorism. We thought that about everything. We’re not exempt. We are the country where it can happen,” he said.
Maher addressed a series of questions in the interview — from political correctness in comedy to Twitter banning Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) — and he explained why he loves performing in red states, particularly in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This country is falling apart at the seams. Half the people are not going to self-deport. You see these tweets and memes about owning and destroying the other side. Get over it. You’re not owning or destroying anybody. No one’s going anywhere. We have to learn to live together again,” Maher explained, saying that people seemed more willing to accept that in red states. “San Francisco, that’s going to be a little problematic for me. They’re a little too politically correct. There’s going to be a lot of groaning at some of the things I say, and that’s not what a comedy show is supposed to be. Political correctness has always been the enemy of comedy. That’s been my banner from the beginning.”
From the interview:
You’re hitting a lot of Southern cities on this tour: Birmingham, New Orleans, Chattanooga, Jacksonville. You’ve said, during COVID, it’s harder to sell tickets in blue states, that liberal media are scaring people with their coverage, but “In red states, it’s all good to go” and people there are maybe more open to edgier humor. What do you like about performing in the South, and if anything, what surprises you about Southern audiences?
Bill Maher: I think you kinda just did my act for me there, all the things you mentioned. I attract mostly a liberal crowd, but liberal is different than woke. To me, woke, if we want to use that broad term, is something that is not an extension of liberalism. It’s very often the opposite of what an old school liberal like me believes. I’ve never been someone who was part of any specific party, per se. I usually vote Democratic, but it depends on the person. Certainly in the age of Trump, they’re never going to get me there with the Republicans. But there are many Republicans who are not Trump Republicans. And they have a good point, that there is that faction of the left that we will call woke who’s gone [off] the deep end.
You’ve talked about how it’s dangerous when we see people on the other side literally as the enemy, that we’re living in a “partisan hell” where trying to convince people to believe what you believe doesn’t work. When you were a kid, the adults never talked politics. It was considered impolite. But these days, when it’s oft-discussed and gets very impolite, how do you think we can tone it down the tribalism and ugliness?
Maher: You’re right. That is a theme I’ve hit many times, that we shouldn’t talk about it all the time. Facebook is the great example of that. Facebook, when it started was not political. It was just about sharing your photographs and talking about who got fat from high school days. It was your high school yearbook come to life. It was humble brags and cat pictures. Then it became arguing with some kid you were in chem lab with about ivermectin or the Supreme Court, or whatever. And this idea that we have to constantly be arguing politics with everybody — that’s what has to stop. Because when you take the politics out of the discussion — and this is coming from a person who made his living talking politics — you find that people are just people, and you can’t hate them. I constantly say it, you can hate Trump. You can’t hate all the people who like him — it’s half the country. And you can’t set yourself up as some sort of superior moral paragon, because this is your political belief, and somebody else has another one.
Maher went on to defend Greene after her suspension from Twitter, arguing that if she was going to say something crazy on a public platform, the response should be for other people to call that out.
“I think the answer to bad speech is more speech. I’m certainly not the first one to say that. You can find that from esteemed people on the Supreme Court over the years, mostly liberals. That is the answer to bad speech. It’s not to stop it,” Maher explained, going on to note that Twitter’s early move to shut down the lab leak theory on COVID-19 was a perfect example of speech that should not have been shut down.
“They, for example, shut down debate on the lab leak theory and had to walk that back, so did Facebook. Now there’s no political dimension to how the virus started,” he added. “It is outrageous that they said you can’t even talk about the idea that this virus may have started in a lab. Why? It may have. It was always a possibility. Everyone now agrees that could be the origin of the virus. So just put that up as your lodestar. This is the company that said you can’t even talk about that. That’s dangerous. I don’t want that company making the rules about what we can and can’t hear. If Marjorie Taylor Greene said something nutty, then let people swarm her on Twitter and point out how nutty it is. And let’s let a thousand flowers bloom. But I’m never going to be the one who lines up with censorship, no matter who it is.”