Bill Maher

Published on March 5th, 2014

bill maher at the fillmore

bill maher, purehoney magazineThanks to the timeless trove of miscellany known as YouTube, everything that has ever been recorded is now a permanent fixture in everybody’s computing device. Video clips once thought lost have been resurrected, no matter how embarrassing to the humans populating them. Case in point: a YouTube search for “Bill Maher early stand-up” yields a performance from The Merv Griffin Show in 1984, where a 28-year-old, only fractionally cynical Maher appears, with a full shock of brown hair, a nervous mien, and a repository of political jokes that lack the sophistication of even his most tossed-off one-liners today. Of Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate in American history, he says, “I’ve been a feminist for many years, and I think it’s about time we had a chick on the ticket.”

You can knock it, until you realize that when Lenny Bruce started on the circuit, he struggled through his brief sets by imitating animals. By his first HBO stand-up special in 1989—also viewable in full on YouTube—Maher was starting to develop a singular edge, with sweeping if appropriate pronouncements (“We’ve done nothing but pick schmucks and losers [for president] for 200 years”) and jokes about Reagan that could just easily apply later to the George W. Bush regime (“he made dumbness a virtue”).

By the mid-‘90s, in his Politically Incorrect heyday, Maher had fully merged his two personalities—the observant nightclub comic and the left-wing political firebrand—into a marketable persona that has remained consistent through the 21st century. These days, his stand-up act, for which he still tirelessly tours while hosting the best political show on TV with HBO’s Real Time, has developed into a deftly memorized, 90-plus-minute cauldron of insightful observations, scabrous commentary and conceptual detours inevitably skewering religion, politics, the news media and pop culture.

If Maher can forgive a theistic analogy, he mostly preaches to his own choir at these shows, though if you’re anywhere near the front row, you’ll probably see a grumpy person sitting stone-faced the entire show, his arms folded across his chest. He’s been there at every South Florida Maher gig I’ve attended, and Maher once told me similar attendees appear at his shows everywhere, and always in the front row. I guess even at his own performances, he can’t fully avoid the haters, but he’ll gladly take their money.

Maher plays at 8pm, May 18 at Fillmore, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets 305-673-7300 or

~ John Thomason