Checking in With Bill Maher (in 1999)

After Monica, the 'Politically Incorrect' host gets to the real issues: Super-model slights, Howard Stern's jealousy and the importance of Jesse Ventura.

April 13, 2011 9:00 AM ET
Checking in With Bill Maher (in 1999)
Photograph by Dan Winters

Bill Maher has just finished up with Monica Lewinsky.

It's the night of the former intern's prime-time infomercial with Barbara Walters, and the best of Politically Incorrect has wrapped a special live episode in which he digested the media spectacle with a typically eclectic panel of guests: supermodel Kathy Ireland, Talk Soup host John Henson, Fear of Flying author Erica Jong and former MTV VJ Kennedy. The show has gone well, with standup-turned-pundit-maker Maher in fine, dry form as he kicked things off with a rapid-fire succession of use-'em-or-lose-'em Lewinsky gags and then effectively moderated a surprisingly sub-stantial and funny debate on the topic of what it all means. Maher — whose own politics can be best described as wise-ass libertarian — nonetheless vigorously defends our all-too-human chief executive when it comes to carnal matters.

This article appeared in the April 15, 1999 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

After the show, Maher makes his way past Tom Snyder's nearby studio and into his own far-from-ostentatious office, dotted with framed Time magazine covers of Johnny Carson and Hugh Hefner, assorted Beatles memorabilia and, hidden away on a side table, a tiny set of tablets on which the Ten Commandments are written. He seems in a focused mood, even though he's still grappling with the fact that Ireland failed to hug or kiss him when she made her on-air entrance.

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Maher was raised in New Jersey and majored in English at Cornell. From there he went on to become a successful standup comic and occasional B-movie actor before finally finding his TV niche in 1993 with Politically Incorrect, which aired on Comedy Central for nearly four years until ABC picked it up.

Tonight, as the memory of another show begins to fade, the deepest thinker ever to appear with Adrienne Barbeau in Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death speaks forthrightly about the state of our culture and his own incorrigible place in it.

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Now that you have officially entered the post-Monica age, are you feeling a sense of closure? Withdrawal? Nausea?
Relief. How about that?

Wasn't she good for you?
I think she was at the beginning, but then it was a show that should have closed but went on too long. People got bored with it. I got bored with it. This is a really good instance of the electorate being ahead of the people who are supposed to be leading them. The whole thing was a rerun, and I don't like reruns. I saw this information when it first hit, I saw the Starr report, I saw it when they impeached him, and it was enough. So in 1999, I said I'm not going to do this anymore. We are going to lead and not follow. We did Monica when the show went to Washington and the trial was wrapping up. Other than that, and tonight, it was like, forget it.

Photos: A History of Comedy Stars on the Cover of Rolling Stone

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