Bill Maher wants you to know that he's no flag-burner. "I love America!" he gushes, sitting down for a two-hour interview with Rolling Stone. "It gives me so much material." The host of Real Time With Bill Maher has dedicated the ninth season of his Friday-night show on HBO to reclaiming patriotism for progressives. For Maher, 55, that means never conceding that a batshit politician like Michele Bachmann has a reasonable point of view. And it means not backing down – even for the president he believes America can't afford not to re-elect. "The American people don't really care what side of an issue you're on," Maher says. "They just don't want you to act like a pussy."
This is an extended version of an article that appeared in the April 28, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.
That attitude has turned Maher into one of the leading satirists of his generation. His 2008 takedown of God, Religulous, was one of the most successful documentaries of all time, grossing $13.7 million. The political panels he hosts each week on Real Time put Meet the Press to shame, and the show is unlike anything else on television – a frenetic, uncensored mash-up of Ted Koppel and George Carlin, his comedy hero.
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Still, sitting in the triple-wide bungalow on the back corner of a CBS lot in L.A. that he has occupied since 1996, Maher hardly seems content. The only items of sentimental value he keeps on hand are two black-velvet portraits, of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis – "Rembrandts" from a gag sending up Dan Rather's acumen at spotting obvious forgeries. Maher parks his convertible Tesla Roadster just down from the space reserved for j. lopez on American Idol, always primed for a speedy getaway. "There is a feeling that it always could end, so I'm ready to go in a minute," he says. "All I really have to do is grab the briefcase."
You talk about reclaiming patriotism. Where does that impulse come from?
I'm astounded that the Republicans can hold themselves out as the patriotic party. Somehow patriotism has gotten redefined as selfishness: never letting anybody take anything from you – especially the government – and never helping anybody. That's not the patriotism that I grew up with. Patriotism would be for these millionaires and corporations who paid no taxes: Pay your fair share.
From the Archives: 1999 Interview with Bill Maher
What did you make of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal, which calls for gutting Medicare and Medicaid?
It irks me to no end that people keep calling him "courageous." Really? Courage would have been going after defense and rich people. His budget goes after children, the poor, the jobless. This is picking on the weakest kid on the playground and getting called courageous for it. And he doesn't come close to solving the deficit. If you're going to put out a fantasy document that appeals to the dickishness in your base, shouldn't it at least accomplish the goal?
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