Bill Maher of HBO’s “Real Time” will be at ACL Live on Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, which would be a very good time to see him if that inauguration concerns you. However, if you don’t already have tickets, the show is technically sold out. (You can also see him when “Real Time” returns to HBO on Jan. 20 at 9 p.m.)
I interviewed Maher by phone recently; below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Do you have any special affinity for Austin?
I come as often as I can. It’s always been one of my favorite spots on the comedy tour.
It’s so hip I find myself wishing it were a little more Texan. What’s the point of coming to Texas if I don’t see anything Texas about this place? It’s much closer to coming to New York.
I still have my Keep Austin Weird T-shirt.
This election Texas was less weird than the rest of the country. Trump did less well relatively speaking than he did elsewhere, like the Midwest.
Oh, there was even talk before the election that (Hillary Clinton) might be winning Texas. Then they couldn’t carry Pennsylvania.
What are your leading suspects for why Clinton lost?
First of all, she won. Let’s not forget that. It reminds of when a basketball team loses 112 to 110 and then they spend the next half talking about the reasons they lost — they have to do this and change that, but really? Because if one more shot goes down you’d have to talk about how the other team needs to do this. Only in this case, the team that lost actually won, by almost 3 million votes.
She was a crappy candidate. Lesson No. 1 — go where the energy is. Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old man, was a rock star filling arenas with 20-year-olds. Hillary Clinton was a nice woman who couldn’t fill the function room at the Olive Garden. So they just nominated her and I thought she was going to win, blah blah blah, but there wasn’t a lot of energy for her.
But let’s not forget because of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (FBI Director James) Comey, and Comey should have been the guy who was going to keep Putin in check, but somehow they wound up on the same team, the team that was trying to get Trump elected, and this is just a giant story, and I know it’s been a big story, but it’s even more important than they’ve made it out to be, that the Russians would hack one side of an election. It’s like she was playing a poker game with somebody and only her hand was face-up.
For the work you do, is Trump beyond comedy, beyond parody?
Beyond comedy? He’s certainly not beyond comedy. He’s comedy gold.
But when every day brings more seemingly outlandish things, do you have to go to basic, Three Stooges, slapstick comedy, people getting hit by two-by-fours?
I see what you’re saying. He’s so ridiculous, parody is almost written into reality. This is a guy who believes the Enquirer as much as any newspaper. I watched that clip the other day when he’s going on and on about how the Enquirer should win Pulitzer Prizes. It’s very hard to parody that.
In Austin, you are coming to the hometown of Alex Jones.
He believes in the lizard people.
What’s going to happen?
It really depends on what Trump does. He could be successful, especially in the early going because there’s a tremendous tail wind with the economy right now. And Donald Trump, his MO, his whole life is not to do anything, just to stand in front of something and slap his name on it and take credit, and I could see him doing that with a lot of Obama’s accomplishments.
What’s going to happen, though, I think at some point, you know character is destiny, I don’t think he can sustain it forever. … And I think there will be more Trump scandals.
But will his supporters believe anything negative about him?
It is scary. It only took them a few weeks to turn fake news into anything. Fake news has a real meaning, like, “The pope has endorsed Donald Trump.” That’s fake news because it’s easily checked. In fact what the pope said is that he prays for his enlightenment, to which God said, “I’ve done a lot of miracles, but give me a break.” Now anything that is slanted against them is fake news. So yeah, you’re right, there is no there there in America anymore.
You’re coming to the home state of Ted Cruz. Would you have been any happier if he had been elected?
It would have been better. Ted Cruz was within the parameters of normal awful. So is Mike Pence, within those parameters. I don’t think either Ted Cruz or Mike Pence is going to blow up the world. Trump, I have no idea. No one has an idea. He knows nothing about politics. He is just learning about it for the first time. He’s not interested. He is interested in two things — adulation and revenge.
Preview your show in Austin.
Standup comedy is for making people laugh out loud very hard. That’s the whole thing. If you’re doing anything else in a standup comedy show, to me, you’re doing it wrong.
So there’s plenty of material, and the great thing about doing political stuff is it’s always new. You’re not going to hear any of the jokes from the last time I was there or any of my old specials because it’s always changing, especially now.
I certainly wasn’t doing a whole act on Donald Trump the last time I was in Austin. But that’s what it is. It’s not just for working out the stomach muscles laughing; at this point it’s a cathartic experience, to all be in a room with people who basically think like them and commiserate about what happened, and laugh about it and hopefully take something optimistically into the future.
You weren’t one of those who threatened to leave the country if Trump won.
No, no, that’s ridiculous, that’s silly. No, you’ve got to fight for you country, not leave it. I’m not going to let them win in the long run if I have anything to do with it.