'Real Time' host Bill Maher talks comedy, red states and Sanford's love life ahead of Savannah show

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comApril 3, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    WHEN: 7 p.m. April 7

    WHERE: Johnny Mercer Theatre, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave., Savannah

    COST: $59.50-$74.50

    DETAILS: www.savannahga.gov

Given how often Bill Maher is vilified by Republican pundits and religious conservatives, one might think the comedian and talk show host would be reluctant to book shows in places such as South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma and Kansas, states won so consistently by the GOP that they're practically crimson.

But it's those places where Maher, 57, says he loves playing most of all.

"I have the most fun in the reddest states because I know there are some really smart, progressive-thinking people marbled into the population down there," said Maher, who will perform April 7 at the Johnny Mercer Theatre in Savannah. "I've never written those states off and said, 'Oh, there are just a bunch of rednecks down there.' I love playing the South.

"It's a no-brainer for me to do shows in places like Berkeley (Calif.) and Boston but I've never been able to find a good party after the show."

Now in his 11th season as host of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher," a weekly talk show that satirizes politics, media and pop culture, Maher is every bit the news junkie one would expect.

His daily diet includes reading The Huffington Post and dozens of other blogs, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, watching all three nightly network news broadcasts and a smattering of cable news -- yes, even Fox News.

"I like to see what they're up to and what they're saying, and Sean Hannity really makes me laugh," Maher said. "No, I don't think he means to make me laugh, but some of the stuff he says is really funny."

Naturally, Maher has taken an interest in the recent resurgence of former Gov. Mark Sanford, who is running to represent the state's 1st Congressional District, which includes Beaufort County.

Sanford's political career was thought to be over when, in 2009, he secretly left the country to carry on an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina who is now his fiance.

Maher attributed Sanford's seemingly improbable comeback to the forgiving nature of the American people and the nature of the affair itself.

"Sanford is the one guy where it felt like true love," Maher said. "Most of these political sex scandals are like ... Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. They're tawdry. This wasn't like that. When you read this guy's emails to this woman, it was like something that belonged on the Lifetime Network."

Maher's fascination with news and politics predated his work on "Real Time" or even his stint for nine seasons as host of the now-defunct late-night talk show "Politically Incorrect."

As a young standup comic, much of Maher's act was based on politics and current events. Some nights it worked, most nights it didn't.

"I was too young," Maher said. "I didn't have the gravitas. I was 25 years old talking about politics, and people would go, 'What do you know about it, kid?' But that was my sensibility. I was never into observational comedy. I never wanted to be the guy staring at a salt and pepper shaker thinking, 'There has to be a bit in here somewhere.'"

Having spent nearly 20 years of his life commenting on and making fun of politics, Maher has as good a handle as any on what the next big story might be and he says he hopes issues affecting the environment will get more attention in 2013 than the economy or squabbling within Congress or the White House.

"Last year, we had hurricanes 1,000 miles-wide, drought that consumed half the country and wildfires in California like we've never had before," Maher said. "That's a lot of stuff for Pat Richardson to blame just on gay sex. People stress the economy, but if we don't solve this problem, there are no other issues."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.

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