Say your Obama hosannas, Vegas.
Leftie joke-teller/bomb-thrower Bill Maher has chosen our neon hamlet in which to shred Republicans this last weekend before the election, performing Nov. 3-4 at the Orleans.
Intending no offense toward the Orleans, but the off-Strip property isn’t where Maher—America’s Premier Political Pot-Stirrer/Hornet’s Nest-Kicker/All-Around Rabble-Rouser (Comedy Division)— belongs.
As host of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, his views are sought on CNN; his monologues, “new rules” and essay-rants are obsessed over online; and his million-bucks gift to the Obama campaign unleashed contentious debate on the political stage. The man is smack-dead-center in the cultural zeitgeist. And should be likewise on the Strip.
Think: Caesars Palace, MGM Grand, The Mirage, The Wynn, Bally’s, Harrah’s. (Anything not owned by the Republicans’ walking ATM, Sheldon Adelson.) Yes, it’s likely Maher’s punch-line grenades curtail his drawing potential. Live-show fans, like his liberal-cheering, conservative-jeering cable audience, flock to him not just to laugh, but join an ideological circle jerk.
However, compare Maher to other Orleans headliners: The Temptations, John Pinette, Kellie Pickler, Lonestar, Babyface, Travis Tritt and Steven Wright. Strong acts, all. Yet do any pack the here-and-now wallop of the comic commentator whose delicious digs rattle Republicans enough to provoke public venom?
Off-Strip hotels—Orleans, Southpoint, Suncoast, Palace Station and others—are also the site of many older acts no longer luring sizable Strip crowds, catering largely to the nostalgia-oriented. (Caveat: Performers such as Don Rickles and other “Greatest-Generation” legends have earned respect and a Vegas home as long as they desire.)
Also true is that Maher expresses affection for the Orleans Showroom, claiming it was unofficially bequeathed to him by another socially/politically opinionated comic, the late, unparalleled George Carlin. However, Carlin—growing increasingly jaded over our foibles and strident in attacking them in his final years—considered himself a free-floating entity, inveighing against us from beyond the human bubble. Conversely, Maher brawls in the arena where public life meets incendiary laughs, à la Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Carlin in decades past.
Like Carlin, Maher’s comedy can turn ugly, spilling into pettiness and cruelty. (See: Chris Christie fat jokes, Sarah Palin and the “C word,” Republicans denying climate change, and Americans overall, labeling us stupid.) Regardless, Maher matters because, though coating it in comedy, he challenges us on a civic level that resonates after departing a showroom.
Once upon an entertainment time, the Strip was a showbiz backwater where acts went to die. Now it’s where acts go to shine. Maher’s place is there.
Excuse us co-opting your shtick, Bill, but that’s a new rule.
STRIP POSTSCRIPT: What’s missing here, timeline-wise? Come February, Harrah’s welcomes Million Dollar Quartet, about a historic recording session with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley—in 1956. Meanwhile Jersey Boys at Paris Las Vegas has the ’60s covered, rewinding to the Four Seasons’ heyday, while the Venetian in December unveils Rock of Ages, lampooning ’80s metalheads. Whither the ’70s? Isn’t anyone clamoring for a tuneful flashback to “Feelings,” “You Light Up My Life,” “Muskrat Love” and “The Piña Colada Song”?
When will we celebrate—finally—the musical magnificence of “Disco Duck”?
Any “birthers” have proof Bill Maher was Richard Nixon’s secret love child? E-mail Steve.Bornfeld@vegasseven.com.