The news out of the White House comes at us so fast and furious these days it’s dizzying. While it might be disconcerting to the general population, it’s a gold mine for news comedy hosts such as Bill Maher, whose Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO is now in its 15th season. Maher, who does not shy away from eviscerating bullshit punditry from both sides of the aisle, brings his stand-up act to Las Vegas several times a year. Vegas Seven caught up with him to talk about politics-induced anxiety and how to break out of our social-media bubbles.
There has been a measurable rise in anxiety since the election. How do you cope?
We’re all very anxious because we’re in such uncharted territory. Most of us, at least the people I talk to, are terribly worried, and most of the world is terribly worried about what [Donald Trump] is capable of doing, especially when he feels threatened. He doesn’t see reality, he doesn’t believe in facts, he’s a narcissist and an egomaniac—and that’s a terrible combination at this time. I’m at the point where I want to [build] a bomb shelter, and, in case they do impeach him, have it converted into a wine cellar.
There are certainly a lot of things to be alarmed by, given the events of the last five weeks.
Look at what has happened already. We’re in full-blown scandal mode. And it’s not a made-up partisan scandal. It’s real. If the Republicans didn’t control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, we would already be having hearings and possibly talk of impeachment. It’s only because they’re able to suppress it. And even they are saying, “Well, you know, as soon as Donald Trump signs our tax bill …” and some other things that they want him to push through, then it could all change. And I just hope the world is still here when that happens
One of the most striking things about this administration is the brazenness of not just the president, but those closest to him. Facts are routinely contorted or dismissed.
When the king is crazy, all the courtiers around the king have to say what the crazy king says. If the crazy king says the Easter Bunny is real, everyone starts looking for eggs. That’s what’s going on now: Easter Bunny syndrome. When the president says that he saw 3 to 5 million people voting illegally, even though we know factually that’s ridiculous, he has people go out there and say he’s right. His press secretary, Sean Spicer, when he was questioned about the size of the inaugural crowd—not that that should even matter, but of course it does with Donald Trump, because he’s insane—eventually just threw up his hands and said [something like], “This is what the president believes.” In other words: “You’re on your own, folks. This is what the crazy king believes, so we’re all going to pretend it’s true.” This is a very frightening, unprecedented place we’re in.
On top of which, he doesn’t read. He gets all his news either from The Enquirer or television. Or, as we heard so many times out of his mouth, “I’m hearing.” “I’m hearing.” You know, “The Department of Hearsay has given me these facts.” Well, again, this is just not the way a government has ever operated.
One of the most fervent attacks the president is waging is against the press. How effective do you think the Fourth Estate has been in pushing back?
It’s certainly better than it was. I notice that mainstream, down the middle, unpartisan places like the CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley calls him a liar every night. Now, Scott Pelley has never struck me as a partisan kind of guy. For him to, each and every night, be starting off the broadcast by out-and-out calling the president of the United States a liar, saying in as many different ways as he can—”These statements are false,” “His pants are on fire”—however he’s putting it. That’s new. That’s not just new for this year—that’s new in American history.
But you know, over on Fox News, they’ve gone full Pravda. This Michael Flynn story didn’t happen. All they were interested in doing is covering the leaking angle of it. That’s disturbing. It’s also disturbing that somebody like Rand Paul, who I thought was one of those Republicans who put country before partisanship, said, “Republicans shouldn’t investigate Republicans.” Rand, do you know you’re speaking out loud? I understand that might be what’s going on in your mind, but you actually said it out loud. “Republicans shouldn’t investigate Republicans” … really? Not even when treason is on the table?
It’s an interesting place in our history. I’m looking to Mr. John McCain. Sometimes John McCain is very brave, and sometimes he remembers that he’s a Republican. I think this is going to be one of those times where his country needs him and he’s aware.
So much has been said about how we insulate ourselves in our own bubbles. Do you have any tips on how to talk to, say, relatives who may have a different point of view?
Good luck with that. They used to say, at Thanksgiving, stay away from religion and politics. But that’s the only thing that’s on people’s minds these days. It’s very hard to deal with. And we’ve seen [that] friendships have dissolved because of this. Marriages have dissolved. People don’t want to go home for the holidays. I understand all that. It’s very hard for me to wrap my brain around sharing the country with people who wanted such a vulgar person to be their president. It seems like this man—I’m not even talking about the politician, I’m talking about the man—violates everything that I learned in kindergarten. How can I share the country [with people] who believe in a man who lies, boasts, makes fun of people, insults veterans and the handicapped, pretends he goes to church when he doesn’t, [and] is a racist? If so much of the country wants this guy to be their leader, maybe the U.N. has to step in, or, I don’t know, the United Federation of Planets.
What does it say about the people who not only voted for him but continue to believe in him?
It’s horrible, because if we can’t even agree on what reality is, how are we ever going to solve a problem? But Kellyanne Conway said the phrase that will go down in history: “Alternative facts.” Alternative facts, otherwise known as lies. But we’re in this place in history now in America where it doesn’t really matter. Everybody seems to have their own truth. It’s one thing to say everybody’s opinion counts, yes. It’s another thing to say all opinions are equal. They’re not. The ones that are based on science and facts are more valid. But they seem to want to throw that right out the window.
March 10–11, 10 p.m., $65–$87, The Mirage, mirage.com.