Bill Maher has had quite a run. Fourteen years have passed since Politically Incorrect saved him from Shannon Tweed vehicles and endless stand-up. A Washington meets Hollywood twist on the McLaughlin Group, PI proved surprisingly durable for Comedy Central before losing steam (and some bite) on ABC. After ill-timed (if courageous) comments led to the show’s cancellation, Maher moved right along to Real Time on HBO (tweaking the format by losing the left-right debate and giving more time to Maher’s emboldened commentary), where his notoriety, and wonky-smug shtick, hasn’t waned. I watched PI regularly for years, drawn to the unscripted and surprisingly informed political exchanges between dustbin celebrities like Jimmie Walker and Casey Kasem. I was also drawn to Maher, whose vehement libertarianism often led discussions into knotty, unfamiliar territory, at least for American television.
But what has always bothered me about Maher is the irreconcilability of his dual, if defining, impulses: to engage seriously and intelligently with politics and morality, yet crap away all nuance, at a moment’s whim, for the sake of an easy joke. Rather than one supporting, illuminating, or even tempering the other, he too often just dilutes or degrades both comedy and argument. His latest project, Religulous, a Larry Charles–directed, gonzo-documentary screed against faith, is similarly self-defeating.
Click here to read the rest of Eric Hynes’s review of Religulous.