Bill Maher

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Bill Maher
Maher receiving his star on
Hollywood Walk of Fame, September 2010
Birth name William Maher, Jr.
Born (1956-01-20) January 20, 1956 (age 59)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Medium Stand-up, television, film, books
Nationality American
Alma mater Cornell University
Years active 1979–present
Genres Political/news satire, observational comedy, self-deprecation, black comedy, sarcasm, deadpan
Subject(s) Mass media/news media/media criticism, American politics, current events, religion, pop culture, race relations, human sexuality

William "Bill" Maher, Jr. (/ˈmɑr/; born January 20, 1956)[1] is an American comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, actor, media critic, and television host. As a television host, he is well known for the HBO political talk show Real Time with Bill Maher (2003–present). Maher previously hosted a similar late-night show called Politically Incorrect, originally on Comedy Central and later on ABC.

Maher is known for his sarcastic attitude,[2] political satire and sociopolitical commentary. He targets many topics including religion, politics, bureaucracies, political correctness, and the mass media.[3]

Maher supports the legalization of cannabis and same-sex marriage. His critical views of religion were the basis for the 2008 documentary film Religulous. He is a supporter of animal rights, having served on the board of PETA since 1997,[4] and is an advisory board member of Project Reason.[5][6] In 2005, Maher ranked at number 38 on Comedy Central's 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time.[7] He received a Hollywood Walk of Fame star on September 14, 2010.[8]

Early life[edit]

Maher was born in New York City. His father, William Maher, Sr., was a network news editor and radio announcer, and his mother, Julie (Berman) Maher, was a nurse.[1] He was raised in his Irish American father's Roman Catholic religion. Until his early teens, he was unaware that his mother, whose family was from Hungary,[9] was Jewish.[10][11][12] Owing to his disagreement with the Catholic Church's doctrine about birth control, Maher's father stopped taking Maher and his sister to Catholic church services when Maher was thirteen.[13]

Maher was raised in River Vale, New Jersey, and graduated from Pascack Hills High School in Montvale in 1974.[1][14] He then attended Cornell University where he double majored in English and history and graduated in 1978.[15] Maher has said: "selling pot allowed me to get through college and make enough money to start off in comedy".[14]


Early career[edit]

Maher began his career as a stand-up comedian and actor. He was host of the New York City comedy club Catch a Rising Star in 1979.[citation needed] Maher began appearing on Johnny Carson's and David Letterman's shows in 1982. He made limited television appearances including on Sara[16] (1985), Max Headroom (1987),[citation needed] Murder, She Wrote[16] (1989, 1990), and Charlie Hoover (1991). His feature film debut was in D.C. Cab[16] (1983). He later appeared in Ratboy[16] (1986), House II: The Second Story[16] (1987), Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death[16] (1988), and Pizza Man[16] (1991).

Television career[edit]

Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher[edit]

Main article: Politically Incorrect

Maher assumed the host role on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, a late-night political talk show that ran on Comedy Central from 1993 to 1997 and on ABC from 1997 to 2002. The show regularly began with a topical monologue by Maher preceding the introduction of four guests, usually a diverse group of individuals, such as show business, popular culture, political pundits, political consultants, authors, and occasionally news figures. The group would discuss topical issues selected by Maher, who also participated in the discussions.[17] Jerry Seinfeld, a regular guest on the show, stated that Politically Incorrect reminded him of talk shows from the 1950s and 60s "when guests interacted with each other as much as with the host."[18]

Politically Incorrect won an array of awards, including an Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Direction, two CableACE awards for Best Talk Show Series, and a Genesis Award for Best Television Talk Show. Maher earned numerous award nominations for his producing, writing and hosting of Politically Incorrect, including ten Emmy nominations, two TV Guide nominations, and two Writers Guild nominations. ABC decided against renewing Maher's contract for Politically Incorrect in 2002, after he made a controversial on-air remark six days after the September 11 attacks.[19] He agreed with his guest, conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza, that the 9/11 terrorists did not act in a cowardly manner (in rebuttal to President Bush's statement calling them cowards). Maher said, "We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly. You're right." Maher later clarified that his comment was not anti-military in any way whatsoever, referencing his well-documented longstanding support for the American military.[20][21] After receiving complaints, FedEx and Sears Roebuck pulled their advertisements from the show, costing the show significant revenue.[22][23]

Maher's remarks after 9/11 were not the first time he had sparked controversy on Politically Incorrect. In the same year, he expressed his deep regrets and apologized after being widely criticized for comparing his dogs to retarded children.[24]

The show was canceled on June 16, 2002, and the Sinclair Broadcast Group had dropped the show from its ABC-affiliated stations months prior. On June 22, 2002, just six days after the cancellation of Politically Incorrect, Maher received the Los Angeles Press Club president's award (for "championing free speech").[23] Maher was on the board of judges for the 2002 PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award.[25]

Real Time with Bill Maher[edit]

In 2003, Maher became the host, co-producer and co-writer of Real Time with Bill Maher, a weekly hour-long political comedy talk show on the cable television network HBO. In 2014 it had its 12th season, and has been renewed for a 13th season.[26] During an interview, Maher told Terry Gross (on NPR's Fresh Air) that he much prefers having serious and well-informed guests on his program, as opposed to the random celebrities that fleshed out his roundtable discussions on Politically Incorrect.[27]

As with his previous show, Politically Incorrect, Maher begins Real Time with a comic opening monologue based upon current events and other topical issues. He proceeds to a one-on-one interview with a guest, either in-studio or via satellite. Following the interview, Maher sits with three panelists, usually consisting of pundits, authors, activists and journalists, for a discussion of the week's events. In the segment "New Rules" at the end of each show, Maher delivers a humorous editorial on popular culture and American politics[citation needed].

Real Time has earned widespread praise. It has been nominated for more than ten Primetime Emmy Awards and six Writer's Guild awards. In 2007, Maher and his co-producers were awarded the Television Producer of the Year Award in Variety Television by the Producers Guild of America.[28] Maher holds the record for the most Emmy nominations without a win, having been nominated on 22 occasions and not winning once. Eleven of the nominations were for Politically Incorrect, while nine were for Real Time. The other two were nominations for two of his HBO comedy specials: Bill Maher: I'm Swiss and Bill Maher: The Decider.[29]

Notable responses to Real Time episodes[edit]

In late May 2005, Alabama Congressman Spencer Bachus sent a letter to Time Warner's board of directors requesting Real Time be canceled after remarks Maher made after noting the military had missed its recruiting goals by 42 percent. Bachus said he felt the comments were demeaning to the military and treasonous. Maher stated his highest regard and support for the troops and asked why the congressman criticized him instead of doing something about the recruitment problem.[30]

On September 17, 2010, Maher aired a clip of Delaware Republican Senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell from the October 29, 1999 episode of his old show Politically Incorrect on his current show Real Time with Bill Maher,[31][32] where she discussed that she had "dabbled in witchcraft." This was one of the most notable of numerous controversial statements by O'Donnell that made her the most covered candidate in the 2010 mid-term election cycle.[33][34]

Political commentator[edit]

Maher is a frequent commentator on various cable news networks, including CNN, MSNBC, FOX News Channel and HLN. Maher has regularly appeared on CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer[35] and has also been a frequent guest on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews,[36] The Rachel Maddow Show,[37] and Countdown with Keith Olbermann.[38] Maher has also appeared as a guest on HLN's The Joy Behar Show.[39] He wrote the foreword for the 2002 book, Spin This!: All the Ways We Don't Tell the Truth by show host, Bill Press.[40]

Maher hosted the January 13, 2006 edition of Larry King Live, on which he was a frequent guest. Maher appeared as a special guest on the June 29, 2010 edition of the show, on which CNN anchor Larry King announced his retirement.[41] Maher co-emceed the final show of Larry King Live on December 16, 2010 with Ryan Seacrest.[42]

Other work[edit]

Maher and director Larry Charles teamed up to make the movie Religulous, described by trade publication Variety as a documentary "that spoofs religious extremism across the world." It was released on October 3, 2008.[43][44]

In 2013 Maher became one of the executive producers for the HBO newsmagazine series Vice.[45][46]

Views and beliefs[edit]


Maher and Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA. Maher is on the board of directors of the animal rights group.

Maher eschews political labels, referring to himself as "practical".[47] In the past, he has described himself as a libertarian, and has also referred to himself "as a progressive, as a sane person".[48][49] He has also referred to himself as a "9/11 liberal", noting that his formerly liberal view of Muslims changed as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001, and he differentiates himself from liberals of the opinion that all religions are equal.[50]

Maher favors ending corporate welfare and federal funding of non-profits as well as the legalization of gambling, prostitution, and cannabis. Maher is a member of the advisory boards for both the NORML and Marijuana Policy Project, organizations which support regulated legalization of cannabis,[51][52] and has been called "one of the brightest torches for sensible marijuana policy" and "a contemporary cannabis statesman."[53]

He describes himself as an environmentalist, and he has spoken in favor of the Kyoto treaty on global warming on his show Real Time. He often criticizes industry figures involved in environmental pollution.[54]

Maher is a board member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.[6]

The comedian has noted the paradox of people claiming they distrusted "elite" politicians while at the same time wanting elite doctors to treat them and elite lawyers to represent them in court.[55] Maher supports the death penalty.[56] Since the 9/11 attacks, he has endorsed the use of racial profiling at airports.[57]

He was originally against the Iraq War, and has summarized his opinion by saying that the United States and the world have had to pay too high a price for the war. He is skeptical of Iraq surviving without civil war.[clarification needed][58]

In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Maher announced his support for Senator Barack Obama.[59] Although Maher welcomed Obama's electoral victory, he has subjected him to criticism since taking office for not acting boldly on health care reform and other progressive issues.[60]

On February 23, 2012, after his 'Crazy Stupid Politics' special streamed on Yahoo! Screen, Maher announced that he was contributing $1 million to Priorities USA, the Obama SuperPAC.[61][62]

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Maher says he is "more on the side of the Israelis" and doesn't consider both sides equally guilty. He acknowledges that "Palestinians do have gripes", and he has been critical of U.S. financial aid to Israel, saying "they don't need our money, they can handle it themselves". Maher also notes that most Israelis would prefer a two-state solution and oppose the hard-line stance of their Israeli government, which he describes as having been taken over by their version of the Tea Party. However, Maher has defended Israel's military actions against Palestinian militants amid criticism over civilian deaths and disproportionate casualty count between Israelis and Palestinians. He argues that Israel is still showing restraint, and he finds it ironic that the same people who were incredulous over how the Jews in World War II were led "to their slaughter", can't understand why they are defending themselves now.[63][64]

Maher is a gun owner, and explained in his February 12, 2013 appearance on the late night TV talk show Conan that he owns guns for personal home protection. However, he does not identify himself as a "proud" gun owner, commenting that being a proud gun owner is akin to "saying I'm a 'proud remote control owner'". Maher has stated that statistics showing that gun owners are more likely to harm a member of their household are caused by irresponsible gun owners, and believes that tragedies such as school shootings will not lead to fundamental change in gun laws because both Democrats and Republicans favor guns.[65]

On June 7, 2013, Bill Maher expressed on his show limited support for the NSA's PRISM intelligence data collection from private phone calls and the Internet, saying that the threat of terrorists obtaining and using nuclear weapons was the tipping point for him. While he stated that he trusted the Obama administration to employ the program responsibly, he described the NSA's access to private data as a "slippery slope", and worried about whether other politicians would be as responsible.[66]

In the leadup to the 2014 midterm elections, Maher conducted a "Flip a District" contest on his HBO show. His audience was asked to select one "terrible, entrenched" member of Congress in a close election race—"the loserest loser of all"—to remove from office. Maher aimed to help oust that representative by shining a "national spotlight" on the politician during segments of his show and stand-up comedy appearances in that member's district during the Fall election.[67][68]

Maher endorsed a 2014 Maine referendum to ban the use of bait, traps, and dogs to hunt bears in Maine. He specifically criticized the use of bait, referring to its use as "nothing but an execution".[69]


See also: Religulous

Maher is highly critical of all religion and views it as highly destructive. He has been described, or self-identified, variously as an agnostic, atheist, and apatheist, while objecting to having his views defined by a single label. In his 2008 feature film Religulous, he refers to himself as agnostic.[70] He has rejected being grouped with explicit atheists, saying in 2002, "I'm not an atheist. There's a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn't believe in religion. Religion to me is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don't need. But I'm not an atheist, no."[71] Maher has also occasionally referred to himself as an apatheist, saying in 2011 "I don't know what happens when you die, and I don't care". When discussing his atheism, he said on a scale from 1 to 7 (7 being "absolutely certain there is no god"), he was only at 6.9, like Richard Dawkins, "because we just don't know ... but we just don't think about it." He added, "There's atheist and there's agnostic, and I'm okay with us not splitting the difference on those; if you are just not a super-religious person, you are on my team".[72] Several months later on a 2012 episode of his HBO show, Maher declared that "idiots must stop claiming that atheism is a religion. [...] believe it or not, I don't really enjoy talking about religion all the time. In fact, not only is atheism not a religion, it's not even my hobby. And that's the best thing about being an atheist. It requires so little of your time."[73] He has reiterated his stance during other interviews, rejecting both the certitude of the existence, as well as the certitude of nonexistence of deities, concluding, "I'm saying that doubt is the only appropriate response for human beings."[74]

While critical of all organized religions, saying "they're all stupid and dangerous", Maher says all religions are not alike, and has drawn comparisons and contrasts between them.[75][76] He has said, "By any standard, Mormonism is more ridiculous than any other religion".[77] He has referred to tenets of Judaism as "insane" and "funny", and has said Buddhism "includes crazy whack shit that doesn’t exist, that somebody made up, like reincarnation."[63] He has described Christianity and Islam as more "warlike", and has asserted that, like historic Christianity, present-day Islam needs to undergo its own reformation and enlightenment.[78] In defense of his criticism of Islam, Sharia law and Muslim culture, Maher says he is "...someone who believes in the values that Western people believe in that a lot of the Muslim world does not. Like separation of church and state. Like equality of the sexes. Like respect for minorities, free elections, free speech, freedom to gather. These things are not just different from cultures that don’t have them...It’s better...I would like to keep those values here."[79] Citing studies and poll results by Pew Research Center, the World Economic Forum and others, Maher says the human rights violations and "illiberal ideas" found in Islam are not extremist views held by a small minority, but are supported by a majority of citizens in Muslim countries. Maher has criticized liberals as hypocritical for defending these core liberal values and ideals only at home, while not condemning the oppression of these values and groups in Muslim culture.[78][80] Regarding the more recent publicity generated by his stance in the ongoing debate, Maher says he thinks people are finally paying closer attention to a conversation that we need to have. "I’m just shining a light on the reality of the situation. I don’t even understand why this is so controversial."[78]

Maher received the 2009 Richard Dawkins Award from Atheist Alliance International.[81] He is an advisory board member of author Sam Harris's Project Reason, a foundation that promotes scientific knowledge and secular values within society.

Health care[edit]

Maher has stated that the American Medical Association is a powerful lobbying group and one of the primary reasons why the United States had failed to enact health care reform.[82][83]

On the topic of getting health care reform legislation passed, Maher stated that Obama should forget about trying to get 60 votes for it, "he only needs 51." "Forget getting the sixty votes or sixty percent—sixty percent of people don't believe in evolution in this country—he just needs to drag them to it, like I said, they're stupid; get health care done, with or without them."[84]

On Fox News in a televised debate with Bill O'Reilly, Maher said that "if Jesus was in charge of the country we’d probably have health care for everybody."[85]

Maher has expressed the view that a lot of illness is the result of poor diet and lack of exercise, and that medicine is often not the most appropriate way of addressing illness. In an episode of his show about the 2008 presidential candidates' health plans, Maher stated that poor nutrition is a primary cause of illness, and that "the answer isn't another pill."[86] He also has said: "If you believe you need to take all the pills the pharmaceutical industry says you do, then you're already on drugs!"[87]

He has expressed his distaste for the pharmaceutical and health care industries in general, on the grounds that they make their money out of treating people who are made sick by consuming unhealthy food that corporations urge upon the public. He maintains that mass consumption of high-fructose corn syrup is a contributor to the rise in frequency of obesity in the United States.[88]

In a discussion with Michael Moore about the film Sicko, Maher said, "The human body is pretty amazing; it doesn't get sick, usually, for no reason. I mean, there's some genetic stuff that can get to you, but, basically, people are sick in this country because they're poisoned. The environment is a poisoning factor, but also, we gotta say, they poison themselves. They eat shit. People eat shit, and that's, to my way of thinking, about 90 percent of why people are sick, is because they eat shit."[89]

Tara Parker-Pope and former Senator Bill Frist have called his criticism of the H1N1 flu vaccinations unscientific.[90] Infectious diseases expert Paul Offit has written that misinformation about vaccines from celebrities like Maher has put children at unnecessary risk. Offit says that celebrities like Maher are seen as "less credible" and would still be considered just "great entertainment" if they weren't joined by the former Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Bernadine Healy and influential pediatrician, Dr. Robert Sears.[91] Oncologist David Gorski has also criticized Maher's beliefs about vaccines several times in ScienceBlogs, and when Maher received the Richard Dawkins Award in 2009, Gorski wrote it was inappropriate.[92] Skeptics, including mathematician and science writer Martin Gardner,[93] neurologist Steven Novella,[94] and magician Jamy Ian Swiss have also strongly rebuked Maher, characterizing him as anti-science, uninformed and potentially endangering the health of fans who take his "non-medical" advice.[95] Maher responded to the criticism, saying, "What I've read about what they think I'm saying is not what I've said. I'm not a germ theory denier. I believe vaccinations can work. Polio is a good example. Do I think in certain situations that inoculating Third World children against malaria or diphtheria, or whatever, is right? Of course. In a situation like that, the benefits outweigh costs. But to me living in Los Angeles? To get a flu shot? No."[96]

Views on 9/11 conspiracy theories[edit]

Maher has been a critic of 9/11 conspiracy theories. On October 19, 2007, Maher confronted several 9/11 truthers and had them ejected from his show audience after they interrupted the live show numerous times by calling out from the audience. The incident drew significant media attention and praise from Fox News talk show host and frequent critic John Gibson.[97]

Personal life[edit]

Maher next to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September 2010

Maher has never married.[98][99] Regarding marriage, Maher is quoted on his website as saying, "I'm the last of my guy friends to have never gotten married, and their wives—they don't want them playing with me. I'm like the escaped slave—I bring news of freedom."[100]

In 2003, he began dating former Playboy Cyber Girl Coco Johnsen. In November 2004, at the end of their 17-month relationship, she sued him for USD $9 million for "pain and suffering" for alleged "insulting, humiliating and degrading racial comments." Her suit stated that Maher promised to marry her and father her children, support her financially, and purchase a Beverly Hills home. Her suit also alleged that she quit her job as a flight attendant and occasional model to be with him.[101] Maher's lawyers in their response filed on November 23, 2004, in Los Angeles Superior Court said Maher is a "confirmed bachelor, and a very public one at that" who "never promised to marry [Johnsen] or to have children with her."[102] Maher's filing stated that, after the relationship had ended, Johnsen "launched a campaign to embarrass, humiliate, and extort ridiculous sums of money from Bill Maher." Johnsen had previously accused another former boyfriend of rape and kidnapping in 1997, and the charges were later dismissed for lack of evidence.[103][104][105] The lawsuit was dismissed on May 2, 2005.[106][107]

In 2005, he began dating Karrine Steffans, best-selling author and former hip hop model.[108][109][110] When commentators suggested there was a pattern to his dating because both his girlfriend and former girlfriend were black, Maher said, "People say I'm into black women. Robert De Niro is into black women. I'm just into women who are real, and they happen to be black."[109]

From 2009 to 2011, Maher dated neuroscientist, science educator, and current Skeptics' Guide to the Universe co-host Cara Santa Maria.[99][111]

In 2012, Maher purchased a minority ownership interest in the New York Mets.[112]

In 2014, Maher was dating Ontario-born singer Anjulie Persaud.[113]



Year Title Role
1983 D.C. Cab Baba
1986 Club Med Rick
Ratboy Party Guest
1987 House II: The Second Story John
1988 Out of Time Maxwell Taylor
1989 Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death Jim
1991 Pizza Man Elmo Bunn
1996 Don't Quit Your Day Job! Comic's Table
1997 Bimbo Movie Bash Unknown
1998 Primary Colors Himself
1998 EDtv Himself
2001 The Party's Over Himself
Tomcats Carlos
2002 John Q Himself
2003 Pauly Shore Is Dead Himself
2005 The Aristocrats Himself
Fuck Himself
Inside Deep Throat Himself
2007 Heckler Himself
2008 Swing Vote Himself
Religulous Himself
2009 New Rules: Best of Himself
2010 Sex, Drugs & Religion Himself (stock footage)
2012 The Campaign Himself
2013 Iron Man 3 Himself
2014 A Million Ways to Die in the West Comic
The Interview Himself
2015 Ted 2 Himself
HBO Specials
Year Title Role
1989 One Night Stand Himself
1992 One Night Stand Himself
1995 Stuff that Struck Me Funny Himself
1997 The Golden Goose Special Himself
2000 Be More Cynical Himself
2003 Victory Begins at Home Himself
2005 I'm Swiss Himself
2007 The Decider Himself
2010 But I'm Not Wrong Himself
2014 Live From D.C. Himself
Other Specials
2012 Bill Maher Stand-Up: CrazyStupidPolitics[dead link] Himself
Year Title Role
1985 Alice Officer Gary Conroy
Sara Marty Lang
1987 Rags to Riches Freddie
Hard Knocks Gower
Max Headroom Haskel
1988 Newhart Norm Murphy
1989–90 Murder, She Wrote Rick Rivers/Frank Albertson
1990 The Midnight Hour Host
1991 Charlie Hoover Elliot
1992 Say What? Host
1993 Married... with Children Adam Gold
The Jackie Thomas Show Mr. Lorre
Roseanne Photographer
1993–2002 Politically Incorrect Host
1996 Weinerville Himself
1997 The Larry Sanders Show Himself
Dharma & Greg Himself
1998 V.I.P. Himself
1999 Spin City Himself
Brother's Keeper Himself
Snoops Himself
2000 The Chris Rock Show Himself
2001 Primetime Glick Himself
2002 Son of the Beach Himself
2003–present Real Time with Bill Maher Host
2004 MADtv Himself
2008 True Blood Himself
2010 The Sarah Silverman Program Himself
The Boondocks Himself
2010, 2013 Family Guy Himself
2012 The Good Wife Himself
2013 House of Cards Himself
2015 Blackish Himself


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