By Lucas Grindley
Originally published on Advocate.com October 19 2011 6:00 AM ET
Bill Maher will tell you what he’s thinking. But he hasn’t
always been so blunt. The comedian and self-deprecating host of HBO’s Real
Time spoke with The Advocate about growing up bullied.
His biggest regret is not speaking out. That’s not his
problem these days.
The liberal political commentator’s show is in its ninth
season and airs on Friday nights. His next book, The New New Rules, will be published in November. And you can still catch him on the road doing stand-up regularly, with shows coming up in places
such as Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles this month and next. (He'll be performing at The Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal City on November 5.)
In the interview, Maher compares House Speaker John Boehner
and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to crack heads. He says Republicans
are just mean assholes. And the Democrats aren’t safe either.
Maher talks about being ostracized as a kid in school, and why
he believes President Obama isn’t a Christian and secretly plans to pass
same-sex marriage in his second term — which Maher jokes is the “black term.”
To start out, I wanted to check and see if you heard that Harold Camping has
rescheduled the rapture for Friday.
Bill Maher: I have
heard that, so I've made plans.
What are your plans?
I hear it's late in the day, so we're going to have an early
You know, I want to be raptured, because, oh, there's
nothing on the weekends anymore, TV has sort of punted on Friday nights. So I
figure what the fuck, get raptured.
I had Robert Jeffresss on Friday night and I ran out of
time, but I really wanted to ask him about that because that name of his book
is something like “How America's Last Days Can Be Your Best Days.” It's very
comforting to know that the people who are making decisions about your country
think it's a good thing that the world is ending. That gives me really a lot of
We'll see what happens with Harold Camping, if we make it
I've got my fingers crossed.
I want to talk about Religulous because you went to visit an ex-gay so I wonder if
you learned anything from him.
I love that guy. First of all, that scene, I continue to
hear about it. When people talk about the movie, they do remember that guy.
It's because no one's ever met an ex-gay.
[Laughs] He was just
so sweet and the way he could not contain himself — or should I say not reveal
himself — and the way, at the end, we get up, and he hugs me. He says, “Can I
get hug.” Of course. And as I joke, I say, “Hey did you have a hard-on there?”
And he says, “Nope, can't do that anymore.” Well, come on, right there,
brother. Make it a little harder than that.
Why don't you think there's been more of an outrage
against Michele and Marcus Bachmann going around bragging about their Christian
counseling clinics, which offer so-called reparative therapy?
I think because she fell off the radar as the candidate. She
was the frontrunner. Now it's all about Herman Cain. It's so ironic. People say
the gays are promiscuous. You know who is promiscuous? The Republican Party!
They’re fucking a new guy every week. I mean Trump and then Bachmann and then
Perry, and now they're even experimenting with a black man.
I don't know if this is going to last. Do you?
Oh, it definitely is not going to last. I guarantee you the
one thing the Republican Party will never do is allow a presidential election
where your only choice is a black man.
Do you think that Bachmann falling in the polls had
anything to do with her stances against gay people?
No, I think in the Republican Party that's a plus. [Laughs] I was rooting for her because I think Marcus would
make a fantastic first lady, I do.
So let's talk about your “It Gets Better” video. You did
one last month in which you admitted you were bullied as a kid for being short.
Nooo. I think my theme was — well, I was short — but I think
my theme was more that ostracism could be a form of bullying. Because I thought
that was something other people were not talking about. And I couldn't believe
that it was unique to my upbringing. When I was a kid that was a major form of
bullying. That can be almost more devastating. To get punched in the face, that's happened to us all. It
hurts, it stings, but sometimes it goes away the next day. But that thing where
nobody talks to you, and you are like a ghost in the classroom. Oh man, when
you are 10-years-old that's pretty rough.
A story just came out about a kid who killed himself this
weekend and he said basically that same thing. So you had this happen to you?
You were ostracized as a kid?
Absolutely. I remember that much more than I remember any
sort of violence or stuff like that. Maybe it was just the kind of kids we were
where I went to school. I don't know what it was. But I lived in fear, and I
mean I used to get up in the morning with a knot in my stomach. Am I going
to be the one today that is going to be persona non grata in the classroom? And that’s a terrible feeling. But I have always
said that children are not innocent. I know people love to think that about
children: Oh, children, they're wonderful. They're not. They are feral and
mean. You have to teach children to be good people. It just does not come
naturally as a human being. I know that breaks a lot of people's bubbles about
the wonderful children in the world, but that's the truth. I am a much better
person as an adult than I was as a child.
Do you think that we are doing better now?
I think it's great that at least there is a movement that's
started. What has to happen is that for so long they have recognized that
teachers can't just be on the sidelines. They can't just stand there and say
kids are going to be kids, and they’re going to make a certain number of them
kill themselves. No, no, that’s why you are the adult in the room. That's why
we have that phrase — “the adult in the room.” That's you, the teacher. Be the adult in the room. Put an
end to it. You could be the bully stopper.
Not a single elected Republican has recorded an “It Gets
Better video”. Why do you think that is? Is it really politically risky to participate
in an anti-bullying campaign?
they just don't want to ruin their reputation as always being assholes. [Laughs]
Sometimes honestly, I know I’m being a little facetious, but sometimes they do
things and that's the only thing you can think of. It’s like, really? What is
the motivation here? And you realize it's just: they appeal to mean assholes.
Look at their Republican debates and cheering executions. They’re applauding
when someone says that people without health insurance should die. They're just
mean! And they like being mean. That's why they like candidates like Perry and
Bachmann. And Herman Cain is now talking about the fact that we should build an
electrified fence on the border and have a moat with alligators. He’s walking
this back a little, but he's basically still saying, oh, it was just a joke,
but the humorous part where we commit violence and kill Mexicans? He still
believes in that.
And in the debates they had the gay soldier who was
booed. Then Mitt Romney came out and said it's not his job to correct the
It's amazing what some people in town halls will say, and
the candidate not correct them. “Thank you for that question about Obama being
The only time you can remember is when John McCain
corrected that woman during the 2008 campaign.
Yeah, well, that's McCain. Every once in a while, he does
something that makes you like him.
Having experienced bullying as a kid growing up, being
ostracized, a lot of comedians say that's when they developed a sense of humor
as a defense mechanism. Is that you?
That is not me. I didn't think there was anything funny
about that. I developed my sense of humor because my parents were pretty witty
and I had a TV.
So what got you through it?
What was the alternative, you know? Also I didn't get it the
worst. There was one kid who got it just for no reason. That's the other thing
about bullying is it's so arbitrary. I remember this kid in school and he got
it year after year. He didn't do anything. He was just a nice sensitive kid and
that was reason enough. I was having this debate with Penn Jillette — I guess
it was on the Overtime part of the show — and he was saying he thinks human
nature is basically good. I don't. I really don't. I think there are certainly
good people in the world, and there is good in people, but I also think there
is just something in human nature that despises what they perceive as weakness.
Instead of helping the weak — which is what they would really do if we were
really good people — they see it as something to be exploited, and hated. And I
don't understand that. Sensitivity somehow is bad? We won't be a good people
until we evolve to be a people where sensitivity is seen as good.
In your video, you said that is one of things you would
do over, that you would go back and stand up for that kid, for example.
Yeah, I mean, I was petrified to stand up for that kid
because I knew if I did, then it would be me.
But you’d do it anyway now?
Looking back, yes, I would do a million things different. If
I knew what I know now; we've all had that fantasy. If I could just go back to
school knowing what I know now, I would stand up to bullies and I would know
that, hey, even if you do ostracize me for standing up for this other kid, so
what? Because I'm going to turn out to be a famous, rich comedian. [Laughs]
That's kind of what you do now. You are a pretty tough
guy now. You say what's on your mind.
No, that doesn't make me a tough guy. A tough guy is a
Marine or a cop or a, you know, a fireman or something. I am not a tough guy.
You took on President Obama recently, saying he should be
supporting gay marriage, especially since Dick Cheney already does.
Yeah, when Dick Cheney and Laura Bush are to the left of you,
Barry, not a good sign. [Laughs] That's
what's disappointing about the Democrats. Even on these no-brainier social
issues like gay marriage and pot, where the public is already ahead of them,
they still can't find the political courage to somehow get behind the issue. We
could have passed medical marijuana in this state if one politician in the
Democratic Party had gotten behind it. It only failed by a few percentage
points. “Don't ask, don't tell” in the military was polling at 75% approval,
including a majority of conservatives were for repealing it, and at that point
Obama still asked for another study to see if it was impeding readiness in the
ranks. Look, there are only two parties, we only have two choices. I'm not
saying vote for Mitt Romney, I'm just saying Barack Obama sometimes, you know,
is a real disappointment. On the whole, I'm glad we have him. I'm going to vote
for him. I’m going to give him money. And I'm just hoping that being half black
and half white, the first term was the white term and the black term is coming
You think he can do things in the second term that he
actually doesn't campaign for, like same-sex marriage?
People dream he's going to do same-sex marriage in his second
term but he won't campaign on it.
Yes, I think that's true, he can't campaign on certain
things. And I understand that he has a calculus in his head, that you and I
cannot begin to appreciate what he has to deal with. I'm sure his days as a
community organizer when he was organizing a bunch of crack heads to clean up a
vacant lot seems like a dream compared to working with John Boehner and Mitch
McConnell. [Laughs] So I do appreciate
what he has to deal with, and he can't obviously come out on the left side of
every issue because he's dealing with a dumb, you know, somewhat conservative
country. I don't think it's as conservative as people think it is. But, yeah,
he's obviously thinking about what the attack ads are going to look like in
2012 and they can be devastating. So I think there are things he can't say out
loud. Look, he's always talking about what a Christian he is, I don't believe
that for a minute. But he can't say that out loud.
What other types of things do you think he would do that
can't be said out loud? There's same-sex marriage.
Yeah, I think same-sex marriage, definitely a
big one. I don't know about marijuana, but that would be a great one if he
could do that. Certainly, the environment. He has been awful on the
environment, and that's something he ran on in the first term. There was an
article in the New York Times yesterday that said this is the issue that has just disappeared —
global warming. Even in 2004 it was a bigger issue than it is now. When the
politicians take a powder on that issue, more and more people think, Oh, it
really is a hoax — which is what they want
to believe. And that would be the big one that I would hope he would come
around strong on if he gets reelected.