The host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, where the sharp-tongued Maher happily flays politicians and the press, gave us a call in advance of his stand-up gig at the Chicago Theatre, followed in October by the film Religulous, his Borat-style skewering of religion.
Time Out Chicago: As someone who’s so anti-religion, what do you think of the role religion has played around Obama?
Bill Maher: The American public is so fucking dumb that the campaign is rightfully scared that if people just see this man with a Muslim, it will excite more rumors that he is one. It’s not an opinion whether he’s a Muslim or a Christian. It’s a fact. You can look it up on that computer thing that’s on your desk.
TOC: He recently called for continuing faith-based initiatives. Do you think he’s catering to religious folks?
Bill Maher: Yeah. He’s a politician. He’s doing a lot of things that purists are not gonna like. And I say, “Good.” Because I’m tired of the Democrats losing. This is, in a lot of places, a dumb-ass redneck country, and you’d better be willing to pretend you’re a lot more religious than you are if you want to get to the White House.
TOC: So you think for him a lot of it is pretending?
Bill Maher: I certainly hope so. I certainly hope that a guy who is as obviously bright as he is doesn’t really believe in a talking snake.
TOC: Have you been surprised by the unabashed racism of some voters who are like, “A black guy as president? No way in hell.”
Bill Maher: Surprised? No.… These are mostly older people. And I say this not in a harsh or mean way, but these people just have to die before that way of thinking goes away, and die they will. The younger generation who grew up on MTV, they don’t even see race.
TOC: That sounds overly optimistic, don’t you think? They don’t see race at all?
Bill Maher: I really don’t think they do. Look, TV is the barometer. You look on TV, I can almost not find a relationship that isn’t interracial these days. That’s what tells you things have really changed.
TOC: Realistically, do you think McCain has a shot in November?
Bill Maher: No, I don’t. I really don’t. Everybody likes him. I like him as a person. No matter what stupid nonsense tumbles out of his mouth, it’s always preceded by “my friends.” We all admire him for that amazing service he gave to his country. The reason he is not going to come close to winning this election is because things are shitty in America right now. And when people are hurting, they can’t afford to vote the sentimental choice.
TOC: For Rolling Stone last year, you wrote a piece on dickheads of the year. Who’s been the biggest dickhead so far this year?
Bill Maher: I’d have to say McCain.
TOC: But you just said you liked him. Why’s he the biggest dickhead?
Bill Maher: Because he doesn’t get it fundamentally about the big issue, which is the war. And it bugs me to no end that even the stupid fucking mainstream media concede—as if it came down from a burning bush—that when it comes to national defense and terrorism, yes, McCain wins that battle. No, he doesn’t! He loses that battle! What he doesn’t understand is that it’s our presence in the heart of the Middle East that drives the people who are trying to kill us nuts.
TOC: Speaking of that: Do you still believe in racial profiling at airports?
Bill Maher: I believe in profiling, not racial profiling. All police work is profiling. Instead of having robotic people treat an 82-year-old grandmother the same way they would a sweating young Muslim man, nervous, eyes darting, [airports are] doing what the Secret Service does. The Secret Service are trained to see somebody who might be the one who’s gonna kill the President.
TOC: How do you spot a young Muslim man? What does one look like?
Bill Maher: Well, it doesn’t have to be Muslim; I’m just saying—look, are all Muslims terrorists? Obviously no. The vast 99.999 percent of Muslims do not want to attack us and they’re not terrorists. But everybody who has attacked us was a young Muslim man. To pretend that that’s not the case is to be ridiculously naive and to lose this battle.
TOC: You know, there’s a rumor that you and Ann Coulter were once more than friends.
Bill Maher: Please. The idea that I would fuck a Republican is just so—please. [Laughs] I’ve gotta eat with this mouth. But she was a fantastic drinking buddy. She was a really fun, witty girl. But she said things in the last few years—you know, “John Edwards is a faggot.” Why? ’Cause he combs his hair? Even the conservatives have sorta said, “We don’t know what this bitch is on.”
Maher will try to express his views at the Chicago Theatre July 25.