Cracking jokes, speaking his mind and generally making no apologies for pissing people off, there's reason enough why he's such a success. His HBO series is in the second half of its fifth season (premiering Friday, Aug. 24 at 11 p.m.), and as Maher puts it, they've finally gotten the formula down. His panels light up with good guests (including some you wouldn't expect to be good); bad guests (the boring, the cloying and the downright annoying); and guests he can't get, but who seem there in spirit, as he often jokes about their absence.
And they all have one thing in common: Bill Maher wants to get them liquored up. Take a look at what else the passionately political comedian makes light of and what he has planned for the show this season.
Is it tough to be off the air when there's such crazy news that you could be commenting on?
No. I live in Beverly Hills; it's never tough to be off the air. [Laughs] There's always something going on—that's the thing. The day that the newspaper arrives on my doorstep and there's nothing on the front page, I'll feel like that's a good day to be off. But I also like the idea that we leave them wanting more. I like it when people say, "When are you coming back?" Which is better than, "When are you going away?" [Laughs]
Are you planning anything special for the rest of the season?
You mean like dancing girls?
Like a retrospective…
Oh, no. I think we're just going to try to do what we've been doing. It took us a while to get this formula down—now that it's working, I don't want to toy with it.
So you don't miss doing a show every night of the week?
When you're on every night, you come in during the day and you pretty much throw some shit against the wall and hope some of it sticks. [This way], we have a chance to polish this show a little more, being on once a week. I just feel like it's a better product, given the time we have to work on it. I'll tell you this: I work a lot harder on this show than I did on an every night show.
Do you serve drinks to your guests before they come on?
No. After. [Laughs]
Would it help if you served drinks before they went on?
It helps some. Others it does not help at all. I think it's always good to get a moderate amount of liquor into a guest [laughs]—they're all nervous as hell.
What guests would you love to have on that you haven't been able to get so far?
Bill Clinton comes to mind. Hilary Clinton. And they're certainly not conservatives. It's not just conservatives who are worried about the show, and that's good, because when people are a little worried, it's because they feel like the show has some balls. As I always say: Truth is like sex; it's best when it's a little painful. [Laughs]
Have you ever had a huge falling out with a guest? Maybe someone you don't think would ever come back?
Oh, I'm sure. I mean, I can't think of anybody off the top of my head, but I'm sure there are people. I seem to remember some storming off before the show was over. I'm guessing they won't come back. [Laughs]
Which guests have had the fieriest reactions on the show?
You know, I'm very bad at remembering guests. And I don't listen to them either, because they pay me the same whether I listen or not. [Laughs] It's "bullshit, bullshit, bullshit"…my line. [Laughs]
Any favorite guests?
Ben Affleck. He's always gold. That kid really does his homework. And he could run you know—I mean, he really knows his stuff. D.L. Hughley I love. It's very rare that you get that comic who can be funny in the service of making a point. Not a point and then a joke, but one seamless sentence. He's not trying to be funny; he's trying to make a point. He's just a funny guy.
What about favorite politicians?
[Massachusetts Democratic Congressman] Barney Frank—my favorite politician because he doesn't sound like a politician. He's a gay man who continually gets elected, so obviously he figures the cat's out of the bag on that kind of stuff. [Laughs]
Who do you like in the '08 Presidential election?
I don't know…I'm a free agent on that at the moment. I'd like to see what they have to say. I'd like to know what the Democrats' position is. I'd like the Democrats to get a position. But so far, I haven't seen that.