Bill Maher on Drugs, Death Threats and Dropping $1 Million on Obama
This story can be read in full in the Mar. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
Bill Maher has three words that should terrify Hollywood: Obama could lose.
To the moneyed political class living in what Maher calls the “liberal bubble,” it might seem like a long shot. The economy is recovering, unemployment rates are dropping, and the Republican candidates are talking about how to limit contraception and why college is for snobs (if not the occasional “slut”). But though the president might seem a shoo-in to win a second term among certain bicoastal elites, Maher sees trouble ahead. That fear -- and not to promote himself or his long-running HBO show Real Time With Bill Maher, he says -- is why the comic firebrand interrupted his stand-up act in San Jose, Calif., on Feb. 23 to present an oversized $1 million check to Priorities USA Action, the political super PAC working to re-elect President Obama.
“It’s a scarier group of Republicans than I’ve ever seen in my life," he says.
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In the process of making his high-profile donation, the bomb-throwing provocateur -- a devout atheist who wants to legalize most recreational drugs and famously was kicked off ABC for saying the 9/11 terrorists weren’t cowards -- has crossed the line from pay cable commentator to mainstream activist. Unlike late-night peers Jon Stewart, with his Rally to Restore Sanity, or Stephen Colbert, who launched a satirically eponymous super PAC, Maher is publicly putting his own money where his big mouth is. And in doing so, he is setting himself up as an increasingly powerful voice as the presidential campaign heads into its defining months.
He considers his $1 million gift a challenge to Hollywood’s political donors, who, driven by a diminished entertainment economy, dissatisfaction with Obama’s policies, residual SOPA anger, or all of the above, have been sitting idle as Republican super PACs have thus far outraised Democrats 2-to-1.
“To all rich liberals: This is where the game is now,” he says. “There’s only one place in this country where the millionaires and billionaires are liberals, and that’s here in California.”
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As The Hollywood Reporter's Lacey Rose and Matthew Belloni confirmed while visiting Maher's no-frills bungalow office at CBS Television City, his donation was his attempt at a rallying cry. “I threw a snowball hoping to cause an avalanche,” says the 56-year-old. “This election is so not in the bag.”
Some of the other details from THR's Maher cover story:
DEATH THREATS REQUIRE FULL-TIME SECURITY AT HOME
The ever-present controversy around Maher has led him to hire a full-time security guard at his Beverly Hills home.
HE SMOKES POT TWICE A WEEK, THOUGH HE SAYS HE'S NEVER DONE THE SHOW HIGH
The never-married Maher says that despite his image as “that pot-smoking atheist who goes to the Playboy Mansion,” he’s toned down the lifestyle on which his conservative foes tend to dwell. He rarely rises before noon, but that’s as a result of an internal clock that often has him up refining his Real Time monologue until four in the morning. He’s still smoking weed about twice a week, claims though he's never done his show while high.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON ADMITS HE IS HER PERSONAL ADVISOR
"To move forward after every big event in my life I have to check in with Bill," she says. "Some people have therapy, I have Bill."
HE GETS PAID HIGH SEVEN FIGURES FOR DOING 35 SHOWS A YEAR
His most recent two-year deal, signed in 2010, pays him in the high-seven figures for 35 shows a year. Sources say he’s already in talks with the network to extend the pact, this time for longer than two years.
HE SAYS THERE AREN'T ENOUGH SMART CELEBRITIES TO BOOK ON HIS SHOW
"There's not 20 thinking celebrities in all of Hollywood," says Maher, though frequent guests include Ben Affleck, Kerry Washington and Alec Baldwin. Friend Jon Hamm will be a guest on Friday.
HE SAYS REPUBLICANS ARE CALLING WOMEN "WHORES" BECAUSE ECONOMY IS BETTER
In reference to the contraception/Rush Limbaugh debate, he says, "I thought this election was going to be all about the economy. But the economy started doing better so the Republicans went to Plan B: calling women whores"
HE IS DATING A HARVARD GRAD STUDENT
He’s no longer “militantly single,” as he has been for much of his adult life. In fact, he’s had a steady girlfriend, a Harvard graduate student, for about eight months. The pair has no plans to wed, though, as Maher is still as vehemently against the institution as he is organized religion, though he favors same-sex marriage rights. “My answer to marriage was always, ‘Why do I want to invite the state and federal government into my love life, so that it becomes a legal matter if something goes wrong and it’s about lawyers? It’s the opposite of what love and romance should be,” he scoffs.
HE STILL WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR HIS 9/11 REMARKS
More than a decade after his infamous 9/11 statement -- “We have been the cowards” -- he won’t back down. “I said I was sorry that I offended people at a sensitive time,” he notes, “but I never said I was wrong because I wasn’t wrong.”
HE REMAINS A FAN OF ANDREW BREITBART
“He signed a book for me,” Maher recalls of Breitbart. “He wrote something really nice: ‘Thank you for giving me a chance and not prejudging and accepting me.’”
Read the THR cover story in full here.