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Bill Maher: Why I'll never win an Emmy

Walk of Fame honoree says his atheism turns off many voters

Bill Maher might be 0-for-26 at the Emmys, but he continues to dish it out with his ninth season of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" and is about to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Hollywood Reporter's Randee Dawn caught up with the foul-mouthed funnyman and political commentator to discuss evolution, atheism and trees.

The Hollywood Reporter: What's the biggest challenge of "Real Time"?

Bill Maher: Every week you have a whole new set of stories to make comedic fodder out of and analyze. The charm of shows like "Politically Incorrect" is they're, "Throw something on the wall and see what sticks." When you do a weekly show, you want to get it as right as you can, so I slave over it.

THR: Why can't you catch a break at the Emmys?

Maher: A panel of like 10 people watches one tape. If half of those people are religious, that probably eliminates me right there. A lot of people wouldn't vote for such an outspoken atheist, someone who made "Religulous."

THR: "Religulous" did quite well at the box office; any plans to make another documentary?

Maher: I have no desire to make another. I had one subject that I wanted to paint on a bigger canvas than I could in television and in a place that would live in a more permanent way. It took me 10 years to finally get a studio crazy enough to make the movie and the right director, and having made it I feel I have harpooned my Moby Dick.

THR: Author Christopher Hitchens, who has esophageal cancer, is a vocal atheist like you. What do you think of people who believe he'll make a deathbed conversion?

Maher: People who are waiting for that are going to be disappointed -- because I don't think he's going to die. I expect him to be back on our panel, if not this season then next. People wish the fear that drives them their whole life would now drive him, because he's got cancer. But he's not a fearful guy, so it's not going to happen.

THR: Is comedy the best way to communicate your controversial views?

Maher: A lot of the time the news is depressing, so it helps to hear it with a bit of sugar. Laughter is an involuntary response. I see this in the audience frequently -- somebody will laugh almost against their wishes. If you find yourself laughing, something in you says, "Ooh, there may be some truth to that."

THR: Is it particularly satisfying to you to see that kind of reaction?

Maher: Very. Often in my stand-up shows there's somebody in the front row who is just scowling at me. It's a great pleasure to crack a person like that over the course of an hour and a half or two hours.

THR: Would you ever run for political office?

Maher: I don't think like the mainstream of Americans. Being a politician is all about being a bulls***ter and I'm all about not bulls***ting. It's an impossibility.

"Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher"  

THR: But if you were president, what would be your first executive order?

Maher: I'd probably attack global warming first, try to have America lead the way toward saving the planet from burning itself up; I'd try to push a carbon tax through Congress and control emissions and basically make restoring the environment be our moon landing kind of goal.

THR: So then let me ask you: If you were a tree, what tree would you be?

Maher: I would like to be a sycamore, because they're protected in California and you can't cut them down under penalty of law.



Bill Maher career timeline

1978: Maher graduates from Cornell University.

1982: Makes the first of more than 50 appearances on "The Tonight Show."

1983: Appears in "D.C. Cab," his feature film debut, opposite Mr. T.

1993: "Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher" is born on Comedy Central; ABC begins airing it in January 1997. Maher's monologue and group-discussion format are unique to the late-night lineup and become a lightning rod for controversy.

1994: Publishes "True Story: A Novel," about stand-up comics trying to make it in the 1980s.

2002: ABC opts not to renew "Incorrect," following remarks Maher made after the 9/11 attacks.

2003: "Real Time With Bill Maher" debuts on HBO.

2005: Irks the military after commenting on recruiting goals; Congressman Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., writes HBO's parent company, Time Warner, in protest.

2006: Guest Christopher Hitchens responds to "Real Time" audience dissent over his comments by giving them the finger.


"Religulous"  

2007: Sept. 11 conspiracy theory hecklers invade "Real Time" and are thrown out after repeatedly interrupting the live show.

2008: "Religulous," Maher's $2.5 million documentary about religion, earns $13 million at the box office.

2009: Faces off with conservative pundit Ann Coulter in three public debates.

2010: Receives his 26th Emmy nom and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.