Q&A: Bill Maher


For a movie that skewers organized religion, Bill Maher's "Religulous" is, well, a little preachy. And Maher is fine with that. The documentary, director Larry Charles' follow-up to 2006's smash "Borat," follows the irascible comedian on an anti-spiritual journey from Jerusalem to a Jesus theme park in Florida. It's due Oct. 3 from Lionsgate and Maher returns to TV on Aug. 29 for an election-themed cycle of his Emmy-nominated HBO talk show, "Real Time with Bill Maher."

The Hollywod Reporter: Who's going to be most pissed when they see 'Religulous'?

Bill Maher: Any religious person. The point is to question what is usually made to be unquestionable in this country. Normally if you say the word "faith," the debate is over--no matter what incredibly nonsensical, destructive, ridiculous tenet comes out of your mouth. I could say "My faith is the tooth fairy and Klingons are coming." But I'm not going to play by those rules.

THR: Do you think this movie will play in Peoria?

Maher: I think there is an extraordinary amount of people who are voiceless in this country, who are atheist or agnostic, who I would call rationalists. Sixteen% was the total in the last survey. That's millions and millions of people.

THR: Lionsgate is taking the film to Toronto and releasing it wider in the fall, just like Fox did with "Borat." But the films are very different.

Maher: "Borat" was a cherry bomb. This is a power surge. It certainly had its controversial moments, but there is no greater taboo than organized religion.

THR: Your deal at HBO is up after this season. Would you return to network TV?

Maher: I might want to do it at a certain point in my life, when I felt tired of having to do a show where you really are engaged with the issues of the world.

THR: The other guys aren't?

Maher: Oh please. Compared to what I do? They don't talk to two satellite guests. They don't have to write an editorial at the end of the show about something that happened in the news that week. If I did a (network) show, it would be like playing second base after third base.

THR: What do you think of NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker's handling of the Jay Leno situation?

Maher: Crazy. Stupid. Who gets rid of the king? I'm not a business major, but a sure thing at the top of his game? I would stick with that. Conan is terrific, but that's a question mark.

THR: John McCain. Go.

Maher: Obama is going to beat him by more than people think. People will see him with Obama in the debates and he will not look good. And things are bad now.

When things are bad, people have to suck it up and vote for a guy who they may have misgivings about because he's too young, too black, too unpatriotic or whatever bullshit they think they know about Obama.

I think they are going to say, "You know what? My kid's teeth are falling out. I really better vote for the smarter guy."

THR: Your movie and Oliver Stone's "W" are both being released by Lionsgate in October. Could these movies have been distributed by a major?

Maher: No way, not today. They might be very enthusiastic all the way up, and at the last minute, Mr. Big on high in the corporate boardroom would say "No." And that would be the end of that.

But I know (Lionsgate CEO John) Feltheimer from a long time ago. When I was an actor in the 80's, he picked me for a sitcom that never got on the air.

THR: If the HBO show were to end, where else is a good venue for you?

Maher: That's a good question because to do the kind of political show I do would be asking for the same kind of trouble I got at ABC [where "Politically Incorrect" was cancelled after Maher said the 9/11 hijackers weren't cowards]. There were things I said (recently) about the Pope, comparing him to the Mormon polygamist compound. If that had been a network, it would have been a giant dustup. With HBO, they got a zillion emails and they weren't thrilled about it, but it blew over.

Will you be watching the Olympics?

Maher: [Laughs.] No. The Olympics are pretty gay. Have you seen the opening ceremonies? Makes Cirque de Soleil look like a John Wayne movie. It's become so feminized. We have to find out that the javelin thrower is fighting diabetes and he was brought up in an orphanage.

THR: When you came back without writers during the strike, you seemed a little more polished than the other guys. Were you cheating a little?

Maher: No, but I'm a comedian for 25 years. The other guys said silly things like, "It's not written." Well, excuse me, just because you didn't put pen to paper, if you thought about it before you took the stage, that's writing. Nobody wanted to walk out there and just make a fool of themselves.

To not write, by the definition they were pretending to go by, they would have had to not think about the show at all. The union wanted us to do a show, they just didn't want us to do a good one, but we're not going to embarrass ourselves.

THR: You're up for two Emmys again. Ever get sick of losing?

Maher: My 20th and 21st Emmy nominations. You'd think I would have won once just by clerical error.