As a somewhat recent subscriber to Comcast (as of Spring 2006), I can honestly say there were two shows on one channel that drew me to finally get it at the time: The Sopranos and Real Time with Bill Maher, both on HBO.
While both shows made me mad at times, many more times they made me laugh and in the end, were worth the time spent watching. And with Bill Maher, whether or not you agree with his politics, dig his political humor or find him to be controversial at times, the important thing that drives his still popular show is that its commercial-free, hour-long format allows for serious and extended back-and-forth debates of the important issues of the week, always with a lot of humor mixed in, an always active live audience and a rather unique personality as its host.
And so now, after his customary short vacation - a few months, with the exception of a one-off performance in Boston in late July - Bill Maher is back with a brand new season of Real Time, which commenced last Friday, August 24. I will do my best to pick out the highlights of the show, a "fair-and-balanced" assessment if you will, of a show which included Weekly Standard senior writer and Vice President Cheney biographer Stephen Hayes, Michel Martin, host of NPR's "Tell Me More" news/talk show, and actor Tim Robbins. Satellite guests included former Arkansas Governor and current Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and New York Times reporter Damien Cave, live from Baghdad.
The opening (pre-show) skit was a riot. Called the "Sadr City Surplus Commercial," Maher, as a "Sadr Ciy Salesman" made comedy out of recent news reports saying the U.S. lost track of some 190,000 weapons given to Iraqi troops in 2004 and 2005: "Sadr City is having a 'Back to Surge' sale. I’m Crazy Achmed ... and we’re stacked to the tent poles with thousands of AK-47s from a top superpower at prices too low to haggle. These pistols just fell off a truck, right before it exploded. Hurry, these deals wouldn’t[sic] last forever, just like America’s patience."
After much laughter and applause, the actual show began. Things got off to a rocky start, technically speaking, as Maher's body mic failed to work and he was forced to use a hand mic (like the good ole days) for his opening monologue. It got some laughs and applause, along with a couple of groans, but wasn't the best routine I've ever heard from him.
Pointing out that Bush (presumably on August 22) said the surge in Iraq is working and that we have to beat the terrorists there so they don't "follow us home," the unabashedly anti-Iraq war Maher said the best thing about President Bush is that: "I can take three months off, and when I come back, he’s still making the same stupid speech." After taking vicious shots at Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at a recent concert, aging rocker Ted Nugent was at the receiving end of a diss this time, with Maher exclaiming what was most shocking about the controversy: "Ted Nugent still has concerts?! That is astounding."