GOP subject of Bill Maher shtick

Bill Maher plays the Coronado Performing Arts Center Saturday, June 7

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Bill Maher won’t candy coat anything tonight when his standup tour stops at the Coronado Performing Arts Center.

In fact, the Real Time host said his message will center on a concept that is as simple as it gets.

“I’m a proud liberal,” he said. “And, I hope people realize that the term means ‘liberty.’ The word means ‘free.’ I don’t make any bones about it.”

Maher, 58, also makes no bones about a Republican party he says is still splintered in the wake of former President George W. Bush. Like Lewis Black and comedians who see an establishment for what it really is and how others perceive it, Maher has been able play off both sides on stage, but never sways in his stance. Packing the success of two bombastic cable shows and more than a dozen books, Maher has no problem labeling his act.

While Rockford is new territory for Maher, his message could be one of reprieve for Illinois—a land of government dependency and local GOP leaders who seem ahead in the game of sophomoric racial jokes.

“If you want to see a show that makes fun of Republicans, this is the show to see,” Maher said.

To say he’s a panel-show pioneer is arguable, yet Maher has blazed a trail nonetheless. This has been evident in a time ripe with moderates and Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly the faces of conservative fodder. It only seemed fair for Maher to take a vocal seat at the table.

Just as the political front has changed, comedy has taken on a new meaning with the emergence of the social media, something Maher has harnessed with millions of followers. Comics bottle the shtick and Facebook, Twitter and Youtube bring it to market. Standup is no longer a black-box, inner-city exclusive.

“When I first started, people only saw comics at comedy clubs,” Maher explained. “Most people went in and didn’t know what kind of comedy it was. Therefore, it could make it kind of painful to sit through. They could see a guy like Carrot Top one night and then expect the same thing when I show up. It’s not like that anymore. It makes it a lot of fun, as a comic, whey they finally know you and what they want and you can provide it to them better than they expected.”

Like the 4 million weekly Real Time viewers, standup audiences listen to Maher rant his case for legalized marijuana, same-sex marriage and racial equality for hours. For those on the fence or the occasional detractor with a delayed response, he’s got a plan for them, too.

“Basically, people know what I am going to talk about or they wouldn’t have bought a ticket,” he joked. “But, there is always those who don’t get it right away. For those people, I just try to make their heads explode.”

Born in New York and raised in River Vale, N. J., Maher graduated from Cornell University in 1978. He got his start at Catch a Rising Star comedy club in 1979. His late-night Politically Incorrect ran for eight seasons on Comedy Central and ABC. Real Time with Bill Maher premiered in 2003.

Tonight’s show starts at 8 p.m. The Coronado is at 314 N. Main St., downtown Rockford.

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