Is Bill Maher on the road to becoming the next Dennis Miller?


Bill Maher presents a problem for progressives. On the one hand, many of his stances are progressive and he does make biting and witty critiques of Donald Trump and the Republicans. He does have good writers on his show that makes him funny despite his annoying smug, smirking expression. On the other, there have been several occasions where one recoils at the things he says and I know that some of this blog’s readers refuse to click on any link that features segments from his show and I can understand why, even though I try to only post those that I think are worthwhile.

He is also one of those people who think that campuses have become too politically correct and college students too thin-skinned because they protest comedians whose humor they find objectionable. I find this hard to understand and have critiqued this stance before. Why do comedians, especially highly successful ones like Maher, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Rock, think they should get a pass when they make jokes that target marginalized groups? If politicians and other public figures get criticized for their objectionable comments, why should comedians be exempt? The rule that one should punch up and not down should apply to everybody, the exception being people who belong to marginalized groups making jokes at their own expense as part of self-deprecatory humor.

Sometimes I wonder if Maher is in danger of following the Dennis Miller trajectory. Some of you may recall Miller who used to have a much higher profile. He was a successful comedian who used to be on the liberal end of the political spectrum and for a while was given a job as the third commentator on Monday Night Football to provide funny and erudite comments. But he did neither and after being consistently panned for his performance, was canned.

Miller was one of those people who claimed that “9/11 changed everything” and became a conservative and neoconservative polemicist, switching his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican and supporting George W. Bush’s wars. His comedy career also declined. He has claimed that he is a libertarian who is pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage but his views have become conservative on taxes and neoconservative on foreign policy.

Bill Maher is also a libertarian who is pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage. He also supported Bernie Sanders during the primaries. So far, he has not embraced fully the neoconservative agenda and still opposes the war on Iraq. But his strident animosity towards Muslims (he recently invited Sam Harris on his show to attack liberals for being soft on Islam), and his defense of giving the odious Milo Yiannopolous a platform on his show, make me wonder if he might be just one major event away from taking steps towards becoming another Miller.

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … one should punch up and not down … the exception being people who belong to marginalized groups making jokes at their own expense …

    Punching sideways seems only fair – if not done in service of the Ups punching the Downs.

  2. polishsalami says

    This post is a thoughtful critique of Bill Maher’s worldview, but I do wonder why so much attention is paid to the political views of a talk show host / stand-up comedian / background actor in 80s sitcoms.

  3. says

    Maher’s a perfect example of my observation that it’s important to remember that the enemies of your enemies aren’t your friends. Maher is an obnoxious, smarmy, pseudointellectual – that he’s smarter than some of my other enemies, and funnier, doesn’t make him any more friendly. The correct response to someone like Maher, as a progressive, is not to own him as a progressive – dismiss him as a “useful idiot” and say “well, you’re right about this, congratulations.”

  4. says

    I’ve been cited!

    The only thing that hasn’t been covered is his misogyny, so I’ll throw that in there too. No matter how right he may be in any video clip, the man has earned enough ill will that I will not waste another minute of my life watching it, and I waste a lot of minutes in my life.

  5. DonDueed says

    One big problem for successful comedians is there’s not much up to punch anymore. Once they become rich and famous, they’re the up they used to punch. There’s nowhere left to punch but down.

  6. Michael Sternberg says

    The ideas of current campus movements (like “not giving a platform” to people with controverisal opinions, disrupting scheduled events, or not inviting such speakers entirely) represent a serious danger to freedom of speech. Imagine if the situation were reversed: if the prevailing ideology on campuses would be conservative, and people with progressive ideas were being shouted down at events or disinvited. How would that look?

    Dismissing people like Maher because of some unorthodox ideas they hold fractures and weakens the progressive movement. I do take issue with his apparently persisting anti-vaxx stance, too, but I wouldn’t write him off just because of that. He has an otherwise valuable and often entertaining platform. For a similar example, consider Christopher Hitchens. Surely few progressives would agree with his ideas on the second Golf war, but that does not diminish his other immensely valuable contributions.

    I would highly recommend Prof. Coyne’s site to the contributors here because he frequently discusses the free-speech issue above. He recently argued in his usual thoughtful manner that Bill Maher hosting Milo Y. rather deflated Milo. Maher also has a point in saying that what gave Milo more prominence and influence was all the ruckus that was made whenever he was scheduled for a campus appearance.

  7. hyphenman says

    Mano,

    A friend took me to see Maher live here in Cleveland about 15 years, or so, ago.

    I had never seen his television show but was familiar with the name.

    For my (friend’s) money, I wasn’t impressed.

    Jeff

  8. says

    Michael Sternberg, nobody is talking about no-platforming Maher here. The question is if he’s entitled to our time, and the answer is no. I’m not going to click on a Bill Maher video anymore than I’m going to click on a link to Jerry Coyne’s website.

    There seems to be some confusion these days as to what “freedom of speech” is, and despite some of the complaints, it doesn’t mean entitlement to an audience.

  9. KG says

    The ideas of current campus movements (like “not giving a platform” to people with controverisal opinions, disrupting scheduled events, or not inviting such speakers entirely) represent a serious danger to freedom of speech. Imagine if the situation were reversed: if the prevailing ideology on campuses would be conservative, and people with progressive ideas were being shouted down at events or disinvited. How would that look? – Michael Sternberg@8

    The fallacy here (or rather, one of the fallacies – Tabby Lavalamp@11 identifies another) is that there’s a moral equivalence between “people with progressive ideas”, and scum like Milo Yiannopoulos, who used his platform to incite hatred not just against groups of people, but against an individual transwoman.

  10. mnb0 says

    I consider myself a progressive and Maher isn’t a problem for me at all. Nobody who advocates discrimination based on religion is in my camp. Like Tabby I refuse to click on any link leading to him.
    Not that there are many people in my camp anyway given my tendency to disagree with everybody.

    “I would highly recommend Prof. Coyne’s site”
    Ah, the guy who uses the “behave like you’re in my living room” excuse to ban everyone he dislikes – very much like those students who try to ban Yannopoulos etc. from campus. Yeah, highly recommended.

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