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.