Back in the 90s, there was a TV talk show hosted by Bill Maher. The provocative title of the show was Politically Incorrect, then a relatively new expression. An amateur philosopher, Bill Maher is nourished by a bottomless well of venom. He’s still at it with a show titled Real Time with Bill Maher. But this blog refers to two shows he hosted on Politically Correct, one in February 1997, the other in July 1998, and an interview hosted by Larry King.
The structure of Politically Incorrect followed the pattern of virtually all talk shows. Basically, those shows are designed so that the host and guests boost each other’s careers peddling a book, film, or their celebrity as an end in itself. In that sense, most talk shows are a continuous commercial interrupted by commercials.
On that winter night in February, Bill featured an ‘intellectual’ debate that revolved around the question of whether or not a sculptured image of President Ronald Reagan should be added to the presidential memorial at Mount Rushmore.
At that time, the film Titanic was the rage. One of Bill’s guests (Frances Fisher) appeared on the show to plug the film and herself. When she was asked if homage to Reagan should be made by carving an image of him alongside the other presidents, her response was, “What’s the difference? He wouldn’t remember it anyway.” (A reference to Reagan’s Alzheimer’s Disease.) The audience predictably roared with laughter. She scored. She knew her audience. Would the audience have laughed if she had made that extraordinarily insensitive remark about President Roosevelt’s polio affliction? I think not.
In addition to the personal hurt to Reagan’s family and friends, her cheap joke must have hurt millions of people who grappled with the devastation that Alzheimer’s Disease brings to victims and their families and friends. Given the political atmosphere of the studio and national audiences, the joke she vomited can hardly be considered ‘politically incorrect.’
A year later, there was another segment of Politically Incorrect that bears mention. This time the target was Robert Dole. The ‘intellectual’ discussion centered on President Clinton’s sexual activities with a woman who claimed that Clinton had groped her. When a guest on the show made a remark about Dole groping a woman, Bill Maher quipped, “He’d have to do it with one arm.” Again, robust laughter from the audience. Bill scored. He, too, knew his audience. Apart from the fact that Robert Dole lost his arm so that Bill Maher could exercise free speech under the guise of humor, there was nothing politically incorrect about his joke. He was right on target.
In July of 2001, Larry King asked Bill to comment on the difference between entertainers and politicians. Bill responded to Larry’s question with his signature aloofness–an exquisite blend of cynicism and intellectual superiority. Looking as though there were a bad smell in the studio, Bill’s response to Larry’s question was, “At least Hollywood has good taste.” Really Bill! Your ad homonym savagery precludes you from any discussion about taste.
The three incidences described above are just the scum on the surface of Bill’s murky well of venom. Before writing this blog, I watched a full hour of his current show. I couldn’t help but notice that he is still the king of lowlife celebrities.