by Hannah Saulters
On Saturday, Nov. 15, Bill Maher made his first appearance in Mississippi to a crowded Thalia Mara Hall packed with “closeted Southern liberals” who, one person in the audience joked, “risked their jobs and reputations to be here.”
Maher is known for hosting his current HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher and his former show Politically Incorrect, as well as a career in stand-up comedy. A critic of the current political landscape and media sphere, as well as a vocal atheist, Maher satirizes to make sense of the world. He joked Saturday, “I want to be a uniter, not a divider… My mission in life is to go to the places where there are cool people surrounded by rednecks.”
With his signature sardonic wit, Maher joked about topical events, such as the recent mid-term elections where “the Republicans took over in a big [expletive] way.” He also drew on more abstract material, uncovering the cracks in the bedrock of American identity, such as the role of religion in politics and the weaknesses of media in challenging leaders. Under the guise of humor, Maher highlighted several reasons the Republicans were so successful in the recent election, including demographics, Fox news and a “smarter” Republican party. Quipping unabashedly about voter demographics and turnout, Maher compared turnout in the presidential elections versus the midterm elections to two commercials, a United Colors of Bennetton advertisement that features a diverse group of young people as opposed to one for “one of those chairs that slides up a banister… or a walk-in tub!” While he framed these issues in humorous contexts, Maher pointed to the broader issue of an apathetic voting pool that affects the country as a whole.
Similarly, Maher roasted the politically polarized media and the members of Congress who embrace the absence of fact in their rhetoric, posing the question, “I know it’s not in the Bible, but here, outside the bubble [of Fox news], can we use facts?” This theme of there being a dearth of factual information surrounding sociopolitical dialogue in this country continued throughout his material about healthcare, the environment and immigration.
Maher’s espousal of liberal commentary on contemporary issues is polarizing, even within his target audience. However, his call for an educated electorate transcends the bounds of partisan politics because, as he so succinctly pointed out, “Stupidity is not another form of knowledge.”