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Maher speaks up

By Jane Yin Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday November 16, 2002

“Sacrifice is not a bad thing,” said the opinionated and vociferous Bill Maher on how people should change in response to 9/11. He ardently reiterates this point and many others with vivid pictures and straightforward, thought-invoking prose in his new book “When You Ride Alone, You are Riding with Bin Laden.” Maher’s points are made through the book’s pictures of World War II-style U.S. propaganda posters, as well as 33 new eye-opening posters created to hoist American citizens to action against terrorism. He takes his book on a tour of the United States, which stops in Berkeley next Tuesday. 

“I was looking through this book filled with old U.S. propaganda posters and was struck by not just how beautiful [it was], but [by] the ideas and the spirit behind it,” Maher told the Daily Planet. His picture book, first appearing to have the clarity and simplicity of a child’s book, at a closer glance becomes political. Filled with brilliant one-liners, his words become indelibly plastered to our minds, whether we agree with his pro-American politics or not. 

Maher equates the show that he’s performing on his recent tour to stand-up comedy accompanied by an art exhibit. A lot of his material will be similar to that of his book but, of course, less solemn in tone. “While I’m doing the stand-up, there is a multi-media setup that is projecting the posters seen in the book. It’s going to combine it all. It’s quite an interesting show” he said. 

The 40-something, blunt-voiced pundit was the host of the infamous, witty show, “Politically Incorrect,” where he was the navigator of the discussion between a roundtable of four multifarious guests. Making its debut on Comedy Central in 1993, the show moved to ABC 3 years later and developed a more serious tone. Those who have braved his stage include comedians and rap stars to politicians, activists and journalists. 

“Politically Incorrect” careened to a halt when Maher’s honest opinions about the events of Sept. 11 offended, as Al Franken called, the “easily offended.” (Countering statements made about terrorists, Maher said “we have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2000 miles away.”) But Maher kicked up his heels and took off immediately with his next project “When You Ride Alone.” Although he said cancellation of the show was almost like a blessing in disguise, not wanting to be involved with the same thing throughout his entire life, there are some things that he misses about the show. “I liked the fact that every night I get to sit down with four different people, and the people and issues are always changing,” he said. 

Maher was born into a life of news and politics, having a radio news anchor father and participating in the regular family dinner table debates about the latest current events. It was no surprise that Maher is fearless when it comes to being politically voluble in his stand-up and television appearances. “I was much more drawn to politics and world events, subject matter with more meat on its bones.” 

Having authored several politically sardonic books, such as “Does Anybody Have a Problem with That? Politically Incorrect’s Greatest Hits,” Maher makes hilarious, yet unlikely proposals to ameliorate society, like enacting a drunk-driving lane and allocating his “Get Over Yourself Award” to figures like Santa Claus and the O.J. Simpson defense team. Maher, who began his career in the New York comedy club circuit in the 80’s, also had five HBO specials and has often been seen on “Late Night with David Letterman” and the “Tonight Show.” His achievements have won him many awards, such as two Writer’s Guild Awards and the 2002 Los Angeles Press Club President’s Award. For those that miss seeing his comical, witty jokes, he will be starring in an HBO show coming up in February 2003. 

Among the backlash that Maher has received for being outspoken, his critics most often labeled him as “anti-American” after the comment he made on “Politically Incorrect” after 9/11. But his latest book is a telling example of the efforts he is making as an American citizen to incite change for the improvement for a solidified, stronger America.  

Maher says it best at the conclusion of his book: “My favorite movie is ‘Saving Private Ryan’, and at the end of it a dying Tom Hanks tells the saved private, ‘Earn this.’ I try to remember that every day, and put myself in Ryan’s place. We’re all a little intoxicated with just being Americans, but even better would be to earn it. And kill the world with kindness, because it will make us safer, and even v