Review: Bill Maher at the Blaisdell Concert Hall
REVIEW BY SJARIF GOLDSTEIN / firstname.lastname@example.org
Political comedian Bill Maher has vowed to become the “Don Ho of New Year’s” with annual visits to Hawaii for New Year’s Eve shows on Oahu and New Year’s Day gigs on Maui.
The danger is in whether Maher can keep his comedy fresh for Hawaii audiences year after year. His third annual “Aloha Tour” kicked off at the Blaisdell Concert Hall on Tuesday night, Dec. 31, and the verdict is in: So far, so good.
Maher stepped up after selling out the smaller Hawaii Theatre last year, and the move paid off with a larger crowd that was as receptive as ever.
His last visit was on the heels of a presidential election, and the cast of characters it provided proved worthy comedic fodder. Some of those figures are still relevant targets, but he hit on them less, diversifying in the name of keeping his act fresh.
While the left-leaning Maher had plenty of barbs for Republican stalwarts such as Sarah Palin (“an illiterate forest creature”) and the newly bespectacled Rick Perry (comparing him to former Playmate Jenny McCarthy, who rebranded herself similarly), he found some new targets in the wake of this year’s federal government shutdown:
“You see President Obama come out of these meetings with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor … and he praises them as much as possible and criticizes them only when necessary. He’s like a good special ed teacher.”
Maher also ramped up his shots at the GOP as a whole. After lamenting Obama has fallen a bit short of his “Yes We Can” goals, he asked, “What’s the Republican slogan? ‘Hulk smash?’”
He also spread some criticism the Democrats’ way a little more than last year, saying of Congress early in his 98-minute set: “It’s like Bruce Jenner’s face — neither side will ever move.”
He also called Democratic Sen. Harry Reid “a man with the oratory skills of an OnStar operator” and “the cure for common charisma.”
But Maher’s second-favorite target after Republicans was religion, which he spent even more time on than he did in 2012.
“People tell me, ‘It’s easy to mock religion.’ Yes! It is! Anytime you make fun of religion, you are doing a public service,” Maher opined.
Maher, who attacked religion in his 2008 documentary, “Religulous,” walked that fine, politically incorrect line between playful and offensive, at times drawing moans from a few in the audience who perhaps wandered in off the street unaware of his stance on religion.
If they didn’t know it walking in, they surely did by the time they left, as he took many shots at the Bible and unveiled a hilarious mashup of “The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” and Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s On First?” Another recurring theme for Maher is marijuana, which he said he’s had a longterm relationship with since high school — “Sometimes we forget each other’s sentences.”
That well-structured joke is a reminder the most important part of his identity as a “political comedian” is “comedian.” Maher has been known for the political bent to his humor for about 20 years, but he was a comedian for more than a decade before that — and he knows his craft.
He also had a funny bit that mocked the unrealistic — but very different — ways sex is portrayed in Hollywood movies and commercials for erectile-dysfunction drugs.
Among other highlights of the evening:
» On the United States’ thirst for war: “The U.S. has been at war for 216 of its 237 years. At some point you have to think ‘Maybe it’s me.’”
» On right-swinging rock ‘n’ roller Ted Nugent: “He says Obama wipes his ass with the Constitution … unlike Ted, who uses his hand.”
» On charges that Obama is a socialist: “Socialist?! He’s not even a liberal! He uses Romney’s health care plan and Bush’s foreign policy!”
» On the racial element to Obama hatred: “‘You can keep your health plan’ was a lie, but they didn’t seem to mind it when Bush lied about Iraq having WMDs because that was a ‘white lie.’”
» On half-Canadian, half-Cuban Senator Ted Cruz: “He has the wit of Justin Bieber and the people skills of Scarface.”
» On Congressman Darrell Issa’s proclivity for crying “scandal!”: “When you smell a rat every day, the rat might be you.”
Maher is known to bring a star-studded entourage — his “Hawaii Rat Pack,” as he called them, joined Maher on this year’s “Aloha Tour,” and this year it extended into his show, with third-year attendee Sean Penn and Hawaii newbie Michael Moore trading banter to open the night, joking that they spent the day playing golf with the president.
Moore and Penn — Academy Award winners both — then introduced Maher pal and part-time Hawaii resident Eddie Vedder. The Pearl Jam singer performed a pair of covers — The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” on guitar and harmonica, and Amanda Palmer’s “Ukulele Anthem” on, yes, ukulele.
The latter was a nice local touch to the show, and it was nice that Maher learned to pronounce “mahalo” a year after butchering it. Surprisingly, there was actually less attention given to Hawaii politics than a year earlier, with just a congratulation to the state for approving same-sex marriage and a joke about gay-marriage opponent Bishop Larry Silva.