Posted | 3 Comments
Review: Bill Maher at Hawaii Theatre
REVIEW BY SJARIF GOLDSTEIN / firstname.lastname@example.org
One key to public speaking is knowing your audience. For a standup comic, it can be the difference between killing and dying.
But for established comics, it can be just as important for the audience to know them. It’s the reason noted “clean” comic Brian Regan is a superstar in Utah, and a big part of the reason Bill Maher killed at the Hawaii Theatre on New Year’s Eve (a Maui show is scheduled for New Year’s Day).
The capacity crowd of 1,400 — dotted with politically friendly faces such as Daniel Dae Kim, Sean Penn and Alan Thicke — was in from the introduction, during which it was announced that promoter Rick Bartalini Presents was donating a portion of the proceeds to two LGBT charities (the Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Project). The announcement got the applause rolling for a crowd that leaned so far left that if it were on a boat, the trip would be a continuous tight circle.
Once Maher took the stage — dressed all in black except for a purple orchid lei — the ovations continued for most of his 90-minute set. Yes, the audience knew what it was paying for — hard to imagine any Republicans shelling out $80 a head and up to be told they are members of “the Mental Patient Party” — but Maher showed why his success as a comedian dates to well before he found his niche as a political comic 20 years ago, first with the panel show “Politically Incorrect,” then with the HBO talker “Real Time with Bill Maher” (10 seasons and counting).
One thing that sets Maher apart as a political comedian is his preparation. Watch his show and you’ll see him go toe-to-toe with any politician or pundit who will show up. Watch his standup and you’ll see him name-drop everyone from the prescient New York Times election forecaster Nate Silver — who “must be Incan” rather than Mayan — to climate-change-doubting Illinois representative John Shimkus.
When he discusses the myth that the United States is No. 1 in everything, he brings supporting facts about our poor world rankings in life expectancy, infant mortality and health care.
But more important — he is a comedian, after all — is that he brings the funny.
Even better, in his second consecutive end-of-the-year visit to Hawaii — he hopes to make this an annual tradition — Maher has localized his act, if ever so slightly. The longtime advocate for marijuana legalization joked that he has learned the only Hawaiian word he needs to know: “pakalolo.”
He noted that loves how “aloha” means both “hello” and “goodbye” and “mahalo” means both “thank you” and “f—k you” (even if he butchered “mahalo” the first time he said it).
Hawaii jokes such as those were nicely sprinkled in among jokes about targets you’d expect:
» The Republican Party: “The GOP has the same problem the Beach Boys have: Their fans are dying.”
» Mitt Romney: “a cold robotic tax cheat from a polygamy cult”
» Sarah Palin: The only people who like her are white men, who like her because she’s a “MILF,” though in Maher’s head, that stands for “Moron I’d Like to Forget.”
» Donald Trump: “He thinks he’s smarter than Obama? He went bankrupt in the casino business, where people just give you their money!”
» Rick Santorum: “He said in public the things Republicans usually only say when they’re trying to pick up Ann Coulter.”
» The Fiscal Cliff (even as the Senate was approving a deal with the president): “Let’s drive off the cliff like Toonces the cat!”
» President Obama (even though Maher donated a million dollars to help him get re-elected): “He wasn’t tanking (the first presidential debate). He was betting the spread. … (It) looked like he took my million dollars and spent it all on weed!”
» Religion: “All religion is stupid.”
Yes, one area where he knows he stands a chance of offending people on both sides of the aisle is religion, which he saves for the end, he said, knowing some fans don’t like it but could still leave saying “He was good until that last part.”
He did sprinkle in some religion cracks throughout the show, sometimes getting laughs and at other times groans (like when he said Catholic priests would be in favor of birth control if altar boys could get pregnant).
Maher is not afraid to live up to the name of his original show — “Politically Incorrect” — also tossing off barbs that compared Trump unfavorably to serial child rapist Jerry Sandusky and made light of Chris Brown’s domestic assault of fellow pop singer Rihanna. When your audience knows who your targets are and will predictably laugh along when you say Palin is “the least qualified candidate since Caligula nominated his horse” you have to mix it up in an attempt to take them out of their comfort zone.
Maher found his fans’ discomfort over and over, but he kept coming back to his main mission, making them laugh with political commentary — “Obama won 39 percent of the white vote; Romney won only the states where the movie ‘Lincoln’ is showing as ‘Scary Movie 5.’”
He also artfully referenced fellow comedian Jeff Foxworthy (“If you’re poor and pissed off about the estate tax … you might be a redneck.”) and spent some time looking forward to Obama’s second term (“Obama is half-black and half-white. The first term was his white presidency. The second term will be the black presidency.”)
Maher packed a lot into his hour and a half, even handling audience members who got boisterous (when two yelled for a sequel to his anti-religion documentary “Religulous” he brushed them aside quickly but appreciatively — “I think I’ve made my point.”)
The crowd said farewell with a standing ovation, and you got the sense that if he carries out his plan to return every year and become “the Don Ho of New Year’s,” they’ll be back again to fill the same venues.