The last time Bill Maher was in this part of the Midwest, the cretins at the Westboro Baptist Church drove down to Springfield to protest his stand-up show. Saturday, Maher is making it even easier on those trolls: He's performing in their hometown, at the Topeka Performing Arts Center. The Pitch chatted with the liberal comedian and host of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher.
The Pitch: I was thinking that maybe I could read you some of the charges the Westboro folks leveled at you in their press release before your stand-up show in Springfield in 2011. Then you could respond to each one individually.
Maher: Sure. Actually, today, the Catholic League put out a really long letter about all the horrible things I've said about the Catholics over the years. I got so many e-mails from friends who loved it that I wish I'd done it myself before. This Catholic League guy basically went to the trouble of putting out a compendium of some of my best jokes. But, sure, go ahead.
True. My mother was from a Jewish background, although I never saw her go to temple. I was raised Catholic. But, yes, half of my family is from Jewish stock. Although it's annoying when people say, "Well if your mother was Jewish, then you're Jewish." So I have no say in that, because it's a law the Romans had 1,000 years ago? That's something we all follow? They also did virgin sacrifice. What does everybody think about that?
[Laughs.] OK, now I'm remembering this. Is this the one where they Photoshopped a picture of me where I'm praying to a devil Obama with horns coming out of his head?
Right. No, I was never interested in pedophilia. I've always said I could be a good pope because I have a proven record of having no interest in children.
Not at all! To a philosopher, it's a beautiful philosophy. I mean, I'm not convinced there was ever a historical figure named Jesus Christ. But there's certainly a lot to be said for what he preached. The idea that a common man has as much dignity as a powerful man is a truly revolutionary philosophy that I admire.
What does that mean? I drove the getaway car while somebody else raped? I don't even know what that means, but I deny it.
Well, I certainly have the history. I paid my dues. Nobody is gonna take that away from me.
I don't think I realized that Westboro was anti-Catholic ...
Oh, yeah. That's very traditional Southern bigotry, to not just be racist but also anti-Jew and anti-Catholic. "Papists," they used to call them — "that whore in Rome," they'd call the Pope. I mean, they gotta make sure there's enough hate to go around, you understand.
Last time you came to Springfield, and now you're coming to Topeka, rather than more progressive cities in the region like Lawrence or Kansas City. How come?
I want to bring the good news everywhere! [Laughs.] I'm trying to be an evangelist for my brand of comedy and for progressive thinking. And what I've found in doing this all these years is, there's literally no place in America that doesn't have a healthy proportion of progressive-thinking people. All they need is a reason to come out of the woodwork. And so I try to provide that reason. And it's more fun for both of us, I think. Not that I don't have fun wherever I play — Berkeley and San Francisco are fun places to do stand-up, too. But there's something about going to areas where the people are surrounded by rednecks that makes it a little more special and a little more fun. And you can just kind of sense in the audience an awakening in their minds that they're not the only ones around that think like this, like, There's actually a lot of people around here like me. And I think a lot of times people don't know that. Richard Dawkins and my late friend Christopher Hitchens used to say the same thing. They're these outspoken atheists, and they'd go on a book tour and be shocked that the crowds in the Southern states were the biggest.