If you watch Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO (the new season starts this Friday, Feb. 20), then you know that Maher has two issues that really hit close to home: 1) legalizing the personal use of marijuana, and 2) the silliness of religious beliefs. The latter was the subject of Maher's first documentary film, Religulous, which showed up in cinemas during 2008 and came out on DVD on Tuesday. As he says on one of the extra commentaries on his DVD: "As a comedian, religion always interested me, because comedians are looking for what doesn't make sense. The gap between what somebody tells you and what you know to be true, that's where the jokes are."
Maher's personality can come off as abrasive, certainly. But he worked on this documentary with director Larry Charles, who also helmed Borat, and in this work, Charles allows himself to become a part of the process, too, at times. The duo begin with Maher's own upbringing (he was raised Catholic but had a Jewish mother), head off to Vatican City to take on Catholics, and around the world questioning true believers on what they believe to be true. So, naturally, Maher had an even bigger problem with the eight years of President George W. Bush's so-called "born-again" leadership. Does he feel better now that Barack Obama is president? I asked him whether he had any advice for Obama about presidential politics and religion.
"So many times you see Rev. Wright, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, these are the guys who get you in trouble, and they always seem to have reverend in front of their names. Look, Barack Obama is our president. He's a politician in America, a very religious country, so I see why he has to pretend to be a religious person himself. I say 'pretend' because I can only hope that someone as bright as he is, I have to believe he is smart enough to know you cannot walk on water, that god didn't ride in on a winged horse, that it didn't rain frogs, that we cannot change water into wine."
"But I did think it was pretty interesting that, at the inauguration, for the first time ever, he gave a shout out to non-believers. I think it's great that he gave a shout-out to non-believers. It was only two words, but it was a revolutionary two words. I'm surprised that more people didn’t take note of it, but he did say, in the inauguration speech, something about Christians and Jews and Hindus and non-believers! I almost fell off my chair. I said: 'Yes! Thank you!' So there we go. That's progress. Baby steps, baby steps."*
I did say this was a DVD giveaway, though, didn't I? Yes, I did. You can buy the DVD now. Or. I have FIVE (5) copies of the DVD, and you could have one of those. What do you need to do? Simply e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, put Bill Maher DVD in the subject line, and ask me. I'll "randomly" pick the first five of you and send you a DVD. Like they said growing up, reading is FUN-damental! (UPDATED: Thanks for your emails. Winners will be notified shortly!)
* (If you read some of this earlier on the Internets, that is because I asked Maher about this during a conference call, and one of the reasons I do not like conference calls is because other people can listen in and simply copy our conversation and apply it to their interviews as if they had thought this up themselves. Publicists use conference calls sometimes to make the process easier for their talent, but, blerg.)
Related: Here is an interview Maher gave to CBS about Religulous in September 2008, before the presidential election.