​Bill Maher: Not sorry to be unapologetic

Some real time with Bill Maher 08:50

It seems Bill Maher will say just about anything to get a laugh or provoke a reaction. Tracy Smith has our Sunday Profile:

"Real Time with Bill Maher," HBO's weekly news wrap-up, is broadcast live, unedited, and unapologetic.

"If you didn't see the debate, let me just cut to the chase for you: None of them got suddenly smart."

Smith asked Maher, "Are there some topics that are off-limits?"

"Not that I could think of," he replied. "They're boring or not newsworthy."

Not much boring here. Maher's show is a frequent stop for A-list celebrities and politicians from both sides of the aisle, who -- without network censors -- can say whatever they want.

Maher is an outspoken liberal atheist, and if you've never heard him say something you might find offensive, just give him time.

"Does it bother you," Smith asked, "that there's a large chunk of America that doesn't like you?"

"Well, it's funny that you say that. I'm so aware of that, but it's a little like being the president. Everywhere the president goes, he's in the presidential bubble, and mostly what he sees are people who are breathlessly excited to see him. You don't see the hate on a day-to-day basis, and I don't either.

"In all the years I've been doing this, the number of times anyone has come up to me and stuck their finger in my face and said, 'You so-and-so, you're so wrong about this,' maybe twice. Now, in the age of social media, they do it anonymously. So, if I chose to read my Twitter feed every day, I could be very depressed!"

Instead he seems to be enjoying life as a confirmed bachelor. "When you're single, you just have to consult with yourself, and I'm always agreeing with me! 'What do you want to now, Bill?' 'I want to watch TV.' And maybe after 10 minutes I'll get bored with that and I'll start reading and I'll go back to TV. Maybe I'm just too spoiled in my autonomy. But that's how I was drawn."

For the record, William Maher Jr. was drawn in 1956 in New York. His mom was Jewish, but he was raised Catholic, like his dad.

So what was going to church like for him? "Horrible," he said. "Catholics go to catechism, which was religious training, and that's where the nuns taught me all about love by beating it into us."

By the time he was a student at Cornell University, he'd stopped going to church, and started doing standup gig at local clubs. His family never knew.

"I really didn't want to tell anybody until I was established. But of course, you can't do that, because you have to pay your dues."

"Because you were scared that people would say, 'Oh, come on'?"

"Right, and they did!" said Maher. "I remember hearing my aunt, I guess the rumor was going around the Christmas party what I was doing, and she said, 'Did you hear? Billy's trying to be a comedian!'

"And that word, 'trying,' you know, just hit me like, wow. But she was right, I WAS trying."

And he kept trying.

In an early appearance on "The Tonight Show," his turned his Catholic and Jewish upbringing into a punch line: "We used to go to confession and I would bring a lawyer in with me. 'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned -- I think you know Mr. Cohen ..."

Maher was on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" more than 25 times. "So you must have thought I'm doing something right?" said Smith.

"Yeah, I knew I was a standup that was well thought of, but that was a different era," he said. "Comedy became a thing, right when I started, and everybody wanted to be a comic, and so it was very hard to stand out from the crowd, unless you started doing your own show."

Which is what ended up happening to him, with "Politically Incorrect." "Comedy Central was new, they needed product, they asked me if I had any ideas for a show. Get four people from different walks of life, with different ideologies, different levels of intellectual quotient, and put it together as a delightful trainwreck."