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Bill Maher on not pulling punches

Bill Maher on humor in politics: "Don't be tribal"
Bill Maher on humor in politics: "Don't be tribal" 07:12

If you catch yourself laughing at something Bill Maher has said lately on HBO's "Real Time," his Friday night perch for the past 21 years, just be careful: next time, the joke could be on you. No one is spared Maher's humor, or as he sees it, truth-telling – not the right ("If you're gonna turn over your party to a foreign power, at least pick the right one. Russia? Are you kidding? It's like the Republicans looked over all the companies they could merge with and picked Sears!"), nor the left ("You call yourself the resistance? Then fight behind enemy lines. That's what a 'resistance' does. That's the difference between blowing up a tank and tweeting about it. Get out of your echo chamber and infiltrate theirs!").

Comedian Bill Maher, host of HBO's "Real Time."  CBS News

Asked if you can make an audience laugh and think at the same time, Maher replied, "Totally, of course. The great thing about laughter is that it's involuntary, so if you laugh at something, something in you tells you that's true. It must be true; I laughed at it! Maybe I wasn't supposed to."

He said the throughline for everything he writes and says is, "Keep it real. Don't be tribal. Don't say something just because that's going to make the audience of one side applaud, or boo. Practical solutions as opposed to ideological. And don't pull a punch."

The 68-year-old Maher has been swinging at targets high and low his entire career, taking his own share of knocks along the way. But he still gladly courts controversy, as when he told the "Real Time" audience, "The right response to speech you don't like is more speech, not the lazy, cowardly response of 'canceling' people."

That attitude explains the title of his new book, "What This Comedian Said Will Shock You" (to be published May 21 by Simon & Schuster). It's compiled from years of Maher's commentaries on "Real Time."

Simon & Schuster

"I wanted to see if the world had changed or I had changed more," he said. "I was excavating, reading over all these editorials from years and years and years, and I wanted to find that answer. I speak for the normies. You know, I speak from that, I think, vast middle that is tired of the partisanship. I don't want to hate half the country, and I don't hate half the country."

Costa said, "You write a lot throughout this book that the left irritates you, frustrates you at times, but the right often alarms you?"

"Yes, they're very alarming!" Maher replied. "They're extremely alarming. More alarming."

But if he finds the right more alarming than the left, why not shine the spotlight on them only? "The truth isn't one-sided like that," Maher said. "The Democrats constantly are running against Trump with the idea, You people out there couldn't possibly vote for this guy. And people are saying, Watch me. Hold my beer. Watch me to vote for him again. Instead of just saying, Oh, he's lied. Like, we know he's a liar. He's Donald Trump! He can't help himself. He's crazy. I mean, I think literally crazy. I think there's a kind of a level of malignant narcissism, which is not just a personality quirk, it's diagnosable, and he suffers from it."

Costa asked, "If you had him on 'Real Time,' what would you ask him?"

"Would you please go away?" Maher laughed.

He said that Trump has been invited to be on the show: "Of course, we've asked everybody, I mean, of that stature. He knows he has an open invitation to come on, but I don't think he really hates me, because the amount of times that he goes after me."

"He watches the show," said Costa.

"Accidentally! It's always accidentally," Maher said. "He watches it 'accidentally' every week. It's amazing!"

In fact, conservatives don't shy away from "Real Time." Trump's Attorney General William Barr was a guest last year. Maher said the reaction from liberal circles "was exactly what I hate about this country: How dare you? How dare you platform somebody?

"So, you're going to have to talk to people, and maybe you'll find out that they're not the monsters you think they are. I mean, do I apologize for Bill Barr's (I thought) horrible behavior when the Mueller Report came out and he basically lied about it? I don't. But look, this is what I call a good-as-it-gets Republican. He came out and said Trump lost the election. That's the main thing in the Republican Party right now: Do you believe elections count only if you win?

"As good as it gets" could well be Maher's motto for politics, and for life – not wishing for what could be, but recognizing what he sees is real (and taking you on if you're not).

READ AN EXCERPT: "What This Comedian Said Will Shock You" by Bill Maher
The new book by the host of HBO's "Real Time" takes aim at those who brazenly invoke the standards of today to rewrite history in ways that even "Star Trek" would think go too far.  

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Story produced by Ed Forgotson and Robert Marston. Editor: Joseph Frandino. 

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