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Book excerpt: "What This Comedian Said Will Shock You" by Bill Maher

Simon & Schuster

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In his new book, "What This Comedian Said Will Shock You" (to be published May 21 by Simon & Schuster), Bill Maher, the opinionated host of HBO's "Real Time," rails hilariously against what he sees is wrong with America, from its culture wars to its political stagnation.

In the excerpt below, Maher 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.

Don't miss Robert Costa's interview with Bill Maher on "CBS Sunday Morning" May 12!

"What This Comedian Said Will Shock You" by Bill Maher

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The Past and the Furious

You can get creative with a novel, a TV show or a movie, but history books? That's not supposed to be fan fiction. How we teach our kids history has become a big controversy these days, with liberals accusing conservatives of wanting to whitewash the past—and sometimes that's true.

But the woke want to abuse to control the present, and in 2022 a scholar named James Sweet caught hell for calling them out for doing just that. He criticized a phenomenon known as "presentism," which means judging everyone in the past by the standards of the present; it's the belief that people who lived a hundred or five hundred or a thousand years ago really should have known better.

Which is so stupid—it's like getting mad at yourself today for not knowing what you know now when you were ten. Stupid me, spending all that time raising Sea-Monkeys and playing with slot cars and ogling old Playboys in the woods behind my house.

Who doesn't have moments from your past that make you cringe? Who hasn't said "I can't believe I said that, I can't believe I thought that, I can't believe I did that ..." You ate dirt, you wanted to be a Ghostbuster, you shoplifted gum, you tried to be a white breakdancer. You wanted to marry Scott Baio.

I did incredibly stupid things that of course I regret. I smoked. I was into numerology. And astrology. And Christianity. I read Hemingway.

Yes, because we hadn't yet grown into the persons we would become—and humanity writ large is just the collective version of that.

Did Columbus commit atrocities? Of course. But people back then were generally atrocious. Everybody who could afford one had a slave, including people of color in other parts of the world.

The way people talk about slavery these days, you'd think it was a uniquely American thing that we invented in 1619. But slavery throughout history has been the rule, not the exception: the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the British, the early Americans—all the way up through R. Kelly.

The Holy Bible is practically an owner's manual for slaveholders. The word "slave" comes from "Slav," because so many Slavic people were enslaved, and they're as white as the Hallmark Channel. Who do you think gathered the slaves from the interior of Africa to sell to slave traders? Africans, who also kept their own slaves. Humans are not good people. We're a species prone to making others of our species our bitch. And the capacity for cruelty is a human thing, not a white thing, even though that doesn't jibe with the current narrative.

But in today's world, when truth conflicts with narrative, it's the truth that has to apologize. Being woke is like a magic moral time machine, where you judge everybody against what you imagine you would have done in 1066, and you always win. Professor Sweet is right about presentism: it's just a way to congratulate yourself about being better than George Washington because you have a gay friend, and he didn't. But if he were alive today, he would, and if you were alive then, you wouldn't.

Portland Public Schools teach kids that the idea of gender being mainly binary was brought here by white colonizers. The curriculum guide says, "When the United States was colonized by white settlers, their views around gender were forced upon the people already living here."

Not even Star Trek would try that story, where they discover a planet and give them separate bathrooms. It's like they finally discovered a Unified Theory of Wokeness, incorporating all their ideas about race, gender and colonizers. Like the New World was a great big diverse dance club and the Pilgrims were the bridge-and-tunnel crowd who came in and ruined everything.

The play I, Joan was presented in London recently, written by Charlie Josephine, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. The play portrays Joan of Arc as—surprise—nonbinary with they/them pronouns. Which, if you think about it, makes even less sense because Joan, being French, spoke a language where every noun is masculine or feminine. Joan says in the play, "I'm not a girl. I don't fit that word," as if she's a character on Euphoria.

And while it's true Joan did wear pants, that's what the soldiers wore—and she was soldiering. But in the retelling, Joan would rather die than stop wearing men's clothing. But Joan of Arc wasn't executed by the fashion police—her trial went on for over two months, we have the transcript—and not once did she complain about being misgendered.

Which is not to say there isn't truth to the old rubric that history is written by the winners, and it is subjective. Napoleon said history is just a fable we all agree on. And he should know, because he was a deaf woman named Diane.

But it's also true that much of history is indisputably factual, because we have artifacts and coins and birth records and archaeology and somebody in Mesopotamia kept a record of how much grain they ate. It's not all up in the air to change or delete or reinvent based on what makes you feel better today.

A couple of years ago they made a movie called The Aeronauts about the scientists who broke the record for the highest altitude reached in a balloon. In fact, they were both men, but the movie made one of them a woman because, as the director explained, "representation is important." So true. Women never get enough credit for the things they didn't do. Meryl Streep should play Seabiscuit, so every girl will know she too can grow up to be a racehorse.

From "What This Comedian Said Will Shock You" by Bill Maher. Copyright © 2024 by Bill Maher Productions, Inc. Excerpted with permission by Simon & Schuster, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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