Originally created 07/01/06

Bill Maher takes politics to the Web



LOS ANGELES - Bill Maher has built a career ripping the status quo.

His "Politically Incorrect" program, which started on Comedy Central before capturing a network audience on ABC, earned 18 Emmy nominations during its run from 1993 to 2002.

The following year, Maher was back with another show that blends pop culture and politics: HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."

Earlier this month, the comedian made his Internet programming debut with "Amazon Fishbowl with Bill Maher," a 30-minute weekly TV-style show that airs on Amazon.com.

"It's kind of an odd choice because I'm not the most tech-savvy person in the world," said Maher, 50. "This is the future and I'm glad they're inviting me to lead the parade."

He says his Internet audience likely overlaps with "Real Time" fans.

"It seems to be a smattering of everybody," he says.

Maher talked with The Associated Press about the current political climate and where he thinks the country is heading.

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AP: Who is going to be the next president?

Maher: That's the $64,000 question, isn't it? My guess would be Al Gore.

AP: And who should be the next president?

Maher: Al Gore. And I'm not the biggest fan. If he would just do what he didn't do in 2000, that is, talk about what he really cares about, then I think he would be the right man for the job. I think the country is so off the track and that's now recognized by the vast majority of Americans. They probably, in the next election, will just take stock and say to themselves, "Last time we voted for the guy we wanted to have a beer with. That didn't work out so well."

AP: How much do you think Ralph Nader is to blame for the current political situation?

Maher: I don't blame Ralph Nader at all. Please. The people who are to blame are the Democrats for not having the Ralph Nader platform. Ralph Nader is right. I would welcome the Democratic Party co-opting Ralph Nader instead of blaming Ralph Nader. Ralph Nader's big issue is that America, our democracy, is being slowly strangled by the influence of corporations and lobbyists and money in politics. And that is the root of all our problems. Nothing in this country ever gets done without somebody getting paid off. Everybody talks about how everything changed after 9/11. No, nothing really changed after 9/11. We don't really have adequate protection of the homeland because it's still a matter of pork-barrel politics.

AP: What do you mean?

Maher: Our chemical plants, our nuclear plants, are completely unguarded. Why? Because the chemical industry makes massive contributions to certain politicians. And when a bill comes up that asks the federal government to take over the protection of those plants, they shoot it down because they're paid off to do so.

AP: Isn't that politics-as-usual?

Maher: You would think that it would be suspended in this one most vital, important matter. You would think that after 9/11 when everything was supposed to change, these guys would get together and say, "OK, we're a bunch of crooks on every other day of the week, but business as usual really cannot go on when it comes to defending our very homeland against the possibility of a terrorist attack that could be on the nuclear level." You'd think that that would make them pause. But it didn't.

AP: Is that problem insolvable?

Maher: It can be fixed. We've tried somewhat with campaign finance reform but they've found a lot of ways around that. The entry fee into the presidential election in 2008 is something like $200 million. If you don't have $200 million, you can't even think about mounting a campaign. Now if you have to get $200 million to run, you're going to have to sell yourself to a lot of people, to a lot of corporations. Why hasn't President Bush ever done anything about the fact that we're slowly dying from global warming? Because he gets his money from the oil companies. He and Dick Cheney are oil people.

AP: Is there anything good you can say about President Bush?

Maher: (Laughs.) Hmmm. Well, he's spent a lot more money on combatting AIDS in Africa than his predecessor did. And... hmmm... That's about it.

AP: Are you hopeful when you think about the future of the country?

Maher: Not really. First of all, as many climate scientists have pointed out, we are reaching what they call a "tipping point" on the environment, that is, a point after which we can't fix it, because it's gone that far wrong. So I do expect to see cataclysmic weather problems in my lifetime. I do. We're also so far in debt that I don't know how we're ever going to dig out of that problem.

AP: How do you use this material to get laughs?

Maher: People need to laugh all the more when things are bleak.

AP: What do you do like to do with your down time?

Maher: I love my home, I have a great home. I travel a lot doing standup, so I would say that's my great love. When I'm at home, I love to sit around, read, watch movies. Just regular stuff.