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A CurtainUp Review

Bill Maher: Victory Begins at Home
By Jerry Weinstein

I wish we had school shootings in my high school.
--- Bill Maher
Bill Maher
Bill Maher
(Photo: Bruce Gilkas )
In 1993 Comedy Central, a then-fledging cable network, launched Politically Incorrect. The thirty-minute roundtable was the brainchild of standup comedian Bill Maher who maintained a roster of rotating ideologues from Arianna Huffington to B-1 Bob Dornan, mixing it up on issues of the day with such entertainers as Tim Robbins and Jeanine Garofalo. Critical acclaim trumped obscure ratings and ABC came calling in 1997. They offered him an appealing timeslot, immediately following Nightline.

Flash forward to September 17, 2001. On that evening’s telecast Maher upended conventional wisdom that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center had been perpetrated by cowards. He offered, "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly." The next week, at his daily White House briefing, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was asked to comment on Maher’s musings. Fleischer took Maher to the mat and suggested that his remarks illustrated that "Americans need to watch what they say." Nine months later, the show was unceremoniously cancelled.

If, as Tom Lehrer, once famously observed, "Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize Peace," no one told Bill Maher. After sitting out the fall season, Maher came back with a vengeance. He struck a deal with HBO – where he has done five comedy specials --and Real Time with Bill Maher premiered in February of 2003.

Sensitive to lambasting that he himself was unpatriotic, Maher found himself looking back at the propaganda posters of WW2. He saw that sacrifice was a thread throughout many of the posters. One poster in particular, "When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler," became the inspiration for his new book, When you ride Alone, you ride with Bin Laden. Maher’s new show, Victory Begins At Home, is a stand-up companion to the book, featuring thirty posters that re-cast the posters of WW2 to the War on Terrorism.

The Virginia Theater is a fitting platform for Maher's ninety minutes plus monologue. The stage is intimate enough not to swallow him and when I attended the theater itself held a crowd that reflected New York’s melting pot –- college kids and Sixties activists, dowagers and people of color.

Maher is an equal-opportunity offender. While he is quick to recognize that Attorney General Ashcroft is a scary guy – Patriot Act notwithstanding – he unironically observed that "isn’t it a good thing that he’s on our side?" His routine is often a scold, but he admonishes the American public as much as our elected politicos with equanimity. When it was discovered that Vice President Cheney’s utility bills exceeded tens of thousands, Cheney defended his actions, insisting that Americans needn’t worry about conserving energy. In a sense, Cheney was reflecting Realpolitik, after all we are a nation of SUV freewheeling Americans, and carpooling is an artifact of the Carter "don’t be fuelish" Years. The Toyota Prius-driving Maher maintains that only by ending our one-hundred year romance with the internal combustion engine can we become truly free of our geopolitical energy addiction.

While drawing applause on his stand that minimum wage is a "sham," the comedian drew stares and boos when he attempted to position his case on boycotting diamonds as a gendered issue. True, diamond mines do fund terrorism, but it’s painting with a broad brush to suggest that women’s hunger for diamonds is akin to "leeches to blood." When Maher summed up this nation’s fundamental problem as having become too "feminized," this reviewer couldn’t quite differentiate his view from that of right-wing darling Rush Limbaugh, who added "FemiNazis" to the lexicon.

Maher is brave enough to offer up a Q&A following the show. I watched two dozen theatergoers lining up before mikes scattered throughout the auditorium. One elder heckler rebuked Maher’s misogyny. " Your problem is that your world revolves around your dick." His retort to this: "I have a feeling yours is bigger." Perhaps had she not subscribed to the Michael Moore school of public speaking, a meaningful dialogue might have ensued. To wit, it was Germaine Greer who said, "The opposite of the patriarchy is not maternity; it is fraternity."

Recently, President Bush put out a call to the American Public to contact their congressmen and voice their support for tax cuts. Taking a page from Maher’s mantra, "Tell Them in Washington," he might be caught off-guard by what they have to say. Whether holding forth on racial profiling, the Drug War, the hypocrisy of both major political parties, the Jack Daniels and Coke-sipping Bill Maher fills a void where political satire and dissent are concerned. On a stage bedecked with Post No Bills, Maher –wrong or right – is fearless and uncensored.

If Victory Begins At Home has whet your appetite for more of Maher's wit and wisdom, you might want to click to our bookstore for a copy of When You Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Laden

Bill Maher: Victory Begins at Home
Written by BILL MAHER

Scenic and Lighting Design: Peter R. Feuchtwanger
Sound Design: Jill B.C. DuBoff
Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission
Virginia Theater, 245 West 52nd Street 212-239-6200
4/29/03-5/18/03; opening 5/04/03.
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm, 7:30pm --$40 - $70
Reviewed by Jerry Weinstein based on a May 2nd press performance.

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