A lazy, knee-jerk assumption about Bill Maher has long been that he is purposely divisive.
That’s never been his goal, and that’s not how he’s been able to remain a relevant standup comic for 40 years and an engaging television talk-show host for nearly three decades.
Trying to understand where a political side is coming from has always been built into Maher’s charm as a comedian and often gets lost in the blunt — and creatively profane — ways he shares his political and societal views on his longtime HBO series “Real Time.”
All of those ribald and brutally honest qualities were on display Saturday night during his 90-minute set at Texas Trust CU Theatre in Grand Prairie.
But unlike the strict confines of a television production, Maher had time for more nuance between his thoughts on just about every current, hot-button political topic for the approximately 1,500 in attendance.
He used that extra space to weave a theme of coexistence between the two political extremes that he expertly detailed, ridiculed, and dissected throughout the set.
“Everyone is welcome at my show,” he said early on, even the QAnon conspiracy theorist he has famously mocked. “I love my QAnon people. They believe Democrats both eat babies and are pedophiles. And I don’t think you can do both.”
That joke drew a snarl from at least one fan, who Maher quickly warned was in for a long night if that was already too much for them.
Someone being too easily offended? That was the other main theme of the evening.
“If that doesn’t happen, I’m not doing my job,” he said.
It was between those two ideas that Maher balanced the bulk of the evening.
On one hand, the woke left, led by over-educated youths, has hijacked every real and imagined social blight through history into a tangled knot of identity politics that has everyone afraid of saying the wrong thing.
“Abolish the police? Cancel Lincoln? Get rid of capitalism? Border control?
White supremacy has never been worse? Gender is always a matter of social construct?” Maher, 67, methodically ticked them off.
“No, I don’t get that. But it’s not because I’m old, it’s because your ideas are stupid,” he said to a roar of approval.
He drew a distinction between “old-school liberalism,” which he ascribes to, and wokeism. His most striking examples of the differences were on the topic of homelessness and race relations.
“Liberals always thought the compassionate thing to do was to get homeless people off the streets,” he said. “That’s not what the woke advocate for. They advocate their right to stay on the street forever.
“They think we should see color everywhere, first and foremost. Formerly, the position of the Ku Klux Klan.”
He pushed back at the notion from critics that he’s cherry-picking isolated incidents on the left after listing terms that are no longer acceptable — reservation, white paper, and master bedroom, for example.
“It’s not a few and it’s not fringe,” he said before describing recent stories in the Washington Post and The Atlantic that gave weight to what he perceives as wokeism gone awry.
He celebrated progress, in his view, such as the legalization of marijuana in nearly half the country.
“Things do change. I remember sweating bullets in every airport,” he said. “And now I can smoke in 43% of the country, and I will.”
He showed off his comedic chops throughout the show with surprising left turns and deadpan wordplay when he briefly strayed from politics.
He set up a huge laugh with a story about genuinely getting emotional during his first trip to a legal cannabis dispensary and his gratitude for the guy behind the counter.
“Thank you for opening this place and allowing me to feel like a free citizen. Participation in our hallowed democracy is now more complete,” Maher recalled saying to the sales clerk. “And he said, ‘Sir, this is a Baskin-Robbins.’”
He took aim at the far left for stifling free speech, for being too quick to support elementary-aged children undergoing gender-altering procedures, and for cringe-worthy celebrity apologies after they’ve put a foot in their mouth.
“If kids knew what they wanted to be at age 8 they’d all be cowboys and princesses,” he said. ”I wanted to be a pirate. Thank god they didn’t take me seriously or they would have scheduled me for eye removal and peg leg surgery. And bought me a parrot.”
Maher, famously a childless bachelor, also took devilish delight in castigating children being poorly parented and the perils of marriage.
His sharpest barbs, however, were saved for Donald Trump, who is facing a slew of legal problems around the country.
“That was the thing about Trump, almost too much material,” he said. “Presidents always have, like, one thing. Clinton was horny and Bush was stupid. But Trump was everything. He’s stupid and he’s crazy. And they’re two different things and he’s both. And he’s also horny, and he is racist, and he’s fat, and he’s hot for his daughter … it never ended.”
The laughter continued to build as Maher sharpened his focus on Trump, even for some vocal Trump supporters on hand.
“I work to a mixed audience politically and that’s the way it should be,” Maher acknowledged proudly. “We have to learn to sit together when we don’t agree.”
He predicted the 2024 presidential race will be a rematch between President Biden and Trump, to audible disappointment in the room.
“Nobody wants it but nobody is going to stop it from happening,” he argued. “I can’t wait for these debates between Trump and Biden. It’ll be the first debate closed-captioned for the participants.”
The brewing Hunter Biden scandal looks bad, Maher said, but it’s not in the same area code as the Jan. 6 insurrection scandal. In fact, this was one of the few topics that had no punchline.
“So if you think Biden isn’t president or Trump isn’t a criminal because he tried to stop [a fair election], you have zero credibility, you have no intellectual honesty, and you’re anything but a patriot,” Maher said with conviction. “You are not a patriot, you’re a hack.”
Maher closed by applauding the crowd for laughing together at the extremes and expressing hope that the differing political tribes could “at least agree that we are too tribal.”
“We sat together, we didn’t agree on everything, but we sat together, that’s how we win this country back,” he said. “This is a big country with lots of people who don’t think like you and they’re not going to and they’re not going to self-deport, and neither should you.”