Billy, We Hardly Knew Ye
by Rusty W. Spell

I didn't come here to bury Bill Maher, but to praise him. Others have already buried him.

For someone like me who can't stomach "legitimate" news and discussion shows, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher was a perfect program. Bill Maher himself and the other hosts of comedy news shows (The Daily Show, for another perfectly great example) would say that what I'm doing is a bad thing: relying on their "fake" comedy presentations for news and discussion. I disagree with them. I think they are just as or more legit than "real" news shows. The Daily Show's commercials make fun of themselves by saying things like "other news programs are just so detailed and objective," but are they really? We've been aware of slants in the news for years, and since I have to choose a slant, I choose The Daily Show and Politically Incorrect.

Bill Maher may have survived if he had remained on Comedy Central (where The Daily Show still is), but being actually politically incorrect on a network (maybe especially ABC: a network owned by Disney who, for the past few years, have been revising their own history -- feature films, Disney World attractions, etc. -- to make themselves more politically correct) was bound to cause some trouble after a while.

He lasted a long time, almost a decade. But, as Bill Maher said many times, after September 11th 2001, people didn't want to hear too much truth anymore. They wanted to believe that our country was doing everything perfectly, including the president, and that to do anything less than hang flags from your gas-sucking SUVs was treason. It was, of course, at this time that we needed someone like Bill Maher the most. I know I did. I fell into the complacent trap myself for a while, possibly because it was too scary to think that everything was anything but taken care of. But where the "real" news programs were doing little but scaring us and speculating, at least Maher had some ideas: simple ideas that would work. The president wasn't asking for the American public to make any sacrifices or to do anything (except go shopping and travel--not exactly a tin and rubber drive or war bond), but at least a standup comedian was.

Around this period, and even more around the time that Maher got into the most trouble, I really grew to like Bill--maybe loved him, at least in the way you can love someone you haven't actually met. He wasn't some Rush Limbaugh figure who you could (and, according to Rush, should) just say "ditto" to everything that came out of his mouth. I didn't agree with everything that Maher said, and he wouldn't have wanted me to. But he always stirred my thinking and often made me concretely realize why I disagreed with him, or -- more often -- said things that I have believed all along but never heard anyone else on television say.

Nothing I'm saying here is new stuff for anyone who's followed the story or has watched the program. As I said at the beginning, I just want to praise Bill Maher for all the good he's done over the years. I also want to suggest that comedy news programs are just as serious and important (and, to me and others, more serious and important) as the "real media," and that Politically Incorrect was a good example of that. I was sad to see it go.

Copyright 5 Jul 2002 We Like Media.
You may email Rusty W. Spell.

Visit Bill Maher's Website.