Bill Maher urges end to masks amid COVID-19 in Bay Area show

If there’s a comedian who can neutralize a troublemaker, it’s Bill Maher. His default tone is one of moderate exasperation, so he can pause to silence a hostile audience member without actually changing his vocal range. And there were more than a few outbursts during his show Saturday night at the Fox Theater in Oakland, prompting Maher to engage in his trademark fashion.

“Dad is working!” he said shortly before dropping his microphone on stage. “We can do a short show, or we can do a long show. I already have your money!

And later: “I don’t have this problem in the red states. How does that make you feel? What part of Kentucky are we in?

In the end, he did the long show. Always unafraid of controversy, the libertarian-leaning Maher is late-night TV’s contrarian curmudgeon, ever eager to infuriate doctrinaire liberals on by explicitly booking anti-left pundits like Bari Weiss or the Climate change skeptic and “men’s rights” activist Jordan Peterson on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” now 19 seasons.

Long chastised over perceived overreactions to COVID-19, Maher has recently flirted with support from increasingly militant segments of the anti-vaccine movement, such as the “Freedom Convoy” that is choking Canada. However, none of this appeared in the material of the evening, either because he perceived he was playing in front of progressive NorCal audiences, the presence of fiery hecklers gave him pause, or that he just didn’t have time to do it. Prepared for battle, the uncoordinated enemies of the house likely came away disappointed.

Masking was the subject he returned to again and again. It’s a timely enough topic — America is really on top of COVID at this point, from restrictions that come and go like the tide to Democratic office holders partying maskless in VIP boxes. The hypocrisy of the powerful is the honeypot of comedy, and the cantankerous jovial Maher brings recipes.

It’s the supposed infallibility of the experts that really drives him, especially the public health authorities. The “follow the science” maxim is flippant and crumbles even at the slightest scrutiny, as Maher sees it, and so he was there to pound it to bits, with everyday lines about trans fats and the anti drug. -tobacco now recalled Chantix, which was found to contain carcinogens. And if eating well is so important, then how come Donald Trump is still alive?

“Health is a mystery, he said. “Donald Trump didn’t age. We were doing.”

Above all, Maher has no patience with gassy liberal pieties, and if his philosophy could be summed up in one sentence, it would be: “The answer to bad speech is more speech.” It’s his pinned tweet, actually — and it sounds great until you realize that notion is liberal piety in and of itself.

It is also the starting point of Maher’s attacks against his real enemy, the one he hates even more than the N95s. It would be called cancel culture, a slippery term that covers a lot of ground, from JK Rowling to college groupthink to the tragic saga of Colin Kaepernick. Maher can’t help defending male celebrities (Garrison Keillor, Aziz Ansari) whose punishments, in his eyes, exceeded their crime.

This all might sound like white boomer type garbage. Or worse, that Maher is falling prey to the same dynamic that overtook Glenn Greenwald, in which intense criticism from fellow liberals pushes people into the arms of the right. But Maher’s criticism is not purely reactionary. At one point, he noted that future generations will probably judge us harshly for how we treat animals and the elderly, so maybe we should reduce our superiority regarding 15th-century slave owners.

“No matter how old you live, you’d be the same asshole,” he said. “You are no better. You just came later. You are the iPhone 11.

It was around this time that the rowdiness largely died down. Maher continued with a grumpy Jewish joke and a long riff about how much he hates tattoos, plus lots of evergreen material about weird things in the Bible that’s probably been ingrained in his sets since the late 1980s. But he received a lot of applause for calling on Democrats to legalize cannabis nationwide (“pot could be our weapon”) and for speaking out against the practice of slut-shaming. He hates Trump, but he hates Ted Cruz more.

One of the loudest rounds of applause, to put it mildly, was for transgender kids. Referring to the intense paranoia swirling around the subject, Maher said of a hypothetical cross-sex child: “At recess, he chose a pink toy. Cut his dick off! If I had the power to zap a dumb cliché from the lexicon of American English, this is the one I’d choose.

There were a few other puzzles, like the line about how glad he was to have been spanked when he was a kid. And he almost begged the public to never wear a mask outside again. But also irascible and self-satisfied, Maher is, if nothing else, consistently smart. If you want to enjoy his comedy, you’d better have more than a passing familiarity with, say, Opus Dei and Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas. His world-weary impatience with abuses of power appeals to me as a fellow Catholic educated fellow, and the brainy red meat he tosses to the crowd contains just enough populism. Hecklers aside, the audience seemed to agree, enjoying the passionate denunciation of liberal smugness from America’s most smug liberal.

About Dwaine Pinson

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