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'Because It's Austin! Why Wouldn't I?'

Bill Maher at the Moody Theater
Russ Espinoza, 12:30pm, Tue. Feb. 19, 2013
Courtesy of HBO
Bill Maher

Comedian, talk-show host, documentarian, and sociopolitical agitator Bill Maher is a ubiquitous entity in our infotainment age of Fox News and The Daily Show. In addition to tapping into his stand-up roots through touring, the leftist rabble-rouser is in his 11th season hosting HBO’s live roundtable, Real Time With Bill Maher.

To his credit as a leading voice of American liberalism – and one who chiefly takes aim at the absurd, hypocritical, and unjust through a satiric barrel – the 57-year-old Maher covets confrontation and looks undaunted and “smug” when airing his polarizing point of view on enemy turf: e.g., numerous appearances on The O’Reilly Factor, a prime-time battleground where few liberal politicians, scholars, and entertainers dare to set foot.

Maher’s stand-up performance on Saturday night at the Moody Theater was the first of a dispersed and informal 2013 tour of North America that’ll extend into July. Moments after the house lights dimmed and the beat to Real Time’s combative, hip-hop theme track dropped, Maher shared his agent’s naive puzzlement over why he’d elect to perform in Texas.

“Because it’s Austin!” Maher bellowed with the customary helpless laughter that attends his own punch lines. “Why wouldn’t I?!”

With popular support for gay marriage and legalization of marijuana trending nationwide, and the GOP base whitening with the pall of impending extinction, plus our re-election of a black president – for which Maher donated $1 million to a partisan SuperPac during the 2012 campaign – our national future appears to be morphing into, dare I say, the age of Maher; or, The Morning-After Pill in America.

The atheism thing, though, will have to wait until we’re all good and dead – so you can’t have it all, Bill.

Some prophetic hyperbole aside, Maher didn’t go off-book during the nearly hour and 45 minute performance atop the ACL Live stage: Having projected his characteristic, Carson-esque demeanor while gleefully and mercilessly mocking the left’s contemporary punching bags: Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin – all paragons of the strain of America that Maher and his fans consider stupid, greedy, holier-than-thou, racist, sexist, homophobic, and downright antiquated overall like a Fifties television patriarch.

Unlike Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert – who often cloak their comedic punditry in expert and calculated buffoonery and satire – Maher displays a caustic, erudite, and unfiltered condescension to the right that inflames his already infuriating rhetoric to the point of making him one of Red State America’s most reviled figures.

I felt their degree of disgust – though not for Maher himself. Instead, mine was for the dozen or so audience members and their quashed dreams of stardom who yelled jokes of their own or tried to steer Maher’s script in a different direction.

The lifelong performer and public figure who lives half his life in front of cameras and sold-out audiences – and gets paid handsomely for it – politely and jovially engaged most of them, taking the deferential yet unnecessary high road among thoroughly satisfied friends.

Maher later drew a wave of raucous applause and cheers by finally snapping back at one especially self-satisfied and ill-timed jackass with a startling, “Shut the fuck up!” Going on to icily break down – as though explaining to an insubordinate child – how “comedy is about timing” and that the joke he’d carefully crafted was thus ruined and taken off the table.

It was a beautifully raw moment – and despite another masterful and complete performance – the most gratifying snippet of the night for how it best epitomized the man they paid for: having proved once again that Maher is at his best when firing back in the presence of a dumb loser.

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