Late-night TV’s most popular equal-opportunity offender, Bill Maher, is coming back to Kingston this Saturday for an evening of sociopolitical satire that will make various segments of his audience laugh, applaud and feel uncomfortable or even outraged by turns, but will certainly make everyone think. But what will he do without a panel of pundits of varying viewpoints to squabble intelligently with?
After 12 years as the host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and nine years prior to that as the host of Politically Incorrect on Comedy Central and then ABC, it’s easy to forget that Maher got his start in standup comedy and knows how to fly solo. Indeed, some who dislike his propensity for talking over his talk-show guests would argue that pontificating is what the guy enjoys best, so he should be in his element onstage at the Ulster Performing Arts Center.
Presumably much of the content of the show will be determined by the headlines of the week preceding, like an extended version of the traditional opening monologue on his TV show. But one can probably also expect some well-rehearsed set pieces of perennial relevance on hot-button topics like religion(s) and the American health care system where he is (in)famously opinionated. People on the rightmost end of the political spectrum tend to typecast Maher as a lefty extremist, but the truth is that the guy is tough to pin down: He’s a board member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who is also a gun-owner; antiwar but pro-capital punishment; avowedly pro-science in debates over such issues as evolution and global warming, but aligned with the anti-vaccine crowd. He vigorously champions free speech but does not suffer foolish talk gladly.
Labels like left-winger, liberal, libertarian or atheist simply fail to capture the fluidity of Maher’s points of view. He may not sound like he’s listening to his guests a lot of the time, but clearly he’s voraciously taking in a boatload of information from many sources and angles and processing it constantly. The man eats controversy for breakfast and continuously excretes well-reasoned verbal barbs that spare no one. If you enjoy watching a sharp mind at work, making light of all that is dark, ugly, repressive and terrifying in the modern world, this evening of satire may just be for you. And if your brand of comedy is the kind that’s shocking because it’s about ideas and issues and not merely for shock’s sake, then this definitely is.
This evening with Bill Maher at UPAC begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 6. Ticket prices range from $54 to $89 based on location, and can be purchased at the UPAC box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; or via TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000.
Bill Maher, Saturday, June 6, 8 p.m., $54-$89, Ulster Performing Arts Center, 601 Broadway, Kingston; (845) 339-6088, www.bardavon.org.