I don't find Bill Maher's newest comedy special very funny, but I do find it terribly interesting.
Maher has put out this, his newest hourlong special, not on HBO (where most of his previous stand-up specials, as well as his current talk show Real Time with Bill Maher, have aired) but instead streaming live at Yahoo.com. It's maybe a surprising move for a comic from an older generation of comics (Maher is 56 year old), but it seems fitting for Maher, who has spent years doing his own thing in the cable hinterlands after losing his network show in the wake of 9-11. And he'd be the first to tell you: He's already rich, and this seemed like a cool idea.
The material covered in this hour is pretty standard fare for Mare, as he takes predictable potshots at most of the figures from this year's political campaign season, as well as some of the easier religious and cultural targets. It's basically a greatest hits from his recent monologues , told to an adoring crowd that eats it all up. But something interesting happened in the middle there: Bill Maher announced that he was donating a million dollars to Barack Obama's reelection super PAC. Yes, with an over-sized check and everything.
Maher is positioning himself as not only in line with a specific political idealogy, but making a very real and aggressively open investment in his ideology by placing it in direct competition with the other side's dollar. It will be fascinating to see how he plays out his arguments in future shows, where dismissal of Maher's "ivory tower, Hollywood-elite" persona can't really be applied without reservation. If speech is money, Maher made a very loud statement. Not of the type of statement being toyed with by Stephen Colbert's own super Pac, which is the sort of system-gaming intended to highlight the joke underlying it all.
Rather, Maher wanted the personal satisfaction of being able to back up his barbs in the same way that conservative billionaires have been doing since the "Citizens United" ruling by the Supreme Court. In the process, Maher has positioned himself as less of a comedian and more of a direct agitator, a role that's perfectly suited for his day job as a TV personality. In the process, comedy specials like CrazyStupidPolitics will continue to have less relevance as works of humor, but perhaps more relevance as moments documenting one side of an ongoing culture war.
(CrazyStupidPolitics is available for free exclusively on Yahoo!)