In 2002 his comments implying that terrorists are brave helped prompt the cancellation of his ABC talk show, Politically Incorrect. Now Bill Maher, 50, delivers his piquant comedy on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher and Amazon Fishbowl with Bill Maher, which premiered last week and streams on Amazon.com The satirist talked with TIME's Rebecca Winters Keegan about his potential as a political candidate, the network news and what his parents taught him about God.
You describe yourself as a Libertarian. Is that even a political designation anymore? I don't know. There's no one in the Libertarian Party who breaks through, even to Ralph Nader status. I've always thought of it as allowing people to do anything they wanted to do as long as it doesn't hurt somebody else. Sometimes people say to me, "You're not a real Libertarian because Libertarians believe there should be no gun control." I'm not a radical Libertarian, O.K.? Every party has something of a big tent.
What are your fans' politics? They're mostly liberals. It's difficult to get a more balanced audience. We've tried. Conservatives are feeling under the gun right now. They're in a difficult position. They have twice championed a man who turned out not only to not be a conservative but to be not competent in any way. A lot of them are embarrassed and wish this Administration would go away.
Would you ever run for political office? I think religion is bad and drugs are good. Why don't you go find me a campaign manager?
Your dad was Catholic, your mom Jewish. Did growing up in an interfaith home influence your attitude toward religion? I didn't even know my mom was Jewish until I was 13. I was so traumatized by the Catholic experience that I never thought to ask, "Why doesn't Mom go to church?" Even though I may not have known I was the product of a mixed marriage, I definitely understood that dogma was not a good thing. If they had a dogma, it was that they were always on the side of the little man.
Where do you get your news? I'm not a cable person. I do watch the nightly news, but I switch back and forth 'cause I can't stand commercials for Gas-X.
Will you watch Katie Couric? I think she'll probably read the teleprompter the same way the others did. The evening news really only has one news segment now. I heard Elizabeth Vargas say the other night, "Is the U.S. planning a nuclear attack on Iran with nuclear weapons? We'll take a closer look." Usually it's "Is there a better way to lower your cholesterol?" These people used to complain that they only had 30 minutes. But obviously they don't really want to fill more than seven.
Your ABC show was canceled after advertisers complained about your comments on terrorists. Is it easier now to approach 9/11 as a comedian? I never stopped approaching it. I always had a huge amount of support from people who were fans of freethinking. You would think over the years that people would come up to me and stick a finger in my chest. But people who don't like you almost never come up to you. They might stare or snicker to their wives. Maybe they think I'm a tough guy. I am five-eight.