JESSICA BIZIK: I’m so happy to meet the man I spend every Friday night with.
BILL MAHER: What a sweet thing to say. Thank you.
JB: It’s great timing. This is our pot issue for Baltimore STYLE. The cover line is “Women on Weed: Who’s really smoking in Baltimore?” Do you perceive a difference in how men and women use pot or react to pot?
BM: That’s an interesting question. I’ve never seen it raised—and it piques the interest of a pothead like me. I certainly know that, putting gender aside, pot affects people differently. I’d break it down into three categories. Some people get sleepy or groggy. I know people who use pot as a sleeping pill. Other people get paranoid. That’s not good. Then about the other third get what I would call “high”—they get energetic. That’s me. Those are the people I think marijuana is really for, because it makes us think better, makes us creative. As for the gender issue, I’ll have to go through my back issues of “High Times” and try to find the answer for you. I’m intrigued.
JB: I love it. I was the paranoid sorority girl in college. Pot and I never really clicked, though people have suggested I try it again now, that it would be good for my brain.
BM: That may be true, but not every drug is for every person. It’s just body chemistry. If it agrees with you, great. If it doesn’t, I wouldn’t force it. How many times did you smoke in college?
JB: Hmmmm…maybe seven or eight? Maybe even 10?
BM: Yeah. That’s probably enough to know. Pot typically doesn’t work the first couple of times someone uses it. They don’t even get high. But if you smoked it 10 times, you probably know how it treats you—and I don’t think that’s going to change.
JB: I do remember one great experience when I got high at a party and laughed my ass off for hours with my best guy friends.
BM: Then give it another shot. You never know. Do it in a safe environment with people you trust. It’s not like you’re dropping acid for crying out loud.
JB: There’s a New York magazine profile where the writer calls you a “cynical stoner.” Do you really consider yourself a cynic? I don’t believe it.
BM: It depends on how you define cynic, right? Oscar Wilde had the best one I ever heard. He said, “A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” If you’re talking about that kind of cynic, that’s not me.
JB: Right, definitely not.
BM: If I was a true cynic I’d probably quit what I’m doing. I would throw up my hands. Give up hope. I wouldn’t think I could improve my country—or that it mattered if I spoke out. Obviously I still have a great passion for doing that.
I don’t really need to keep doing my show—and I certainly don’t need to get on planes and go and do stand-up; I just like it. I like trying to affect the debate while being funny. That’s always No. 1.
I love making people laugh.
JB: Comedy that “nibbles around the edge of activism,” you called it in The Washington Post.
BM: But I do think one of the problems in this country is that we’re not cynical enough. In fact, I once did a special called “Be More Cynical.” I think America’s big problem is that we’re under-educated, we’re naïve and we’re too easily fooled because we just don’t know enough.
I think politicians can say anything because people don’t really know anything. When they ask these Republicans about ISIS they say things like, “Well, I’d take them out!” What does that even mean, “You’d take them out?” That just works on people because they don’t read about ISIS and don’t really know what’s going on there.
JB: We Baltimoreans were emotional after the riots—and I felt like you did a good job of mentioning us in your monologue even if it stung a bit.
BM: What was the joke?
JB: And there it is…the minute Bill Maher puts me on the spot…and my mind goes blank.
BM: It couldn’t have been that traumatic if you can’t even remember what it was.
JB: Maybe that’s why I can’t remember it, Bill.
BM: [Laughs] Yes, you blocked it out. It was like being molested by an uncle!
JB: But, seriously, how do you know when a joke goes too far, too soon? Or, as long as it’s true and funny, is that all that matters?
BM: Yes, that’s it. I’ve been fired. They can’t do anything more than that to me. I wound up at a better place. Not only with a better network, and a show that I like doing more, but with a stronger bond with my audience, which is what’s most important to me. The audience can still disagree with me—and they do—because I’m not pandering to them. I’m not lying to them. I’m pretty much the only guy on TV who’s not afraid to say things that make my own audience boo me.
JB: You’re generous with criticism on both sides of the aisle. I appreciate when you call out the Dems for sleeping at the wheel.
BM: Sometimes I just think Liberals go astray and forget what it really means to be a liberal. So I say how I really feel and take my lumps when I have to.
JB: You’re also pretty even-tempered. Though you had a hot minute a few weeks ago with Fareed Zakaria.
BM: That’s because Fareed turned it into a personal insult. He said, “You’re saying what you’re saying just to get a cheap laugh.” You know what? After 22 years of doing this and the kind of respect I have in this industry, that was just very wrong for him to say. He should know better. If I was really doing anything for a cheap laugh, I would have said to him, “You know, the next time you want to sell one of your plagiarized books, you can do it on another show,” because that came into my head. I didn’t say it because I don’t want to lower myself to that level; but I guess I just said it to you.
JB: I love when people from Maryland are on your show. Michael Steele always does a great job; Wes Moore was fantastic last year. Let’s see who else…oh, my all-time favorite, David Simon.
BM: Love him! Love his show. Fun guy. We’d love to have him back sometime.
JB: And, of course, John Waters.
BM: John Waters is a great friend. I went to see his Christmas show this year, that’s how much I love John. It’s a great show. Really funny. He’s actually a really good stand-up comedian, not just a guy playing at doing stand-up. We go back many years to my old show. He’s just one of those loose, funny, real people.
JB: If you could spend a million dollars to do anything other than put Elizabeth Warren in the White House, what would it be? [Note: Maher famously donated $1 million to an Obama Super PAC in 2012 and has promised to match it if Warren runs in 2016.]
BM: Well, if I could give a million dollars to figure out how to save the oceans, that’s what I would spend it on.
JB: Do you think Martin O’Malley could ever become president?
BM: You know what? The thing about Jeb and Hillary lately, they look very evitable. Jeb is having way more problems than Hillary. And I still think the odds are overwhelming that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee. But all it takes is one scandal. Look at Chris Christie. He was the golden boy, and now he’s completely out of it.
JB: True. It’s such a long election cycle.
BM: Anything can happen in politics. I tell you, every time I see Martin O’Malley, I’m impressed. This guy’s good. He can really handle it. It’s not this time, but he’s positioning himself. He’s not going away. I think he’ll get there someday.
JB: Very important question: I’m going on my first date ever with a Republican on Friday. Do you have any advice?
BM: Bring your pepper spray? They’re freaks. Look at Dennis Hastert. Crazy. They’re sexually repressed. I don’t know. Some of them are nice, but I’ve never really gotten that whole inter-party dating thing. I mean, I like to think I’ve helped to pioneer interracial dating…[laughs]
JB: Yes, I appreciate that!
BM: But I’ve just never understood the James Carville/Mary Matalin scenario. You can have fun with someone, sure. I have wonderful friends. Ann Coulter is my friend; but I would never date her. Amy Holmes is my friend, and she’s beautiful; but we’ve never dated. I just think if you’re looking for a serious relationship, you have to have the same morality. I come from two Liberal parents who agreed on politics. They were compassionate people. They were Liberals. I just don’t get being with a Conservative if you feel that way.
JB: I know, I feel the same. But this guy has such a good face!
BM: Yeah? Then give him a try. Maybe you can flip him.
JB: I’ll flip that district!
BM: Flip his district. That’s just great.
JB: I know your PR rep is probably looking at her watch right about now, but I loved chatting with you. See you in July.
BM: Yes, I’m sorry we have to go, this was fun. Good luck on your date. Give the guy my best!
>> See Bill Maher at The Lyric on July 11. Tickets, $65-$75. http://lyricoperahouse.com