Bill Maher has been a divisive voice on the nation's airwaves for a while now. He's weathered quite a few political storms, been excoriated for some of the things he's said, and yet always comes back with opinions just as strong immediately after. I don't always agree with him, but I respect his guts. He's also usually pretty damn funny, finding even the tiniest nugget of humor in the least humorous of situations.
Maher has a regular cable talk show where he debates politics and delivers satirical observations about what happened in the world during a given week, so his allegiances are pretty well advertised at this point. Thus, you'd have to really not be paying attention not to know that his latest HBO stand-up special, Bill Maher: The Decider, is going to be an hour of unfiltered opinion about the Bush administration--most of it negative. This comedy monologue is not for the weak of political heart. Even died-in-the-organically-grown-wool liberals are probably going to be offended once or twice, and the conservative Republicans reading this review must be doing so out of some kind of morbid curiosity. There's a part of me that wants to drop this DVD into the Christmas stockings of all of the right-wingers I know, but I'm not sure the sick thrill of the prank is worth them never talking to me again.
Filmed earlier this year in Boston, Maher shares his views on a variety of current scandals, usually finding a way to place the blame at those most deserving of feet, the ones belonging to George W. Bush. The comedian's foul-mouthed diatribes often veer off in directions you wouldn't expect, unbending the twisted logic that seems to run all through the current U.S. administration and exposing the truth these idiotic thought-pretzels obscure. Though there is a laugh-out-loud punchline that should really make you laugh out loud just about every five minutes, most of Bill's material inspires more of a ponderous reaction. It's the kind of funny that makes you wonder how a situation could be so stupid and yet no one really see it for what it is.
Maher makes no bones about what bugs him. Religion, self-interest, and even relationships eat the buckshot of his comedy. The hour whizzes by at a pretty fast clip, and Maher stays on his game for the full time. The Decider is not going to be one of those classic stand-up performances that people are talking about decades from now. It doesn't have enough jokes that stick around and inspire repetition in the viewer, and it's also so topical that its shelf-life could prove to be pretty short. Given that Maher has some predictions for the 2008 election, it could be out of date within the year. Fingers crossed that it's out of date because he's wrong, or Maher's next special will be all about President Giuliani.
Even so, for a commentator talking about the here and now, Bill Maher: The Decider is right on the money. Listening to what he had to say made me wish there were more people out there dishing the dirt with this kind of incisive bravery and wit. Maybe then guys like Bill would finally run out of material. Sure, the world would be a lot less funny, but there'd be a lot less pain and frustration, as well.
Bill Maher: The Decider was shot at 16:9 and put on DVD as an anamorphic widescreen transfer. It's nicely done, no glitches, a solid program.
This disc has a stereo sound mix and a Closed Captioning option.
A nine-minute encore called "Bill Maher Finds a Purpose in Life" features Maher reading from two chapters of the Rick Warren religious book A Purpose-Driven Life and tearing its nonexistent logic to shreds.
Recommended. This really can only go two ways. You're going to find Bill Maher: The Decider funny or you won't, and how that swings for you depends very heavily on your political views. If you found yourself reading this review and wanting to dash off an angry e-mail to me for the very minor things I said about Bush or Giuliani, then you probably don't want to bother with this disc. (You also don't need to bother with the e-mail. Trust me, I've heard it.) If, however, you find yourself increasingly frustrated with the direction in which American life is heading and wish someone would just cry foul and be done with it, then your decision is clear--check out Bill Maher: The Decider!
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.