About 20 minutes into Bill Maher's new stand-up comedy special, But I'm Not Wrong, the notoriously leftist comedian gets to the topic of religion. As he does so, he warns the crowd that it is about to happen, because apparently this is the point where people in the audience still walk out. Maher is as baffled by that as anyone, since he figures most everyone should have gotten the memo by now that he has some pretty strong opinions on the topic. He made a movie about it, after all, the very funny and underrated Religulous. And yet....
I have the same feeling writing this review. Doesn't everyone know what we're going to get from Bill Maher? If you're reading this, I assume you are basically in his camp. It would amaze me if you actually clicked on the link to find out if he's seen the light. If so, no, he has not. You'd best go seek your comedy elsewhere.
For those of you sticking around, But I'm Not Wrong is another 80 minutes of topical humor from the comedian. Recorded earlier this year in Raleigh, North Carolina, in front of an enthusiastic audience, it's a stand-up special with teeth. Maher waxes sardonic on topics that include Barack Obama, the economy, sex, Michael Jackson, and the general messed-up way of thinking that often derails the United States, be it on Main Street, Wall Street, or Washington. And yes, he spends a good amount of time in the middle kicking religion around, questioning how so many let it not just run their lives, but ruin them. It's strong stuff, but again, what were you expecting?
Maher isn't really a "bit" guy, and though there are punchlines throughout But I'm Not Wrong, this special is more like one extended monologue than a collection of routines. Maher is playing commentator and raconteur, working his way from point to point naturally, ruminating on the state of politics and the general health of the American psyche. There are a few belly laughs along the way, mostly swipes at Sarah Palin and George Bush, as well as a riff on the idea of Barack Obama having a more traditional celebrity entourage, but for the most part, the humor comes from a cathartic place. As with Maher's HBO talk show, Real Time, there's relief to be had from having someone out there saying what we believe needs to be said. You may laugh to keep from crying, but it feels good either way.
Regular viewers of Real Time will recognize some of the jokes here, but most comedians try out their material on other people's talk shows, why knock Maher for doing it on his own? Most of the writing is successful, particularly when it's about the writing and not about onstage antics. Maher is not much of a physical comedian, and I am not sure which is more uncomfortable, watching him pantomime Eliot Spitzer having sex or dancing in his approximation of a rap routine, but that kind of thing is thankfully limited. Most of his satirical topics are still relevant, even though the special was filmed more than six months ago--either testament to Maher's prescience or to the slowness with which change occurs in this world. The only segment that falls completely flat is the encore, where Maher puts on what he calls the "Muslim Dior Fashion Show." Just knowing the concept, you can probably write this segment yourself. Feel free to stop the DVD when the comedian first leaves the stage.
English Closed Captioning is available, as well.