REVIEW: Bill Maher laughs with us, at them

There was a time when Bill Maher’s jokes were so shocking, he had to warn the audience. “I’m about to start talking about religion,” he would say, “and it’s usually right about now that some of you get up to leave.”

But the guy used to star on a show called Politically Incorrect, too. These days, 30% of the public are agnostic humanists who think religious people and fearful right-wingers are just as batshit crazy as Maher does. And these days, his show is called Real Time.

So no one was walking out at the Jubilee Auditorium on Friday night, at what must have been  a dream gig for Maher: a show in Canada, where people are mostly politically aligned with him to start off with. They hooted, they clapped, they whistled near-unanimous approval for the pro-pot jokes, and for the most part, people laughed for two straight hours.

Maher’s fame has grown to the point where everyone’s already in on the joke. In fact, when he asked what people could possibly get from willfully forgoing objectivity, one woman politely chirped up from the second row “uh, nothing?”

His one concession to being in a different country was to note that compared to Mitt Romney, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the model of excitement; for the rest of the time, he was so thoroughly on page, he referred to “this country” in jokes about the nuts to the south of us.

Maher used to be more centrist – he’s still in favor of the death penalty or “basically anything that will get the freeway moving”, a line he’s been using since 2003 – but this show was a straight-up skewering of the republican right. He even made fun of NASCAR and joked about it being for people who like rednecks driving in circles WITHOUT resorting to the obvious “Boxing Day at Wal-Mart” punchline.

He noted unions are under assault from the right for their cost, while 1% of Americans control 98% of U.S. wealth. “But to Republicans, it’s those evil teachers and their fucking dental plan that is ruining this country.”

About a third of the show was lifted from his last U.S. tour and several jokes premiered during his show’s opening monologue, so if you’re a hardcore fan or had a memory for punch lines, there was some familiarity.

But for the most part, it was a love in. He did make one other concession to his Canadian audience, noting he wouldn’t have been able to donate $1-million to help re-elect Barack Obama without his audiences. “So in a way Edmonton, you’re helping with that. This is my ‘pay off my $1 million debt to help Obama get re-elected tour’. I couldn’t do it without you.”

Ah, but we knew that already. That’s why people go to a Bill Maher in show in Canada. We get to laugh with him, and at them.