Well, there certainly was no shortage of national news for the host to dig into Friday on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher tonight. Writers likely had to scramble to update the monologue after word surfaced that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had wrapped his probe of Russian meddling the 2016 U.S. election and submitted his report to Attorney General William Barr.
That said, Maher opened his stand-up by noting that for liberals, the Mueller report being turned in “is like Christmas – if it was based on real events.” He then roasted cable news’ breathless non-analysis — “I just saw a graphic on MSNBC – ‘breaking speculation’” — and noted that, “Individual 1 is in deep number two.”
But the star of the show was midshow guest Larry Charles, whose many credits include Bruno, Borat, working as a staff writer on Seinfeld and directing Maher’s 2008 film Religulous. He reunited with the Real Time host to promote Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy. The four-part Netflix series sees Charles examining comedy around the world — from Russia, China and India to Iran, Nigeria, Somalia and more.
“We have taken our freedoms for granted,” Charles said of Americans. “I traveled to places like Somalia and Iraq that are in the midst of horrible wars … and those people are ready to fight and die for their freedom. And the comedians there have much higher stakes. It’s like here, you have a career path — you do a stand-up special, you do a sitcom, you get a show. In these countries, there’s no career path. It’s like, prison, torture or death.”
He added: “These people do [comedy] as a calling. They use laughter as a healing tool, and I learned that laughter is as crucial as breathing and eating and sleeping. Without laughter, the society would collapse on itself.”
Charles also noted the universality of the Show About Nothing. Charles told a story of having to cross back and forth between Israel and Palestine while filming his Netflix show. “Very difficult to do,” he said. “We got stopped constantly. I was pulled out of the car. I was told I had to drink my Diet Coke in front of them to make sure it wasn’t an explosive device. And then somebody whispered to the soldiers that I was with Seinfeld, and they were like, ‘Come on through!’ … Anywhere I went, they just dropped Seinfeld, and I got to go wherever I wanted to go.”
But Maher and Charles made sure to note that it’s not all smiles and grin when it comes to comedy in many parts of the world. “There’s been a number of assassinations among the comedians,” Charles said. Maher reiterated solemnly, “You can get assassinated for comedy.”
The host later got in a pretty good dig at Tinseltown. During “New Rules,” Maher brought up the 8-year-old homeless refugee from Nigeria who just won his class at the New York State Chess Championships. “Hollywood must give the movie that’s going to be made about this kid the Oscar right now.” After laughs, he added, “But first give Christian Bale the chance to get down to 45 pounds.”