When comedian and left-leaning political pundit Bill Maher brings his stand-up act to Caesars Atlantic City this weekend, his primary goal will be to make an audience of about 1,500 people laugh for 90 minutes.
But hidden within his edgy humor, which has often been compared to the late George Carlin, will be Maher’s fight to protect and defend the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Several months ago, Maher refused to join a chorus of voices demanding that conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh be thrown off the air after he called a Georgetown University law school student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she said health insurance plans should cover contraceptives.
It’s not that Maher agreed with Limbaugh’s statements — quite the opposite, he was also offended by them — but he doesn’t feel someone should be deprived of their livelihood because they said something that offended others.
During an interview with ABC News, Maher, the host of the series Real Time on HBO, made it clear he wasn’t defending Limbaugh’s comments. But just because he said something offensive doesn’t mean he should be permanently silenced.
“Through it all, I have defended Rush’s right to stay on the air,” Maher said. “Not what he said, that was disgusting — but the right to not disappear because people who don’t even listen to you don’t like what you said. That really bothers me.”
Obviously, Maher isn’t a Limbaugh fan. But he is a fan of free speech. Without it, neither Maher nor Limbaugh would probably be employed in their current profession. He said he never listens to Limbaugh’s show “unless a guy in the next truck at a stop light has it on.
“It would be arrogant for me to say ‘he has to disappear’ and deprive the people who do listen to him of what they like,” Maher said. “We all have different tastes and different opinions, that’s America.”
Maher, 56, knows that some of his material might wander up to the line separating good comedy from bad taste, especially with his language. But the New Jersey native said audiences always let him know if he’s swimming into a dangerous current.
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