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Sun November 20, 2011
Author Interviews

Bill Maher Lays Down The (Mostly Silly) Law

Originally published on Sun November 20, 2011 6:32 pm

Comedian Bill Maher wraps up every installment of his TV show, Real Time, with a segment called "New Rules." That's where he takes potshots at whatever's bothering him — from wrappers on ice cream cones, to red light cameras, to more serious subjects like war and economic ruin.

His new book, The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody But Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass, sports a title we can't say on the radio and a mix of rules both lighthearted and serious, some of which never appeared on television.

"I would say, for people who have been following what I do for a long time, this is one of the more silly things," Maher tells weekends on All Things Considered host Laura Sullivan.

For example, the book kicks off with this new rule: "If you tweet neat stuff about your life for your friends to read more than 10 times a day, I can tell you a neat fact about your friends. They hate you."

But it's not all fluff. The book also contains longer, more heartfelt editorial essays. "The editorial is something I hope people take away with and go, 'Oh, you know what, that's something I was thinking, and he really crystallized it,'" Maher says.

Maher says he gets very passionate about the editorials. "I'm Irish, you know. Irish people get mad at anything, and the country is real screwed up, and it's a shame."

"Many of us think things are so off track, and that there are so many greedy, selfish people who have hijacked what was good about this country," he says. "We're No. 1 in meth labs and fat toddlers. The things we're No. 1 at are mostly not good things."

One editorial, from 2005, was remarkably prescient about the housing crash. What's surprising about that, Maher says, is that the essay came from a comedian and not an economist. "I don't think it was that hard to see that there was a bubble," he says.

The rules and essays are arranged only by alphabetical order. Maher says he and his writers thought about categorizing them, or coming up with some kind of organizational scheme, but in the end they decided it was much more fun to be random.

"You know, you'll have one that's sort of about a serious topic, and you'll follow that up with one about how, you know, stop calling bagpipes a musical instrument," he says.

"Bagpipes are not a musical instrument; they're a Scottish breathalyzer test," he adds. "You blow in one end, and if the sound that comes out the other end doesn't make you want to kill yourself, you're not drunk enough."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REAL TIME")

BILL MAHER: New rules. If you get to send me a ticket with a photo of me running a red light, I get to pay that ticket with a photo of me writing a check.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SULLIVAN: That's comedian Bill Maher wrapping up another installment of his show "Real Time." Every show ends with a segment called "New Rules" where Maher takes a moment to talk about what's bugging him from the inane to national issues that affect all of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REAL TIME")

MAHER: New rule. I don't need a paper wrapper on my ice cream cone. The ice cream cone isn't a cone, you see? That's the wrapper.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REAL TIME")

MAHER: And finally, new rule. As long as we've got three wars going, America needs to add one more, a class war.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SULLIVAN: His new book is a collection of some rules from the show and some that never made it on the air. It's called "The New New Rules: a Funny Look at How Everybody But Me Has Their Head Up Their..." you know what. And Bill Maher joins us now. And thank you so much, Bill, for naming your book something we can't even say on NPR.

MAHER: I am a bad boy, aren't I?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MAHER: Sorry.

SULLIVAN: Well, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MAHER: Great to be here. I listen to it all the time.

SULLIVAN: So I'm going to open the book to a random page and just read one: Bring back lamps where the switch is on the actual lamp and not three feet down on the cord.

MAHER: You picked the one that makes me sound like Andy Rooney...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SULLIVAN: I think I did, didn't I?

MAHER: ...you know? I don't know how you did that. It's a big, thick joke book. You know, I would say for people who have been following what I do for a long time, this is one of the more silly things. I don't think I'm probably known as Mr. Silly like some comedians are. But there's some really silly stuff in this book.

SULLIVAN: Some of these titles that - of the rules you have, most of them are puns, and some of them are pretty complex puns. Like, there's a rule about topography titled "I Shot the Serif." I mean, do you come up with these yourself, or does someone else do it?

MAHER: You know that's funny you ask about that because that is the one thing - I'm kind of a micro-manager, you know? I'm kind of a perfectionist, so I tend to like, stick my hand in every single aspect of "Real Time," but not that. That is the one thing I let my writers do. I hate puns. I don't like them. I never read them. The first time I ever saw any of these puns was when I was editing this book.

SULLIVAN: Oh, you're kidding.

MAHER: Yeah. I mean, this book, I mean, besides the "New Rules," it has a lot of our longer essays which were done on this show.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Let's talk about the longer essays.

MAHER: Okay.

SULLIVAN: In the intro of the book, you write about these long editorial pieces: Please don't read this part of the book on the toilet or you'll break it apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SULLIVAN: I mean, so much of this book is funny. Is this the part that you want people to take seriously?

MAHER: Well, I hope they find this funny too. I mean, we always try to make those funny. But, yes, the last new rule we do on the show is always what we call the editorial. And it's something that is trying to make a deeper, more salient point whereas the rules can be about anything. They can be about Kim Kardashian or Lindsey Lohan or the latest, you know, Axe Body Spray ad or something.

We try to, you know, make a lot of them about politics and what's going on. But the editorial is something I hope people take away with and go, oh, you know what? That's something that I was kind of thinking and he really crystallized it and said it the way I would like to say it, and I agree with that, and thank God somebody's saying that. So that's what I try to do in those.

SULLIVAN: How much emotion is going into some of these essays? Because some of these - just from reading them, and from seeing them on your show, you seem very passionate about.

MAHER: I am. I'm Irish, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MAHER: Irish people get mad at anything. And the country is real screwed up, and it's a shame, especially for people who are as old as I am now and remember when it was, as Burt Lancaster said in the movie "Atlantic City," this used to be a pretty good country.

And, you know, it still, I guess, could be again, but I think many of us think things are so offtrack and that there are so many greedy, selfish people who hijacked what was good about this country. And when I hear the Republicans railing on as they do about America and exceptionalism, they, you know, they're very obsessed with the idea that Obama will not say American exceptionalism.

Well, you know what's exceptional about America, unfortunately, is, you know, we're the only advanced nation that doesn't have healthcare. We're number one in income inequality. We are the nation that throws the highest percentage of our own people into prison. We're number one in debt. We're number one in military expenditures. We're number one in meth labs and fat toddlers. You know, the things we're number one in these days are mostly not good things.

SULLIVAN: In one of those editorials from 2005, the opening line is: Not to burst your bubble, but all bubbles burst. I was stunned when I was reading it because I looked at the date, and I thought 2005? I mean, you pretty much predicted the housing bust.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REAL TIME")

MAHER: But it won't be funny when the bubble bursts and people start going bankrupt, taking banks down with them, and then the markets and then the dollar.

SULLIVAN: I mean, this was before anybody was talking about this.

MAHER: I think what's surprising is that, you know, this comes from a comedian and not an economist, because I don't think it was that hard to see that there was a bubble. You know, for the longest time, people just bought houses for, you know, $250,000 or something and then they put in recessed lighting and said it is now worth $1 million. And the banks went right along with that and cosigned it and, you know, people used their houses basically as ATMs.

SULLIVAN: Is there a theme in general for all of your rules? I mean, is there a basic trigger that makes you think...

MAHER: No. I think - that's what's - you know, we had our "New Rules" book out in 2005, and we did this one the same, but we considered for this book organizing it more, like gathering all the ones on gun control and putting those together and all the ones on taxes and all the ones on war. And then we thought, no. You know what's great about this? It's the randomness of it. It's just done by alphabetical order with those silly puns as the title and, you know, you'll have one that's sort of about a serious topic and then you'll follow that up with one about how, you know, stop calling bagpipes a musical instrument.

SULLIVAN: Why not?

MAHER: You want to know - do you want to know why?

SULLIVAN: Yes. I want to know why now. Why?

MAHER: Because bagpipes are not a musical instrument. They're a Scottish breathalyzer test. You blow in one end, and if the sound that comes out the other end doesn't make you want to kill yourself, you're not drunk enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MAHER: It's a very silly book.

SULLIVAN: Where are these ideas coming from?

MAHER: I've been doing standup comedy for almost 30 years and you get in the habit of remembering stuff. There are some comics who are good at deliberately writing. I've never been one of those, but I am pretty good at when something does strike me, I do write it down. And of course, it happens all day long. I mean, we're bombarded, you know, with facts and trivia and TV, billboards, stores.

And we live in that kind of a society where we're just constantly being, you know, reminded of stuff that's fodder for comedy. It's, like I say, a country that's going off the rails, but it's good for comics.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SULLIVAN: That's comedian Bill Maher, host of the show "Real Time." His newest book is called "The New New Rules." Thanks so much for coming in.

MAHER: Hey, what a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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