Bill Maher: Facts About The Comedian And Talk Show Host

Bill Maher is one of those celebrities who's still incredibly successful, despite being a polarizing figure. While not all his comedy is political in nature, his current show "Real Time with Bill Maher" (and before that, "Politically Incorrect") mostly deals with politics, so the people who don't lean to the left as he does, generally don't like what he has to say.

This said, many who are highly critical of the talk show host also give him credit for having the courage to speak his mind and debate with people even if they strongly disagree with him. This includes Maher's willingness to go into the lion's den, as they say, and appear on conservative shows, which a good number of politically focused individuals are too cautious or afraid to do. This aspect of the comedian's character has certainly gotten him into trouble, especially in the not-too-distant past.

Controversies, though, aren't the only things that define the talented showman, and below are some facts about his life and career, both the good and the bad.

He didn't know he was half Jewish as a kid

Bill Maher was raised Catholic as a child, which, for his family, meant going to church every Sunday without debate. Even though he disliked the practice, for the most part, he remained silent about it all the way up to the point when his father suddenly stopped taking him and his sister right before his confirmation, as it was no longer the family's place of worship. Maher wasn't quite sure why his father made that decision, but it was good news, so he didn't care what the reason was.

Around that time as a preteen, he came to a somewhat shocking realization that simply had not occurred to him in all those years growing up. While his dad always went to church with the kids, his mother would stay home and he never even thought about why that was. Though the answer was revealed when his parents told him that she was Jewish, which also meant he was half-Jewish. 

When talking with Irish America Magazine, Maher described what it was like learning this about his family, saying, "I wouldn't say it was traumatic to find out, but what was more traumatic for me was that here I was, 13 years old, and I was just finding out this important thing about my family that I hadn't ever been told. It didn't bother me that she was Jewish; it bothered me that we didn't talk about it."

He's happy to have Irish heritage

Bill Maher may not have known of his Jewish heritage until his teenage years, but he has always been aware that he is Irish and is certainly glad that's the case. The comedian told Irish America Magazine, "It's silly to be especially proud that you're Irish, or Jewish, or Hungarian, but let's say I'm not ashamed to be Irish. I'm kind of glad, because I like a lot of the traits that I think I get from having Irish blood flowing in me." Maher considers Irish people to be both eloquent and poetic speakers, which he thinks is part of what made him successful on the stage.

Maher was so fascinated with this part of his background that he took a trip to Ireland in 1999 just to discover more about his roots. One takeaway he got while in the country that surprised him was the frequency of families with variations of the last name, Maher. And, of course, he felt like he had to take multiple pictures of signs like "Maher's Bakery," "Maher's Pharmacy," and so on.

He sold marijuana to pay for college

Along with being a comedian and talk show host, there's an aspect of Bill Maher's life that he's very vocal about, which is his love of marijuana and the belief that the drug should be legalized for recreational use. In fact, he supports legalization to such an extent that he serves on the advisory board of NORML, an organization that lobbies lawmakers to end the prohibition of weed.

Maher has been an avid smoker over the decades, going all the way back to his college days at Cornell University, where he graduated with an English degree in the late 1970s. Yet at that time, weed wasn't just used for fun as it also became a part of his livelihood as a young adult. The comedian admitted to Bloomberg, "Selling pot allowed me to get through college and make enough money to start off in comedy."

He got his start in TV on The Tonight Show

After graduating college, Bill Maher's comedy career quickly progressed over the next few years as he was featured at the popular comedy club Catch a Rising Star on several occasions. By 1982, the future talk show host was able to transition into TV and made his first on-air appearances for "The Tonight Show," and then "Late Night with David Letterman," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Maher's first time on screen made a profound impact on his life, as he wrote in an article for Newsweek: "August 31, 1982, is one of those dates that is seared into my head, like a personal 1066 or 1776. That was my first appearance on 'The Tonight Show,' which was the gateway to a career in my chosen field, stand-up comedy. It was the baccalaureate of stand-up, a test you took early on that would decide the rest of your life."

It's safe to say that Maher passed and moved on to not only become a highly successful comedian, but also one of the most well-known left-leaning show hosts and political commentators.

Politically Incorrect was canceled due to his controversial 9/11 comments

Bill Maher has never been afraid to speak his mind, which has led to numerous controversies throughout his career. One of the first times he got into major trouble over his words, however, it cost him dearly as it caused him to lose his own show, "Politically Incorrect." Following the terrorist attack on 9/11, the host said, "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly" (via the Los Angeles Times).

The comments sparked outrage from many across the country during a period when patriotism was solidly the norm and critical remarks were not really tolerated. After losing nearly all of its sponsors, the show was then canceled. However, the comedian managed to change networks and made the move to HBO to begin "Real Time with Bill Maher" in 2003.

Rep. Spencer Bachus accused him of borderline treason

In 2005, Bill Maher sparked outrage from conservatives again from comments he made on "Real Time." When talking about the military's failure to reach recruitment goals by a massive amount of 42%, the host then said, "More people joined the Michael Jackson fan club. We've done picked all the low-lying Lynndie England fruit, and now we need warm bodies," in reference to the army reservist who was charged with abusing prisoners in the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib (via "CNN Daybreak"). 

While most of the right were simply angered by the statement, one elected official took his ire a step further and said he believed that Maher's show should be canceled. Rep. Spencer Bachus said, "I think it borders on treason. In treason, one definition is to undermine the effort or national security of our country" (via CNN). In response, Maher defended himself in a public statement that noted how often he has honored those serving in the armed forces on his show, so his criticism should not be taken out of context.

He became an executive producer of Vice

Bill Maher is often preoccupied with his own shows and stand-up specials, but he has also played a huge role behind the scenes of another popular series on HBO, the news show "Vice." In 2012, he became one of the executive producers of the critically acclaimed series that ran for several years. In that time, Maher received several Emmy nominations and won the award in 2014, according to the Television Academy's official website.

The producer was nominated again in 2018 for the last time as the show was canceled by the network afterward. Despite the success of the series, the merger between AT&T and Time Warner caused major changes to the top levels of the hierarchy, and thus, new strategies for the company, per CNN. As reported by The Wrap, Showtime would eventually pick up the series to produce new episodes the following year; however, Maher was no longer involved with "Vice" after its departure from HBO.

He made a $1 million contribution to the Obama campaign

After President Barack Obama approved the creation of a super PAC, Priorities USA Action, to fund his re-election campaign for a second term, Bill Maher set the record as the first to make a massive seven-figure contribution to the group in 2012. According to NPR, the comedian was just one of the few big donors to support a Democratic candidate instead of a Republican.

Maher publicly shared what he had done during his live stand-up special, "CrazyStupidPolitics," and poked fun at the progessive organization at the same time when he said, "I would like to announce tonight a donation to the Obama super PAC. which has the very unfortunate tongue-twister name Priorities USA Action. I know, it was named by Borat." He then went on to add, "Tonight I would like to give that PAC $1 million dollars" (via Yahoo News).

Donald Trump filed a lawsuit against him

Throughout his career, Bill Maher has satirized, or even straight up ridiculed, many individuals on the right, while a fair share of vitriolic comments have been flung his way as well. Yet, one of his most heated public feuds occurred in 2013 with Donald Trump. Or at least heated in the sense that one of the parties was so offended that he brought the law into the picture. Maher, on the other hand, seemed rather unfazed about it all.

The fight began after Trump made public comments questioning the citizenship of President Barack Obama. In response, the comedian made a satirical joke on NBC's "The Tonight Show" that Trump needed to prove his father was not an orangutan due to the distinct shade of orange of his hair. Trump was not amused, to say the least, so he took the extreme step of filing a lawsuit against Maher, and later stated on Fox News, "That was venom. That wasn't a joke" (via Reuters). However, the future president requested to dismiss the lawsuit only eight weeks later.

He owns a gun but criticizes the Second Amendment

Like with many issues, Bill Maher leans left when it comes to gun control, but he's a realist as well. Since he acknowledges the genuine threat of armed home invasions in the country, he would rather be prepared with a firearm of his own. However, the comedian is far from an advocate for gun ownership as he explained on "Conan," "I'm not a proud gun owner cause that's stupid. It's like saying I'm a proud remote-control owner. I'm not proud of my guns, you know. A gun is something I would compare to antibiotics, something I would only use in an emergency, but I don't love it. I don't polish my amoxicillin."

Maher also ridiculed the idea that assault weapons were necessary in case the populace had to fight the U.S. military as the feat would be nearly impossible due to level of lethal technology available to the Army. So, the comedian doesn't think that the Second Amendment should allow people to own any dangerous firearm that they want.

He's a partial owner of the New York Mets

Bill Maher has been a huge sports fan all his life, and since he grew up in northern New Jersey right next to New York City, he rooted for the major teams of the metropolis. The comedian was the kind of fan who didn't care about intercity rivalries and supported both the Jets and the Giants, except for when it came to the New York Yankees for one specific reason. Maher told Sports Illustrated, "I hated George Steinbrenner – who, by the way, is exactly the sports version of Donald Trump, they are doppelgangers – and I came to hate him even more as he went out and bought the best players everywhere. That broke my heart."

On the other hand, the comedian has loved the Mets since he was a small child. So, when he discovered in The New York Times that minority ownership in the team was available in 2012, Maher quickly jumped at the opportunity. But the stake didn't come cheap as each of the 12 shares put up for sale cost $12 million on their own. When asked how many shares he bought, the comedian declined to answer.

Though Maher did express to ESPN how happy he was to have made the decision. He said, "I think it's a great investment. I think it's a great team that I've been rooting for since they came into existence, which was soon after I came into existence."

He said the n-word on Real Time

Normally, Bill Maher sparks the ire of the right, but there has been one occasion in which he infuriated his own side immensely. During a conversation with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse on "Real Time with Bill Maher," the lawmaker invited the host to his state and said, "We'd love to have you work in the fields with us." To which, Maher replied, "Work in the fields? Senator, I'm a house n*****" (via The Guardian).

The comedian received well-deserved, harsh criticism from just about everyone, with many calling for the cancellation of his show. The network, HBO, didn't go that far, but strongly denounced his comment and also stated that the segment would be removed entirely from the episode to never be aired again. Maher was remorseful over what he had done and released a statement the next day, which said, "I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive, and I regret saying it and am very sorry."

On the following episode, Maher apologized again and invited Ice Cube to discuss what had happened. The artist made his feelings on the issue clear and said, "When I hear my homies say it, it don't feel like venom. When I hear a white person say it, it's like a knife." He then added, "That's our word now, and you can't have it back" (via Deadline).

Ann Coulter considers him a close friend

It has always been Bill Maher's philosophy on his shows that it's best to have guests with different viewpoints in order to see different perspectives and have meaningful debates. From those who believe the opposition should only be silenced and not given a platform to voice their opinions, Maher has received significant criticism for his approach.

One of the comedian's frequent guests on his show is the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter. Maher refuses to heed the haters like usual and will have whoever he wants on "Real Time," but Coulter is a special case because their relationship goes beyond being simply colleagues as political commentators who are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Regardless of their differences, the two are close friends.

On top of their on-screen appearances together, both have separately defended the other. When Coulter was on "Hannity" and the host was critical of Maher, she responded, "I obviously don't agree with his politics. I like him. He's a true and loyal friend, he always has been, and he bought me dinner. So, I'm not going to say anything bad about him ... I'm easy. I'm a cheap date" (via Mediaite).

Likewise, Maher was asked by Variety why he has Coulter on his show, and he said, "She's not stupid. I don't exactly read her books. But I know from when we've covered her issues in the past, it's not like she doesn't do research."