10 travel questions with Bill Maher
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Bill Maher - Mandatory credit: David Becker:WireImage

Hotels that don’t get it right, where he’s loved most, and where he’d sit at a dinner party with ISIS, the Pope and Donald Trump.

Bill Maher has become a national treasure. He will wince at reading that! But it’s true — he’s become our voice of conscience, the voice of reason and madness depending on which side of an issue you’re on, beloved and reviled. He says what he thinks, and he is, maddeningly to his ideological opposites, thoughtful and very smart. And extremely funny.

He recently celebrated 25 years on TV with the various versions of his panel-based, political talk show, the most recent and successful iteration of which is HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. It’s a remarkable accomplishment in any light, all the more given the controversy he has so often caused.

Compellingly, he is not a one-side-of-the-aisle comedian/commentator. He irks liberals almost as much as conservatives (I did say almost), but he truly does look at the whole picture in any given instance and will point out an argument, or part of one, he believes has merit, even from someone he habitually excoriates. One constant, Bill does not suffer fools.

It also turns out, he is not much of a traveler!

What are your pet peeves when you stay in a hotel?

Oh, Bob, we only have five hours. It’s not doing the little things we ask. It’s amazing to me that you can stay in a 5 star hotel, and they can’t get the small stuff right. Sometimes I can’t get a room cold enough, so I ask for a fan. My assistant will call multiple times — I know this sounds like white people problems — and hear ‘Oh, yes,’ but when you get there, no fan.

It seems so difficult today to relate a simple message. ‘Could you put a fan in the room?’ ‘Absolutely!’ — I just want to know where did that break down? They all leave a little handwritten note in the hotel now — ‘great to have you here, blah, blah, blah’ — skip the note! Concentrate on the fan!

What’s the best thing you’ve ever taken from a hotel?

When I was young and poor, I relied on hotels for all my toiletries. For years in Vegas I had Caesar’s Palace soaps and shampoos that I lived off of. I opened for Diana Ross in 1982 and — wow — was I in over my head. Vegas was quite different then. And I remember I’d peek out the door, and when the maid left her cart in the hallway and wasn’t there to guard it, I would filch the soap and shampoos off the cart, and went home with a suitcase full of these. Those were tough economic times for me. Towels were harder to get into the suitcase.

What are your favorite memories of being on the circuit when you started up?

Well, the camaraderie I think was my favorite part. My novel of the comedy scene I grew up in, True Story, begins with the line “Five comedians sat on a train.” In those days — this is when urban comedy was burgeoning — on weekends you would find yourself getting on that Amtrak train and there’d be three or four other comedians, because one was going to Philly, and one to Washington DC to a club, one to Wilmington, and we were very high on the idea that we were making a living — it was a paltry one, where we were stealing soaps — doing stand up comedy. So you can imagine what it was like when you had four or five, young 20s comedians on a train, or do a gig with one of them.

I don’t see my old friends like we used to, because we were just always together. You never had to call anyone and say, ‘hey, do want to hang out?’ — we hung out at the club, and then we hung out on the road. If anything, we were in each of our faces too much. For me it was a much greater binding experience than I ever had. Maybe it’s like going into the military, this was the comedy army. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were on the circuit then. Richard Lewis, Richard Belzer, Carol Leifer…

What was your favorite city to play?

In those days, we pretty much stuck to the East coast, but I remember the first time I went down to Atlanta, and that was different. I’d never been in the south, or anywhere really. To this day I still love playing in the south. Our politics don’t always agree, but very friendly. I remember the girls were very friendly, more friendly than those on the east coast. I almost moved there…. I played the hot club — and by “hot” I mean the owners tried to pay you in cocaine.

I love Vegas. I play it six or seven times a year, I’m at the Mirage, and they’re great. There’s a lot of every type of person in Las Vegas. I don’t know if it was always that way, but it is now. If you took out the tourists it’s already a big city, and the townies are very hip.

Your favorite country you’ve traveled to?

I haven’t been a real globetrotter, I would have to say England, probably because I am a bit of an Anglophile, and it is just a lovely country. And as someone who has always been extremely challenged learning a second language, it is a nice convenience that you don’t have to. I mean, pointing to the guidebook when you want to know where the bathroom is…

I guess I’m a bit of a homebody by nature. I travel a lot here, domestically, but it’s only on the weekends. You go to Denver and do a show, you go down to San Antonio and do a show, and you’re home. And it’s America, you don’t have to think about, ‘does this plug in?’ and needing three kinds of adaptors. The great parts of travel are great, but the bad parts, where you’re trying to slice open an orange at 2.00 in the morning with a can opener because there’s no knife in the room, and no room service, that stuff bothers me more than most people.

Who laughs the most at your jokes? ...

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