Judge Neal Masri thinks Meet the Press would get better ratings if Tim Russert would tell a few jokes and drop the f-bomb now and again.
"I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it."—Voltaire
There is an old saying that, in polite company, one does not discuss religion or politics. Bill Maher: I'm Swiss discusses almost nothing but those two flashpoint topics. Maher's standup routine is politically charged and, yes, politically incorrect. If you're ready for a break from observational comedy about airline food, this may be what you're looking for.
Facts of the Case
I'm Swiss is a stand-up appearance by Bill Maher recorded on March 26, 2005. If you're familiar with Maher's HBO show, much of the territory covered here will be familiar to you. His caustic wit is aimed at the President, organized religion, and American culture in general. Maher wears his political views on his sleeve and makes no bones about sharing them with his audience.
You may recall that Bill Maher caused quite a ruckus a few years back when he made the following statement regarding the 9/11 terrorists on his ABC television show Politically Incorrect: "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." Advertisers started pulling from the show almost immediately and ABC soon cancelled the show. I leave it to you to answer for yourself whether or not that statement is a firing offense. I will, however, provide you with a hint: The show was entitled Politically Incorrect.
Maher soon landed a new show on HBO called Real Time with Bill Maher, proving the showbiz axiom that there's no such thing as bad publicity. The format of the show is equal parts Tonight Show, The Daily Show, and Meet the Press. It mainly serves as a forum to air Maher's political brand of comedy.
Maher started out as a stand-up comic and Bill Maher: I'm Swiss finds him getting back to his roots. It's a recording of a performance in Portland, Oregon (not exactly Bush country). Many observers write Maher off as a left-wing nutcase. However, if you really examine his opinions on just about everything, you'll probably find him to be a libertarian. On most political spectrums libertarianism is considered far right-wing.
Discussions of his place on the political spectrum aside, about two-thirds of the 77-minute running time are devoted to a verbal assault on President George W. Bush. If this is something you could not bear to sit through for the better part of an hour, this probably isn't your idea of a good night of entertainment. Maher does seem to be preaching to the choir though. His live audience appears to be made up of politically like-minded people.
Do you have to agree with Maher politically to enjoy the show and this DVD? My answer is a qualified no. A political bomb thrower like Maher is not to everyone's taste, but the guy is pretty funny. Just know that if you cannot bear to hear criticism of President Bush and the war in Iraq, you should probably stay very far away. Keep in mind, though, that President Bush isn't Maher's only target; there's probably something here to offend everyone.
The concert appears to have been recorded in High-Definition Digital Video, though I cannot find confirmation of this. The image translates beautifully to DVD and is quite sharp. You can see every bead of sweat in the close-ups. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and there is a nice 'auditorium' sound to the mix. Crowd noise and applause emanates from the rear speakers regularly and you can hear Maher clearly and without issue.
There is a very meager selection of extras. First, there's a segment called "Behind the Scenes," which is about six minutes long. Half of this footage has been edited into an introduction at the beginning of the program that did not appear on the HBO airing. It consists mainly of footage of Maher arriving, a photo shoot, and the crowd reaction to a kook who is protesting the show out front (I'm not entirely convinced this wasn't staged). The only other extra is a Q&A session, which Maher did as an encore to the show. This Q&A did not appear in the original HBO broadcast. It runs about 11 minutes and has a few laughs. There is a bit too much of the audience telling Maher how great he is, but I suppose a bit of that is to be expected.
There is an interesting trend lately of comedy being the source of the most interesting political discourse. A poll released in early 2004 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 21 percent of people aged 18 to 29 cited The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live as a place where they regularly learned presidential campaign news. Bill Maher is riding this trend as well. He is obviously a smart guy, and he's funny to boot.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Stand-up comedy tends to not age well (remember when comedy central first started out in the early '90s and it was nothing but comics against a brick wall imitating Mr. T. and E.T.?). Throw in the fact that this routine is made up mostly of politically topical material and you may have a very short shelf life indeed. Unless you're a hardcore Maher fan, you may want to consider how many repeat viewings you'll get out of this disc.
How much you enjoy this disc may be in direct proportion to how much you agree with Bill Maher politically. Whether or not you agree or disagree with him, it is impossible not to find him provocative. I enjoyed the show, and this DVD presentation is an ideal way to see it.
Bill Maher is acquitted for putting himself out there and speaking his mind. Whether or not you agree with him, it's a nice change of pace from the "Didja ever notice." brand of stand-up comedy that is so ubiquitous these days.
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