On Bill 'Politically Incorrect' Maher Profile: US magazine looks at the edgy talk-show host.


March 29, 1998|By Don Aucoin | Don Aucoin,BOSTON GLOBE

You've got to respect Bill Maher's willingness to blast through the pious cant that passes for political discourse in Hollywood, though the host of "Politically Incorrect" fails at that as often as he succeeds.

To judge by a profile of him in the April US magazine, Maher is an easier guy to respect than to like. He comes across as smart but prickly, talented but tough on the people who work for him (he goes through writers "at a record clip," according to author Chris Mundy).

Maher is candid about his desperate need to succeed, fueled by his fear of being left behind by the comedians with whom he launched his career, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser. "We started together, and now I have to go out and watch everybody fawn all over them and push me aside? Whose ego can take that?" he asks. "I'm sorry, mine can't."

While still not in their league fame-wise, Maher has a quicker wit and more interesting edges than either Seinfeld or Reiser. What other late-night talk-show host would offer this riposte to the ruminations of "PI" guest Deepak Chopra: "That is the kind of preposterous psychobabble that is ruining this country"?

The problem with "Politically Incorrect," though, is that so many of the dim-bulb celebrities Maher invites on the show are capable of little more than psychobabble. Either that or safe, applause-generating pabulum.

They may have reason to play it safe. "PI" booker Joy Dolce tells Mundy that the show has a hard time getting Hollywood conservatives, who supply necessary friction, to come on the show. "In this town, [conservatives] will flat-out tell you, 'I am not going to hurt my chances with producers, casting directors and so on,' who obviously fall in the liberal camp," says Dolce. "We have to honor that."

Depressing to think that a trace of McCarthyism lives on in the very place that was scarred by the blacklist -- only this time, apparently, on the left.

The king of despair

The late William S. Burroughs could be perilous to be around -- a drug addict, he accidentally killed his wife, trying to shoot a glass off her head -- and he is certainly perilous to read.

Anyone who has struggled with "Naked Lunch" can attest to the truth of Allen Ginsberg's famous dedication of "Howl," in which Ginsberg described Burroughs' then-unpublished tome as "an endless novel which will drive everybody mad." Beyond the technical difficulty of reading Burroughs is the fact that reading him would "threaten our understanding of ourselves and the society we live in," writes Vince Passaro in the April Harper's.

For that reason Burroughs deserves to be read, and Passaro spells out a few other reasons. He argues that Burroughs -- the "last of the revolutionary modernists," the "king of derisiveness, self-loathing, and despair" -- was without peer in contemporary American literature in capturing the modern era's "sensation of imprisoned individuality."

Burroughs foretold a "general return to savagery," Passaro writes, triggered not by the loss of civilization but by "an elaboration of civilization so multiple, so attenuated, so fundamentally dishonest, hypermarketed, and lethal that it renders the individual a stranger to his community and to himself."

Sounds prophetic, no? Besides, Burroughs was a writer for the "X-Files" era, given that, in Passaro's words, he "defined paranoia for the generation of the true paranoids: having all the facts."

The new paleolithic woman

I could never figure out how women ever got saddled with that "weaker sex" label. The rigors of childbirth alone should disabuse us of that bizarre notion.

The myth crumbles a bit more in Discover, where Heather Pringle describes new archaeological findings that undermine the long-held view that paleolithic women essentially lay about the cave all day, waiting for paleolithic hubby to haul home a slain mammoth for dinner.

In reality, the findings suggest, Ice Age women may have been responsible for gathering up to 70 percent of the family's calories, through hunting, trapping and collection of plants. The new research, Pringle writes, "is rapidly changing our mental images of the past." On the designated-hitter rule

On the designated-hitter rule

It has been 25 years, believe it or not, since major league baseball implemented the designated-hitter rule. Street & Smith's Baseball goes back to the beginning, harvesting quotes from skeptics and believers in 1973, when great hitters who could no longer cut it in the field had the option of extending their careers as the DH.

Whose careers? How about Hank Aaron, George Brett, Orlando Cepeda, Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, Paul Molitor, Frank Robinson, Tony Oliva, Dave Winfield, Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski. All reached the point where they put aside their gloves, swallowed their pride, and served as the DH.

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