Bill Maher Is Back on the Stern Show After Nearly 20 Years Away

Comedian and late-night host talks Trump, weed, and becoming friends with Howard once again

June 10, 2019
Photo: The Howard Stern Show

It’s been almost two decades since Bill Maher was last on the Stern Show, but on Monday morning he and Howard officially buried the hatchet live on the air. Both men tried to take the blame for causing whatever the rift was between them.

“I take full responsibility in us not getting along,” Howard told Bill, explaining how his sole priority when it came to his radio show used to be the ratings and not making studio guests feel comfortable.

“Back in those days, look, we were both assholes,” Bill said to Howard. “Isn’t it nice that we’re at this age now? Where we repair relationships.”

Now that Bill has come back on the Stern Show, he’s hoping Howard returns the favor and makes an appearance on his late-night series, “Real Time with Bill Maher.” The HBO show is in its 17th season and has earned a staggering 20 Emmy nominations over the years, but there was a time when Bill wasn’t always certain his career path would lead him to success. Though he knew from an early age he wanted to one day be a comedian, Bill said he chose not to share those aspirations with anyone. Not even his parents.

“I knew what I wanted to do when I was 10 or even before. I never said it to anybody because I didn’t have that kind of confidence … I kept it a complete secret,” he told Howard on Monday.

After graduating from Cornell, Bill began performing in clubs around New York City, making friends with the fellow up-and-coming stand-ups he met along the way. One goal they each seemed to share was one day landing a spot performing on “The Tonight Show,” which Bill got in 1982. After idolizing Johnny Carson nearly his entire life, Maher admitted to being extremely anxious before his big debut.

“To this day when I hear that kind of swing music I sweat a little,” Bill said about the “Tonight Show’s” signature big band theme song that he heard while waiting backstage. With him was his good friend Jerry Seinfeld whom he’d asked to come with him for extra support. When the time came to step out and perform his routine, Bill nailed it, including one joke in particular that poked fun at being half Jewish, half Catholic, and having to take a lawyer with him to confession. Johnny liked the joke enough to invite Bill back to tell it during the several subsequent visits he wound up making on the show.

By his third “Tonight Show” appearance, Bill felt ready to move out to the West Coast full time. His success continued with more televised stand-up gigs as well as acting roles in films and on TV.

“Then of course there was that dip period,” Bill said of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when the work suddenly dried up for him. “I thought, ‘Oh shit. I’m gonna be the one left on the side of the road.’ And that was crushing for me. That was a very difficult period in my life before I got ‘Politically Incorrect.’”

“Politically Incorrect” would make Maher a household name unlike any other project he’d done before. Originally airing on Comedy Central before moving to ABC, the acclaimed series featured a panel of guests discussing politics, culture, and current events, much like his current HBO show does. Robin Quivers even made an appearance on the very first episode of “Politically Incorrect” in 1993.

“Twenty-five years. That is job security which you don’t expect in show business,” Bill said of his ongoing run in television.

Photo: The Howard Stern Show

His steady gig as a TV host hasn’t stopped Bill from performing stand-up for sellout crowds, either. He told Howard he still enjoys going out on the road and playing shows in cities all over the country, even if that city happens to be in a red state.

“I like the experience of performing in front of a live audience,” Bill said. “I can be exactly who I am in front of that live audience. They want me to be as politically incorrect as possible.”

As much material as President Trump provides him in his act and on his TV show, Bill said he’d be willing to do without if it meant having someone new in the White House. However, his own political stances nearly never get in the way of having guests with differing opinions on “Real Time.” The ability to have a conversation with someone you disagree with is something Bill thinks those in the Democratic Party should be trying harder to learn, especially heading into the 2020 presidential election. One issue he says left wing politicians need to change is their stance on are guns and the constitutional right to own them.

“This one is not a winning issue for you,” Bill said to any Democratic lawmakers listening. His fear is voters in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (all won by Trump in 2016) won’t be willing to elect any president who runs on a platform of limiting access to firearms. And while Bill isn’t necessarily pro-gun himself, he did tell Howard he is a gun owner.

“Look, if some shit goes down, the police can’t be there right away,” Maher said. “A gun is a great leveler if you’re in a room with people who are bigger and stronger than you.”

There are issues he thinks Democrats need to be talking more about, though: education, healthcare, and the environment, since the party continues to gain support from the general public on those fronts.

Measures to legalize recreational marijuana are something Bill has a personal interest in. Maher doesn’t smoke weed but vapes regularly. And after a horrifying incident 10 years ago, ingestible edibles are off the table.

“Maybe the worst night of my life,” Bill said of his edible experience. “I ate a cookie, you don’t know how much is in the cookie. Okay, an hour later I’m at my desk, I am frozen. I cannot move, my heart is racing a thousand miles an hour. I didn’t know what reality was.”

Things got so bad, Bill believed he’d died and gone to hell. He somehow found the strength to start calling people and asking them to help. When those he dialed up came over Bill suddenly found himself in a different kind of trouble.

“An hour later there were like 20 people in my living room. Women I had worked very hard to keep apart from each other met each other that day,” Bill said with a laugh.

Though he dates and admitted to being in love throughout his life, Bill told Howard he has no desire to ever settle down with one woman: “I never understood how you could be with the same person day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I just don’t get that.”

Staying single has afforded Bill a freedom he’s confident he wouldn’t have if he were in a long-term relationship. He has no wife, no ex-wife, no alimony, no children, and “no stupid hobbies” like collecting cars or expensive jewelry.

“I just like what I like: weed. And people give me weed. I never have to buy weed,” Bill told Howard.

“Bill, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming in,” Howard told his guest as their interview came to a close.

“I’ll see you on my show in the fall,” Maher replied with a smile.

Before leaving the studio, Bill took one call from Howard’s stylist, Ralph Cirella, himself a devoted fan of “Real Time” who said he hoped HBO renews the show and signs Maher to an impressive new deal.

“Thank you, Bobo, or whoever that was,” Bill joked.

See Bill Maher at the Mirage in Las Vegas and tune in for his show “Real Time with Bill Maher” Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.