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    Bill Maher brings comedy to Foxwoods Sunday

    Bill Maher enjoys talking. This is not a high point in observation.

    After all, Maher is acknowledged by millions of people with ears and brains to be a provocative, smart and witty conversationalist. These are traits he’s finely calibrated in a three-decade career as a standup comedian, a television host of, first, “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher,” the ongoing “Real Time with Bill Maher” and, as of last spring, on his weekly “Club Random” podcast.

    As with his standup routines, Maher’s focus on “Real Time” typically explores political and cultural issues, though for the television show, the format incorporates exchanges a thoughtful and varied array of guests from across ideologies and professionas. There’s also “Real Time’s” show-closing “New Rule” editorial.

    On the other hand, for “Club Random,” episodes of which appear every Saturday, the 66-year-old Maher goes one-on-one with a bizarre procession of folks ranging from Stephen A. Smith, Bella Thorne and Quentin Tarantino to Kid Rock, Chevy Chase and Sam Harris. The caveat? They discuss everything BUT politics.

    These variations require Maher to possess a Kelly Slater-like fluidity when it comes to surfing moment-by-moment developments and reading an audience — as per his appearance Sunday in the Premier Theater at Foxwoods.

    It’s worth mentioning a compelling bit of history to Maher’s association with Foxwoods. In 2016, five days before the election, Maher — who identifies as a liberal but has zero tolerance for extremists on either side — did a show at the casino that featured a relentlessly, brutally humorous evisceration of Republican nominee Donald Trump. Yes, Maher also skewered Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton, but the overall tenor of the set and in the venue was one of anticipatory relief: Trump had eerily defied all expectations, but Clinton would win, and all would return to normal. It was an easy setting for laughter, and Maher had his scalpel slicing at peak efficiency. Except … Trump won.

    “Oh, God,” Maher says, laughing ruefully when reminded of that performance. “Yeah, I won’t forget that one.”

    Maher is speaking Tuesday from California, just as the polls are closing in the east on another Election Day, and this time out, he’s not optimistic about the future of our Democracy.

    A day later, as the results come in, Maher looks to have been wrong again, at least to a certain extent. But he also seems to thrive on such things, which should make the Foxwoods presentation very interesting. As he says over the phone, regarding the accuracies of his political prophecies, “Predictions are a fool’s errand.”

    Here are excerpts from the interview with Maher, edited for space and clarity.

    Q: Your “Club Random” podcast offers a one-on-one format and the proviso that you don’t talk about politics. But are there other dynamics at play that would make you want to enter this realm when you already have stand-up and “Real Time”? For example, does “Random” require less preparation?

    A: I’d go to dinner with people or be at a party and we’d talk about 18 different things that are interesting but wouldn’t fit on “Real Time.” There’s also another format to the podcast: I’m super high! Most of the guests are people I’ve never met or don’t know well, and we become pretty close during this hour. It’s fun to get to know them and talk about anything.

    Also, it occurred to me, as podcasts grew in popularity, that the reason I listen to podcasts is they’re essentially AM radio. Ten years ago, the least hip thing you could do was listen to AM radio. Now? But I wanted to do one and not rave about one thing or another. Plus, most podcasts look terrible. They all have these giant penis mics in your face and take place in a bare studio.

    I thought I could reinvent the idea a bit and add some atmosphere and production value. I have this space in my home and I thought, “I’ll turn it into a little nightclub; give the whole thing a nighttime feel.” The cameras are built into the wall so they’re not obtrusive, and you just get the feel that we’re just sitting and talking in some small club.

    Q: Speaking of marijuana use, it’s a big cause of yours and it’s something you believe in strongly as a user. How does it work for you?

    A: I’ve been smoking (pot) since I was 19. I have a bicameral mind, so if I’m going to make an important decision, I wait to do so till I think about it both sober and stoned. Those conditions are like the two houses of Congress, and the decision has to pass both before it gets signed into law.

    Q: Part of your persona and appeal comes from the fact that you have a very serious side and a very funny side, and they typically play off one another in not always expected fashion. But are there situations when you might be in a jokey mood but need to tap into the serious — or vice-versa? And is that hard to do?

    A: After 29 years of doing this, I’m pretty practiced at what you describe. I never lose sight of the fact that I do an entertainment show on an entertainment network. That’s what I hope is one of the appeals of “Real Time.” There have been shows where there would be political or current affairs discourse, but the people were always very grim – the sort who look stern and say things like, (affects proper, stentorian tone), “You, sir!” It’s like every bad thing ever just happened to them at the same time

    On “Real Time” last Friday, the “New Rule” editorial was one of the darkest I’ve ever written. I said, “We’re losing democracy and our freedoms — and when the people in office don’t care about that, you’re living in a very different country.” Many authoritarian governments started with elected leaders who simple refused to or never intended to leave office. Hitler was elected. Mussolini. Putin.

    That’s what we’re facing. It was super serious — but it also got a lot of laughs. That’s what makes what we do different: say what no one else is saying and be funny about it.

    Q: If your name popped up as one of the Great Thinkers in the syllabus for an Intro to Western Philosophy course, would it be in the Stoics chapter?

    A: Wait! That’s Zeno, right? Well, I certainly believe in keeping a stiff upper lip. That worked for the British for a while. And we still have the word “stoic” in our language.

    But I think I’d go back to Aristotle and the concept of the Golden Mean. Every virtue is in the middle of two extremes. In our culture, it’s too snowflakey on the left and the right, and we need to find the middle. It’s like courage and stupidity. You don’t want to run from terror, for example, but you don’t want to do a one-man charge at a machine gun nest, either.

    Q: These extremes you describe can indeed result in a sense of hopelessness or futility. At the same time, they’re good for your jobs. Do you ever find yourself getting depressed by taking the long view rather than reacting to stuff that happens daily?

    A: I think we all feel a sense of hopelessness. This ship is going down and it seems like there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We’ve morphed beyond discussion and disagreement into political violence. We’re in a kind of cold civil war that takes the form of attacks like on Nancy Pelosi’s husband. It’s depressing.

    How do we get out of it? First, think we’ll have to hit some sort of nightmarish bottom. Some thought we’d get some sort of reconciliation with Biden, and he did some good things working with both parties. But I don’t think we’re out of this until we’re in something like the final scene from “Planet of the Apes,” where Charlton Heston comes upon the destroyed Statue of Liberty. (Quotes from the film) “You finally really did it! You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you! God damn you all to hell!”

    (Laughs) Well, the great thing is, there’s tomorrow. Probably.

    If you go

    Who: Bill Maher

    When: 7 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Premier Theater, Foxwoods

    How much: $50-$70

    For more information: www.foxwoods.com, www.billmaher.com.

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