Bill Maher Talks Cruz, Crenshaw and 'the Cult of Woke' Ahead of July Show in Irving

Comedy provocateur Bill Maher will perform a standup show in Irving on Sunday, July 11. Ted Cruz is personally invited to attend.
Comedy provocateur Bill Maher will perform a standup show in Irving on Sunday, July 11. Ted Cruz is personally invited to attend. John Russo/ HBO
Bill Maher loves red states. Not their politicians, necessarily, and certainly not laws like the heartbeat bill (“You can have an abortion as long as you know you don’t need one” he says. “That is so Texas”). But the veteran comedian has a special place in his heart for comedy crowds in conservative states. These audiences, while still largely liberal, don’t “ooh” and “aah” when Maher delivers a crass joke on a sensitive topic, which he considers a form of “virtue signaling.” And Bill Maher can’t stand virtue signaling.

“How long do I have to be doing this for people to know that yes, I do go there and yes, I do say that,” Maher says. “And that’s why you’re here.”

In fact, that’s what Maher did this Fourth of July: He awoke after a night of socializing (“I’m more of a night person”) and got to work honing the stand-up routine he’ll deliver to a crowd in Irving on Sunday, July 11. The show is part of a tour that runs through November, and Maher’s stop at the Toyota Music Factory is just his fourth stand-up set since February 2020.

“It was surreal,” he says of the first two shows back, which took place in Florida. “It was almost like starting out again. The last time I was on stage, Trump was president. The whole world had changed. It was a whole new act, which I spent months and months working on.”

Usually, when you’re doing stand-up, Maher explains, you’re doing it all the time; what you do one night in Dallas can be tweaked and enhanced for next weekend in Denver. If a devastating virus forces you to take a yearlong hiatus, you have to create a lot of material from scratch. This was especially true for Maher when the orange-hued “asshole” who is the butt of many of his jokes was no longer quite as relevant.

“I can’t not mention Trump a few times,” Maher says over the phone. “He’s the shark that swam out to sea, but it’s not like he’s not gonna come back to shore and start eating people again. We need a bigger boat. But I don’t want to give him the oxygen and the credit. He’s gone; we did manage to slay the orange beast at least temporarily.

"I just don’t want to dwell on the past; I don’t think the audience wants to live in the past. So there will be a few comments, but mostly, that’s the past, and I don’t like to live in the past.”

So, then: the future. Maher’s father was a newsman, so reporting and commenting on current affairs is in his blood. As such, the 65-year-old comedian has plenty to say about the pandemic and the state of the Republican Party, and his Irving audience will hear all of it.

“They’re a one-issue party now,” he says of Republicans. “And that issue is voting — they’re against it.”

Maher also has plenty to say about the current state of the Democratic Party, the party to which he most closely aligns but never hesitates to malign. By his own admission, he’s “never been a team player.”

“Unfortunately, we live in a country right now where we have not one cult but two,” he says. “We have the cult of QAnon, and we also have the cult of ‘woke.’ I think QAnon is more dangerous, but I think woke is pretty dangerous, especially since it’s gonna get QAnon elected.”

Maher punctuates statements like this with a wry chuckle that is one-part bemused, two-parts doleful. He can find humor in just about every dour situation, but at the same time, it’s clear he knows just how serious this moment and this chaos truly is.

Pointing to examples that illuminate “the culture of woke,” he talks about the movement to “defund the police” and, more specifically, an ordinance briefly considered by the Seattle City Council last fall. If enacted (it wasn’t) the ordinance would have essentially legalized most misdemeanor crimes committed to meet an “immediate and basic need” like purchasing food or paying rent. Maher believes Democrats who vouch for such positions ultimately cost themselves winnable elections, and the comedian is quick to point out that he’s not alone in this view: U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn has voiced opposition to calls for “defunding the police” and former President Barack Obama has spoken out against “woke” intransigence.

“Obama said, ‘This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly,’” Maher says, reciting the quote word for word, as if it’s been seared into his brain. “We should listen to him!”

At the same time, the comedian reserves most of his criticism for the other cult. In Maher’s view, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz is “an idiot,” “a frat boy” and “exactly who you think he is.” U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is “one mood swing away from humping parked cars.”

“I can’t not mention Trump a few times ... He’s the shark that swam out to sea." –Bill Maher

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Maher also warns of the dangers posed by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas’ own Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw. Maher had Crenshaw on Real Time with Bill Maher shortly after the pandemic began, and the pair had an amiable conversation.

“We get along,” Maher says. “I certainly have admiration for what he’s done for his country. He’s not a dumb guy at all.”

Maher also believes that Crenshaw, a war vet and congressman for an absurdly gerrymandered portion of Houston, is part of a “completely different” category than Gaetz and Greene. Yet like DeSantis, Hawley and Cruz, he’s still dangerous.

“These are not dumb people,” Maher reiterates. “They know exactly what they’re doing. They know exactly who Trump is. Which makes them, in a way, worse, because they are flirting with real danger here. They refuse to say ‘Trump lost the election’ because they know that will lose them the base of the Republican Party. When elections become about elections instead of about the issues, that’s when we’re in real trouble, and that’s where we’re at.”

When asked if it’s fair to say his Irving show will tackle these Texas politicos, Maher’s wry laugh returns.

“Oh yes,” he says. “I can’t wait.”

Maher is also eager to get Cruz on Real Time, or to simply meet the senator in person. According to the comedian, Cruz “keeps flirting” with the idea of guesting on the HBO show just like Crenshaw. They’ve even come close to an agreement a couple of times.

“I would love to talk to him, because I want to know why he has this reputation in the Senate of being so unpopular,” Maher says. “Everyone seems to not like Ted Cruz on a visceral, personal level. I want to meet him in person and try to find out why that is.”

And even though every talk with Ted’s team seems to ultimately lead nowhere, Maher still holds on to that most American of feelings: hope. Plus, he knows he puts on one hell of a show.

“I’m not a humorist; I'm a comedian,” he says. “And if you’re not making people’s belly hurt after an hour and a half, if they’re not going, ‘OK, no más,’ then I don’t think you’re doing your job as a comedian. So, yeah, tell Ted to come to my show.”
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Tyler Hicks was born in Austin, but he grew up in Dallas. He typically claims one or the other, depending on which is most convenient. His work has appeared in Texas Monthly, Truthout, The Texas Observer and many other publications.
Contact: Tyler Hicks