One of the most popular debates in 2017 concerns the tension between political correctness and free speech. As this polarization grows, political satire has seen a sharp increase in popularity. For many on both sides of the debate, this past weekend provided one of the city’s must-see events. Controversial funnyman Bill Maher performed for the first time in New Orleans since 2013.
The famed comedian appeared shortly after his 8 p.m. scheduled start time March 18 at Saenger Theater. Shortly before he took the stage, a voice came on the theater’s loudspeaker politely asking the audience to refrain from taking photos or videos during the show, which preceded an odd introduction to the show.
Maher’s set began like any other respected comedian’s would: loud applause, murmurs between audience members and shout-outs from a few eager fans. Maher thanked the audience, but he then quickly proceeded to scold several people who did not respect his no-pictures policy. Advising them to “live in the moment,” he started and stopped his opening monologue repeatedly as more decided to sneak photographs.
Tension quickly replaced the feeling of anticipation in the air. Soon after, a few fans started heckling Maher while he gave his monologue, and he swiftly reminded them that this show was not like the talk show he moderates most Friday nights on HBO. At this point, decorum was restored when Maher politely requested for his audience to leave him with a good impression of Louisiana.
After a bumpy start, Maher found his groove, and the rest of the performance was nearly seamless. Maher looked as comfortable as ever, delivering material from the current season of “Real Time with Bill Maher” along with new jokes. This political banter quickly evolved into the central focus of his performance, as he particularly honed in on how Democrats lost the presidential election.
His first reason immediately polarized the audience as he explained why he believes Democrats need to change their position on Islam. Citing specific laws in particular Muslim-majority countries, he called for liberals to challenge what he called “illiberal” practices. The crowd’s uneasy reaction peaked when he referred to the traditional burka as a “beekeeper suit,” prompting many to shout their disgust in the midst of mixed applause.
As controversial as his comments were, Maher quickly won back his audience with ridicule they all enjoyed, like the daily headlines from our current president and religious humor. The audience left the venue appearing mostly satisfied with the performance, but many left wondering whether Maher takes his “political incorrectness” too far.
The show presented an opportunity to witness one of political comedy’s brightest minds in a rare appearance. His comedic skills reliably delivered. An obvious air of uncertainty was present within the older, liberal-leaning audience, but it’s the reason Maher remains popular after 25 years of satirizing American politics.