Bill Maher

On this date in 1956, comedian, television personality, author and freethought advocate William Maher Jr. was born in New York City to a Jewish mother and Catholic father. He was raised in River Vale, N.J., and attended Cornell University. Maher started his stand-up comedy career in 1979, and still performs at least 50 gigs a year in Las Vegas and across the country. The 22-time Emmy-nominated comedian came to prominence with his Comedy Central and then ABC show "Politically Incorrect" (1993-2002). He now hosts the immensely popular "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO (begun in 2003). He has authored four bestsellers, including True Story (2005), Does Anybody Have a Problem with That? Politically Incorrect's Greatest Hits (1997), When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden (2002) and New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer (2006). Maher has starred in nine stand-up comedy specials for HBO, including the Emmy-nominated "The Decider" (2007) and "I'm Swiss" (2005). Maher is number 38 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time.

Maher's comedy often throws comedic punches at organized religion. "Religulous" (2008), which is the seventh-highest grossing documentary of all time, features Maher interviewing believers from different faiths, which generates many laughs, and concludes with a more serious warning on the danger of religion. He said on "Real Time," on Feb. 17, 2006: "New rule: If churches don't have to pay taxes, they also can't call the fire department when they catch fire. Sorry reverend, that's one of those services that goes along with paying in. I'll use the fire department I pay for. You can pray for rain." He said in April 2008: "If you have a few hundred followers and you let some of them molest children, they call you a cult leader. If you have a billion, they call you Pope" ("Real Time"). He told Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show": "I hate religion. I think it's a neurological disorder" (April 24, 2004). 

Maher lines from his film, “Religulous”:

  • "Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking."
  • "Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do."
  • "Rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price."
  • “If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers."
  • “If you believe that the world is going to come to an end — and perhaps any day now —- does it not drain one's motivation to improve life on earth while we're here?”

"When I hear from people that religion doesn't hurt anything, I say, really? Well besides wars, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, 9-11, ethnic cleansing, the suppression of women, the suppression of homosexuals, fatwas, honor killings, suicide bombings, arranged marriages to minors, human sacrifice, burning witches, and systematic sex with children, I have a few little quibbles. And I forgot blowing up girl schools in Afghanistan."

—Bill Maher, in an interview with Don Imus on Fox, Nov. 1, 2009

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch; Photo by Tinseltown, Shutterstock.com

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