I don't like Bill Maher. There was a time, back in college, when watching Real Time with Bill Maher on a wealthy friend's cable felt like an initiation into capital-L liberalism, one performed by the generation before me with polite laughs at Maher's "oh, he went there" comedy. But as an adult, I just find him cruel, hawkish, and small minded. He's like a real life version of a Stephen Colbert character, which makes his appearance on last night's The Late Show so surreal.
As New Republic notes in its new addictive Minutes blog, "the two argued and joked about, as Colbert pointed out, the two things you're not supposed to talk about at dinner: religion and politics. It was, at times, oddly barbed (especially for post-Fallon singalong late night)." Over the past three years, Fallon has been labeled by the media countless times as the nicest guy on late night. What's refreshing about Colbert's interview with Maher is that he's nice, but doesn't cede who he is. When Maher makes barbed comments about the host's faith or political beliefs, Colbert doesn't steer the conversation to fairer waters; he defends himself.
Fallon has relied on cheeky games and oddball activities with big name celebrities to dominate YouTube. Interviews like Colbert's promise a mature alternative: entertainment with something to say. It's the type of program I think I always wanted Maher's show to be. I do wonder if this is what interviews might have been like on Last Week Tonight had the show kept the format past its first couple episodes.
The interview is what cable news talk shows aspire to be: two people talking passionately about politics without inspiring you to change the channel. You can watch a particularly awkward moment in which Colbert welcomes Maher back to the Catholic church, above, and New Republic has uploaded the interview in its entirety.