Bill Maher Live: I'm Swiss Review
Bill Maher is a fascinating figure in American public life, having been an actor, a stand-up comic, a political agitator and a highly controversial talk-show host. His broad education and extensive social and intellectual interests make him something of a polymath, although Maher himself would probably scorn that description since puncturing pomposity is one of the things he does so well. His politics are left-libertarian but he remains a fascinating enigma; supporting the right to abortion and the death penalty with equal enthusiasm and combining a keen awareness of women’s issues with regular visits to the Playboy mansion and the lifestyle of a confirmed bachelor. In other words, he refuses to be pigeonholed into a category and this makes him very refreshing at a time when many politically astute comedians are keen to wear party affiliations on their sleeves.
I’m Swiss is a concert from 2005 which demonstrates the wide range of Maher’s comic concerns. Much of it is highly critical of George W. Bush but he also examines issues such as idiotic 9/11 conspiracy theories and has a few cracks at the expense of John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill Clinton – whom he claims to admire, partially because “he fucked ugly girls.” As ever, Maher’s spiel hovers on the verge of rant but he has a sharp eye for a good one-liner and a certain self-deprecation which prevents his more macho comments from becoming obnoxious. The best parts of the set deal with his support for gay marriage, his puzzlement at the American attitude to health, the madness of rap lyrics – which he translates into “proper English” to amusing effect – and, naturally, religion. That this last topic has become a calling card for Maher is apparent at the start of the show when we see the audience waiting outside and being harangued by demented Evangelical Christians. Some of Maher’s material is similar to that of fellow bible-doubters such as Ricky Gervais and Stewart Lee but his anger at the devastation wrought by fundamentalism gives him a pleasingly bitter edge.
Admittedly, Maher comes across as a crowd-pleaser at times, coming up with well-wrought ringing phrases and pausing for the inevitable applause – which seems to come roughly every thirty seconds. But he’s also very funny, very smart and a valuable thorn in the side of the establishment. Anyone who enjoyed him in Religulous will enjoy this, especially those who would have preferred him to have made his arguments against religion without the benefit of the straw-men who were paraded on screen.
The main feature was shot on video and looks absolutely fine on Revolver's DVD if not particularly distinctive. The soundtrack is equally acceptable. There is also a small selection of extra features. A short six minute behind-the-scenes piece - a camera following Maher as he gets ready for his show - is followed by ten minutes of questions from the audience. These tend to be based around politics and religion but Maher also gets chance to emphasise his views on the food we should eat.