Nobody ever robs restaurants. Bars, liquor stores, gas stations... you get your head blown off sticking up one of them. Restaurants on the other hand, you catch with their pants down. They're not expecting to get robbed. Not as expectant anyway.But who am I to pry into your Friday night? I watched the show, mostly because I saw that Markos Moulitsas and Christopher Hitchens were going to be on -- and they're two characters I follow, more or less, not to the point where I think about what they'd do on a Friday night if they weren't doing "Real Time with Bill Maher." But they were there, Hitchens looking unusually healthy. Markos, perky as ever, with those big eyes and that turn-the-world-on-with-your smile.
Bill did his typical monologue, each joke beginning with the recitation of a recent news story and then swooping down for a low punchline. One punchline, about Mark John Karr -- he's so hilarious -- made me laugh, but I can't remember it this morning.
Then he interviewed Spike Lee, who was there -- on a video screen -- to promote his documentary "When the Levees Broke." But Lee wasn't into the promotion enough to pump any energy into the segment. Maher shifted from the subject of Lee's movies to the topic of a recent Bob Herbert column -- TimeSelect link -- and quoted the line "If white people were doing to black people what black people are doing to black people, there would be rioting from coast to coast." (The column was about Juan Williams's new book "Enough." And I wish the Times would make it available now for open linking.) Spike Lee acted like he couldn't understand what Herbert was talking about. Maher got stern and said he knew what it meant, and Lee murmured his way to the finish line.
Next up was Elvis Costello, who had something to promote, I think. And it was his birthday, which is such a less interesting fact than people seem to realize. We were supposed to care that he took time from his birthday -- like it matters when you've had 52 of them and when he was only on a video screen. For some reason, Maher went into a riff about how there's never been a whiff of scandal about Elvis Costello and his name is as pure as the driven snow or some such nonsense. Elvis opted neither to agree or disagree, and I made a mental note to Google later, because I thought there was something. Yeah. This:
In March 1979, Costello capped off this productive period in his extra-artistic life by getting himself into a scrap with Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame) and Bonnie Bramlett (a minor singer from the '60s) in a hotel bar in Ohio. Again motivated by an unclear principle, he did his best to offend them, finally resorting to a burst of profanity and bigotry, capped with the assertion that Ray Charles was a "blind, ignorant n*****."In any event, Costello showed all signs of being more boring than Spike Lee so I muted the sound and finished the Friday crossword.
There's no evidence that Costello was a racist -- he'd been active in Rock Against Racism before it was fashionable and was too smart in any event to let it show if he was -- but he was being as stupid, reckless and out of control as any of the broken-down '60s stars his energy, brains and invective were supposed to be an antidote for. In any event, Bramlett industriously publicized the exchange and Costello tried to explain and apologize. He took his lumps in a months-long transatlantic brouhaha; to this day some serious critics hold him in contempt.
I unmuted when the panel came out. It was Christopher Hitchens, Senator Max Cleland, and Vali Nasr (a scholar who's written this book -- "The Shia Revival"). Maher framed a question about Iraq in terms of how finally, after all these years, even the idiots have figured out that the war in Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism. He cited a poll that showed only 1% of Brits thought it did. The other guests went along with the demonstration of how everybody knows this is true, and you, the HBO subscriber, were supposed to get the point that you're going to be an object of horrible mockery if you don't get in line. It was Hitchens's turn, and he called himself one of "the elite," because he was in that 1%, and proceeded to explain why. When the audience booed, he gave them the finger and said "F**k you." Then, when Maher tried to recentralize his point that everyone knows Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism and the audience cheered, Hitchens turned on the audience and abused them again. He abused Maher too, for leading the herd along and building himself up with their cheap support, and then he praised Maher for not letting Spike Lee wriggle out of the question he damned well understood. Hitchens knows how to do TV. [ADDED: Video!]
Maher had a comic bit set up where he had various products that you can't take on a plane anymore, like a bottle of "Jihad, Your Hair Smells Terrific" and "Behead and Shoulders." There were about ten of these things, and the funniest part of it really was how much it cracked up Senator Cleland. In case you're wondering if the format has changed, Maher also did his "New Rules" routine.
And somewhere in the middle of that, they video-screened Markos Moulitsas, who lacked any edge or ennui or signs of age or anything but the positive energy of a guy doing an interview for college admission. He believes in his blog project and it's all for the good, bringing people together, la, la, la. Maher has no material to make this interesting, so he resorts to a discussion of the word "blog." He doesn't like it. That's so 2004, Bill. Ending the interview, Maher says, "Goodbye, Carlos." Carlos. Come on. If it was Carlos, it would be The DailyLos. Ah, well, I'm sure Markos found a way to take a cloudy night and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.