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From the Writers’ Almanac:
Today is the birthday of comedian and talk show host Bill Maher (1956). He was born William Maher Jr. in New York City, and he grew up in River Vale, New Jersey. His father was a news editor for NBC, so the family dinner table conversation usually revolved around the big issues of the day, and young Maher was encouraged to contribute his own thoughts and feelings. He wanted to be a comedian ever since he was a kid, but he didn’t tell his parents about his career aspirations until after he graduated from Cornell with a degree in English and history in 1978.
His career progressed along the usual trajectory: first comedy clubs, then small parts in small movies and TV shows, and eventually stand-up gigs on The Tonight Show. His big break finally came in 1993, when a fledgling cable network called Comedy Central approached him. They were struggling, and they asked him if he would be interested in hosting a show. That show was Politically Incorrect, and it brought together people from across the political spectrum to discuss current events, leavened with Maher’s own opinionated quips. It ran for nine years. He’s hosted a similar program, Real Time with Bill Maher, on HBO since 2003.
Bill Maher on American exceptionalism: “Always waving the big foam number one finger; we’re not number one in most things. We’re number one in military. We’re number one in money. We’re number one in fat toddlers, meth labs, and people we send to prison. We’re not number one in literacy, money spent on education. We’re not even number one in social mobility. Social mobility means basically the American dream, the ability of one generation to do better than the next. We’re tenth. That’s like Sweden coming in tenth in Swedish meatballs.”
I’ll note that Politically Incorrect eventually aired on ABC and was canceled because they didn’t like Maher’s criticism of the government after 9/11.