After his fourth Hawaii New Year’s tour, political comedian Bill Maher must have realized he had to do more to keep Hawaii audiences coming out, to keep his show feeling fresh.
His shows a year ago — as always, Honolulu on the Eve and Maui on New Year’s Day — were funny but suffered a bit from a feeling of sameness, including some repeated jokes. To mix it up and make the show bigger, Maher added David Spade and Jeffrey Ross to the bill this year. The result? A two-hour show with an entirely different feel — more party than party politics — and more laughs, but at the expense of the man most of the audience came to see.
Whether it was due to an eagerness to share the stage or an effort to keep the concert from running too long (a real consideration when people have New Year’s celebrations to get to), the audience deserved more Maher.
In previous years, the “Real Time” host did about an 80-minute set. His stage time Thursday night was less than an hour, and that included a show-concluding song with special guest Eddie Vedder.
The Pearl Jam singer, who accompanies Maher to the islands for these tours occasionally and also performed unannounced two years ago, opened the show with two songs: “Soon Forget” on ukulele, which he attached to Donald Trump, and the Who’s “The Seeker” on guitar. In between, he showed a sense of humor to compete with Maher and his mates, joking that “I love (the anti-religion Maher) so much that I might say I follow him religiously … but I don’t know how he’d like that.”
Vedder’s surprise appearance — which became less of a surprise when an ukulele and guitar were set up 15 to 20 minutes before the show — was appreciated by the crowd, much of which rose to its feet for him.
Spade followed with a 20-minute set that showed he can work outside his usual snark, opening with a funny line about Hawaii — “If you can’t make Hawaii look good on Instagram, give it up. There are no bad angles.”
He followed with a funny — though unsettling, given his history with drugs — piece on Ambien and Vicodin. (“I need it because I got a tooth pulled … in August. Getting the dentist to sign off on that 50th refill was tough.”)
Spade also showed off his flare as a storyteller with bits on performing for President Bush, growing up poor and how hard it is to hook up when you’re staying at a mega-hotel in Vegas. The last of those included a hilarious take on the difficulty of giving a potential mate directions to your room that include a shuttle and a pair of mile-long corridors.
He wrapped up with a funny take on DUIs inspired by his own arrest, contrasting it with his dad’s drunk driving decades earlier, tossing in a possible shot at Trump: “When I was a kid, we didn’t have DUIs. Remember when America was great?”
Ross took the stage next and had the crowd — appreciably rowdier than in Maher’s prior visits — rolling right away. Noticing immediately that there was a sign language interpreter — Kapiolani Community College professor Jan Fried — Ross launched into several vulgar sentences (none of which can be repeated here even in part) to see how she would translate. Fried was a good sport and Ross rewarded her with his lei.
He kept the audience laughing throughout his half-hour set, with winning line after winning line:
>> “If Trump becomes president, that is proof the Illuminati doesn’t exist.”
>> On why marijuana should be legalized: “Police have more important things to worry about than someone driving 11 in a 55.”
>> Putting a twist on the overdone “cops like doughnuts” joke, he suggested the baked good’s appeal to police is that it “looks like it’s been shot.”
Ross, known as the Roastmaster General, topped off his set by asking for volunteers to be “speed roasted.” Fifteen audience members stepped up to be ribbed about their appearance (“You look like the American Taliban”), clothes (“Does your boyfriend like that you’re wearing your dress backward?”), posture (“Why are you dancing around like you have to pee?”) and anything else Ross can think of.
But the funniest line to come out of the speed roasting was delivered not by Ross, but by one oh his victims. As he rubbed a pregnant woman’s baby bump, she told him “Anything lower you gotta pay for,” bringing down the house.
As funny as the additions to the bill were — and Maher said he plans to bring two different comedians with him every year — the looser show seemed to keep Maher from getting into his usual flow. He did about 20 minutes at the top and another 35 minutes to finish, but his promised “year in review” was a tad disjointed.
Some of his best material hit on Bill Cosby’s alleged serial raping:
>> “Naming a hospital after Ronald Reagan is like naming an energy drink after Bill Cosby.”
>> On the possibility of Cosby being tried: “Do we have time? Your honor, I’d like to call witness No. 1,437. And the stenographer has something to say about what happened before lunch …”
>> “You know how women go to the bathroom in pairs? I think that’s because of (Cosby).”
Maher also ran through much of the field vying for the Republican presidential nomination, comparing the front-runner Trump to “a movie monster who gets stronger off the stuff you use to kill him.”
He called Ben Carson the craziest of the bunch — “He says the things other Republicans only say when they’re trying to hit on Ann Coulter.” — and took shots at Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and almost every major GOP contender.
Also, as has become Maher’s practice, he had some harsh words for the Democratic party (“There is no anti-gun party.”) and liberals (the rush to support Texas clock-building teen Ahmed Mohamed and defend Muslims).
All told, the lineup provided many laughs, but the show might be better served in future years by bringing in a designated emcee or consolidating Maher’s time into one block so he can get into a better flow.