With Bill Maher visiting Hawaii for a New Year’s tour for the seventh year, audiences have a pretty good idea of what to expect.
That’s not to say that the capacity audience at the Blaisdell Concert Hall is the same 2,000-plus people every year, but even those who aren’t regulars know they will get political humor (with a strong liberal lean) with a lot of swearing mixed in, as well as references to sex, marijuana, religion and the general state of America.
In addition to the expanded slate of the past few years (Maher brought two guests this year for the third time, and the three will perform at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on New Year’s Day at 7:30 p.m.), there are often some celebrity cameos, most commonly Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, who has performed sets a few times.
Maher stripped away a lot of the extras this year. Sure, he brought two more guests to fill out the bill — comic/actor Bob Saget and Barack Obama impersonator Reggie Brown — but Vedder made only a recorded cameo, and no other celebs took the stage.
All of that is fine, though. Vedder’s presence especially had become a highlight, and appearances by the likes of Sean Penn and Michael Moore added to the party vibe, but the main point always remained the laughs, and Maher, Saget and Brown delivered those in varied ways Sunday night.
Maher did half-hour bookends, with the opening set mostly political and the closer … well, still pretty political, but a bit less so. As expected, the topical portion was focused mainly on President Donald Trump, who Maher said made him wish for the days of less dangerous Republicans such as George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.
“I can’t believe I was so afraid of Romney that I gave Obama a million dollars,” he said, referring to his well-publicized gift to the 2012 re-election campaign. “I would give Mitt a million now to take over. I’d even become a Mormon.”
Maher also had harsh words for Trump’s voters, noting that “the people who were saved by Obamacare voted for the guy who said he would take it away” and opining that the U.S. doesn’t have an immigration problem, it has a “ ‘My life didn’t turn out the way I wanted, so I blame other people’ problem.’ ”
The #MeToo movement that has risen to prominence in the wake of dozens of allegations of sexual assault and harassment also got some attention from Maher, who noted that something positive has resulted from the sordid acts alleged against the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken and Roy Moore. He also noted how the disclosures have affected his comedy.
“After 35 years of masturbation jokes, I now have to make it clear that I was alone,” Maher said, referring to accusations of what Weinstein did in front of some of his victims.
He also turned the disturbing news into a personal revelation.
“I spent my life thinking I didn’t understand women. Turns out I don’t understand men either.”
In Maher’s closing set, he aimed some of his venom at Democrats, blaming their political correctness for the rise of Trump, whose followers appreciate his willingness to say (or tweet) any thought that blows through his mind.
Maher has long been one of the loudest voices against “political correctness” (before his current HBO panel show “Real Time,” he made it big with the similar “Politically Incorrect” on Comedy Central and ABC, after all) and he revisited that gripe as well
“I don’t want to live in a country where no one says anything offensive,” Maher growled. “That’s what Canada is for.”
He also noted that part of the reason America still has a gun problem is that we have two “gun parties.”
“Why is it we have a zero tolerance of drugs, but infinity tolerance of guns?” asked Maher, himself a gun owner.
Saget’s and Brown’s sets were a bit less heavy.
Though known for his family-friendly work on TV shows such as “Full House” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos, Saget has since returned to his roots as a Grade-A filthy comic. His half-hour set Sunday night at the Blaisdell was actually a tad cleaner than his recent standup special “Zero to Sixty,” but he sacrificed none of the funny.
Saget uses sneakily delivered punchlines to great effect, reminiscent of Wendy Liebman, though he keeps building on his jokes relentlessly even after the audience is laughing, which kept Sunday’s crowd rolling throughout his set.
Most of Saget’s material cannot be published on this website, but a couple of highlights that can revolved around his “Full House” persona, Danny Tanner. (“That to me is a curse word,” Saget said in a recent interview.)
Referring to Bill Cosby’s fall due to allegations of widespread sexual assault, Saget proclaimed himself “the only television father left who you can trust.”
He also joked about the recent “Full House” reboot, “Fuller House” (which he has a recurring role in) and said someday there would likely be a “Fullest House,” with his contribution being limited to “just my ashes in an urn by the window.”
Tanner was also at the heart of one of the two songs Saget performed — “Danny Tanner Was Not Gay,” which is actually a collection of reasons to think maybe his character was homosexual, set to the tune of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys.
Saget closed with a second tune, the hopeful (but still dirty) “We’ve Got to Be Kind to Each Other.”
Maher and Saget have been working at their craft for 35-plus years and the polish shows. Brown’s career as an Obama impersonator started when the Hawaii-born senator from Illinois was elected nine years ago and his act — done entirely as Obama, behind a podium and in front of a personalized replica of the presidential seal — is still a work in progress.
A few of the jokes were old and a few were forced, but he also had sharp observations about Obama post-presidency, such as noting that he (Obama) now finally gets to play “as much golf as Trump plays while in office” and that Obama’s new hobbies are things like skiing and water-skiing and “all the stuff white people do, which pisses off the alt-right.”
Like Maher, Brown also was not afraid to slip in shots at Dems, even if they drew groans from the very liberal audience.
One thing about Brown’s 25-minute act that is most definitely not a work in progress is his impersonation of Obama. His delivery, mannerisms and word choices add up to perfection. Call me crazy, but it even looks like Brown might have worked to get his ears to stick out more over the years, mirroring Obama’s.
The trio closed with what has become a tradition at Maher’s shows here, a jokey rendition of the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile.” Vedder usually serves as bandleader. Though absent this year, he joined in via recording. The performers’ singing doesn’t live up to their comedy, but ending the evening with a personal moment that takes them out of their element works with the party atmosphere Maher has built.