What This Comedian Said Will Shock You

Image of What This Comedian Said Will Shock You
Release Date: 
May 21, 2024
Simon & Schuster
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Maher’s goal is to open our eyes, expand our minds, and move us past identity politics and toward making wiser choices for our country and world.

Whether you’re a fan of outspoken comedian Bill Maher, a political, cultural junkie, or seek comic relief from the sturm und drang of this pre-election season, you’ll enjoy the wit and wisdom of his new book which manages to be both hilarious and deadly serious.

This compendium of “thought pieces with laughs” originally written over the past 20 years for HBO’s Real Time and ABC’s Politically Incorrect is meant for “those with an open mind, and those who recognize that, especially now, there’s ample crazy on both sides” of the political and cultural divide. Along with these shows and five previous books, Maher’s goal is to open our eyes, expand our minds, and move us past identity politics and toward making wiser choices for our country and world.

He chose the book’s title, What This Comedian Said Will Shock You, to mock the current spate of screaming, over-the-top headlines coming from newsrooms and social media. A recovering Liberal leaning toward Libertarianism, he spares no one’s feelings as he expertly skewers the Right, the Left, and those who refuse to take a stand. He invites us to laugh at our own stridency, smugness, silliness, and holier than thou attitudes, and challenges us to use facts, statistics and critical thinking to fashion a world that works for all of us.  

The book is divided into 24 chapters with considerable overlap and “punny” subheads. In his introduction, Maher laments how comedy used to be relatively simple and unfettered—its point being to make people laugh. Now it’s constrained by the Left’s “wokeness” and inability to laugh at itself and the Right having lost its values, sense of proportion, and minds.

While the Right is busy banning school and library books that offend their conservative and mostly religious sensibilities, the Left is harpooning topics, language, and people that cause them any emotional distress. Though their efforts might appear wildly antithetical, Maher shows how alike the political extremes actually are: neither side wants to sit with discomfiting feelings and, instead, projects them outward and onto others. Sadly, their tantrums not only diminish the likelihood of sensibly educating and preparing future generations for life, but also stifle comedy which makes us laugh precisely because of its squirm factor.

Targeting causes of divisiveness, Maher says, “America in our current age suffers acutely from a particular disease of the mind, which is: everything proves what we already believed, and everything goes back to the thing we already hate.” The book is devoted to calling out extremists—from politicians to celebrities to influencers—for knowing too little and speaking too much, for purposely lying to themselves and others, and for failing to recognize the difference between right and wrong, ethics and chicanery, and when enough is enough.

Critiquing a bevvy of topics, there’s not much in American life that isn’t on Maher’s dartboard: free speech, cops, drugs, race, religion, cancel culture, polarization, climate change, showbiz, romance, trigger warnings, social media, dating, loneliness, cell phones, news media, helicopter parenting, sexual orientation and identity, immigration, generational trends, overregulation, guns, abortion, capitalism/socialism, income inequality, COVID, health and weight, marriage and singlehood, child-rearing, patriotism, and antisemitism.  

Oddly, for someone so dedicated to facts and statistics, Maher clings to decades’ out-of-date theories about dieting and exercise, continuing his quasi-obsession with shaming and blaming higher weight people for being lazy and undisciplined. And, while trigger warnings taken to the extreme may be detrimental to emotional and intellectual growth, he fails to recognize that some of what triggers people is rooted in bona fide mental health issues, specifically trauma, both individually and culturally, such as those caused by racism.

He also takes jabs at celebrities, politicians, corporate bigwigs, elected officials, and media stars—too many to name—who can be found in the book’s 20-page index that reads like a Who’s Who of folks who should know better but never will.

Not surprisingly, Maher devotes a chapter exclusively to Donald Trump, the man who filed a five-million-dollar lawsuit against the comedian for joking that the former president was the love child of an orangutan. Maher warns, “I’m not going to let Donald Trump have the satisfaction of dominating this book . . . so let’s just play his greatest hits and call it a day.” They include Trump’s legal difficulties with porn-star Stormy Daniels and Maher’s speculations on where the ex-president might be getting sex these days. Maher also shares a tongue-in-cheek eulogy he wrote in 2020 for Trump, ending with his wish: “May you find the peace your Twitter thumbs never could.”  

After spending most of the book deftly weaponizing humor, Maher closes on a touchingly upbeat note which prevents the book from being a rant or a downer. He shares his delight in people’s differences—their outlook, convictions, and sense of humor—and believes we can learn from each other if we would stifle ourselves on hot topics, the way we used to when Maher and many others were growing up. He prophesizes that “this making everything political is not a practice that is going to end well for us.”

Maher isn’t trying to revive the Kumbaya campfires of the sixties, but insists we have to stop hating and trying to change “the other side” if we’re going to survive as a nation. Yes, he insists, things have come to that: a win or lose battle that is destroying us. He finds the movement to slice and dice our country into separate entities downright dangerous and, corny as it sounds, instead invites us to consider how we can stay and stand together by “shutting the f**k up” about our self-serving political and religious opinions and finding something—anything—more relatable to talk about.