Bill Maher, the acerbic host of HBO’s Real Time… on how relationships are like airplanes, the most important thing he learned as a kid, and why he cannot look away from Temptation Island. — As told to Larry Kanter
Men’s Journal: Who were your heroes growing up?
Bill Maher: Anyone who was funny. And then as I got a little older, it was funny but also attractive to women. Like Dean Martin. I was too young to quite understand exactly what was going on, but I just knew that my mother really liked The Dean Martin Show. He was suave and great looking and tan and drunk—all the things I wanted to be when I grew up. So those were my heroes, before I began to understand how the world works.
How did that understanding change who you looked up to?
I look up to people who don’t play for a team. I love people who are just, “Look, I’m on ‘Team Me.’ I’ll tell you what I think and let the chips fall where they may.” There are not that many people like that.
How should a man handle criticism?
With grace and humor. If you’re good enough, you can laugh it off. I wish I was that person always. But I’m not.
How should a person handle regret?
I don’t understand people who say they have no regrets. If you say you have no regrets, what you’re saying is, “I’m not learning; I’m not growing as a person.” Education always happens in the rear-view mirror.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
This is so fucking corny, but my par- ents. They were traditional liberals; they loved John F. Kennedy because he finally insisted that America embrace the promises of the civil rights move- ment. Even though there were no blacks in our town, they let me know that this was the right thing to do—to treat all people with the same dignity.
What human quality do you most admire?
Honesty. People who I sense are just telling me what I want to hear make me nervous.
What human quality do you most deplore?
I hate anyone who is cruel to animals.
How should a man handle getting older?
Don’t deny it.
What role should vanity play in a man’s life?
If you are at all interested in being attractive to a woman, at any age, the most important thing is authenticity and confidence. And what undercuts that more than anything is trying to fool somebody. If you’re the older guy who’s got the rug, the girdle, the boner pills, the plastic surgery…. That’s the worst thing.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Temptation Island. There’s something so evil about it. There are only two emotions—horny and crying. I love it. And I feel terrible about it.
You’ve never been married. As an outsider, what’s your view of the institution?
To me the analogy is: The relationship is the plane, and sex is the fuel, and when the plane runs out of fuel, it crashes. I remember saying this to a girl many years ago, and through tears streaming down her face, she said, “Love is my fuel.” I felt about two inches tall. But what can I say?
How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone?
As the guy who never pulled a punch.
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