Life Advice from Bill Maher

Emily Shur / Corbis Outline

What advice would you give to the younger you?
To have a better attitude. I was too sensitive. I used to get insulted if the crowd didn't get the jokes. The correct thing to do is just keep smiling, keep plugging, and if they still don't laugh by the end of the show, say thank you, good night, and get them next time. It's not smart to start telling the audience how stupid they are. And that happened. Many times.

What's the best advice you ever received?
In 1979, at Catch a Rising Star, or one of those New York comedy clubs, Larry David told me to take my wallet with me onstage, because it could get stolen if I left it in the dressing room.

What does the average American not understand about politics?
Politics, I think they understand. I don't think they understand policy. I hear it on the media all the time. "The American people say they want to hear about issues." No they don't. They want 'The Hunger Games.' They don't care about the issues. If they do, they don't bother to find out about the minutiae. It's funny that in the age of information, it's very hard to get information into people's heads. You'd think with the internet and everything, it would have gotten better. It got worse. Because people are able to stay in their bubbles. And they never hear the truth.

What's it like to have half the country pissed at you at any given moment?
At least half. You should read my Twitter feed. There is literally nothing I can tweet that won't incite a litany of people telling me I'm an asshole. I could say, "Good morning." "What the fuck do you know about morning, Bill Maher? You hate America!" It's hysterical. But at least they do it anonymously. I can count on one hand the number of times people have come up to me in person and said, "I don't like your politics."

What do you do when people get offended?
Again, sometimes I don't handle it so well. This happens at my own show. But when it comes to politics, people like myself – Jon Stewart, Colbert, whoever is out there giving an opinion – I don't think we really change people's minds. We entertain the people who already agree with us.

What book changed your life?
My life was changed in a big way, and very positive way, by not being able to ever get more than 20 pages into any of the insufferable, turgid writings of Ayn Rand. I honestly tried a few times to read her, but even in adolescence I could tell it was hopeless bullshit.

What's the one thing every man should know about women?
That they are more like you than not like you. That idea, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, is a bunch of bullshit. Treat her like you would a friend, and you'll wind up with a lover. What women want in a man, more than anything, is authenticity.

What role should drugs play in a man's life?
I think that's so individual, but I've always believed that if you're going to do drugs, get something out of it. That's why I always felt that cigarettes are the worst drug in the world. Even if I died tomorrow, I got a lot out of the drugs I did. I got a lot of good ideas out of the end of a joint. Even liquor – you get loose, you're funnier, and you're thinking of shit. Cigarettes do nothing but make you want more cigarettes.

How should a man handle regret?
First of all, just admit that you have regrets. I hear people say, "I have no regrets." And I'm, like, "Really? What world are you living in?" I try not to make the same mistakes, but the truth is, I've often made the same mistake countless times. But you know, if you live long enough, you do start to get more things right. That is one good thing about age. You're closer to death and you look worse, but hopefully, you know, you learn.

Was there a certain point where you sort of figured that out?
Yes. But I made it so much more painful for myself. The experience of starting out in comedy is painful enough, so to add that burden is ridiculous. It’s awful at the beginning. But once you sort of get the rocket up there, then it’s not hard and even if you’re not a star you can at least make a living and you work an hour a night. But the first couple of years, when you’re struggling to get on stage at two in the morning in front of three drunks, that’s painful.

What’s the best way to win an argument?
Have the facts on your side, and not lose your cool. I’ve done that too. Many a night I’ve driven home and thought, Well, I could have handled that better. The Irish in me tends to come out. And then you lose credibility in the eyes of the audience, even if you have the facts on your side. I always try to imagine the person who’s watching me and is not necessarily a fan. It’s easy to appeal to the people who are already like you. How about winning people over?

At this point in your career what’s your motivation?
I feel like I don’t have a big Moby Dick out there anymore. Before I made 'Religulous' – that was my Moby Dick, I had this one great white whale that I wanted to harpoon. But I did that, and I don’t really have a burning ambition to do other than what I am doing. I love my job, and I love doing stand up, and that keeps me busy. I truly believe that life is a lot about killing time until you die. It really is. I mean people build a ship inside of a little bottle until they die. They watch Nascar. They fucking watch cars driving around in a little circle – they’re literally watching traffic. It’s about being a decent a person as you can be, and then killing time until you die. I just try to do that as painlessly and elegantly as possible.

How should a man say he is sorry?
Looking someone in the eye. Meaning it. And without any excuses. Without any "buts" or "you knows," any provisos. Just, "I’m sorry. I fucked up." But don’t overdue it. We live in such an apology culture. Any time anybody has their feelings bruised about any little thing, everybody has to apologize. It must be once a week somebody in America is calling for me to apologize. You know what, they should apologize to me for turning this country into such a pussy nation.

How does a man find his true calling?
I don’t know, because I always knew mine. I was lucky. I knew I wanted to be a comedian when I was a little kid. I never lost sight of it. When I was about ten, my father gave me a little tape recorder as my big Christmas present. And I used to tape Johnny Carson sketches, Robert Klein monologues. And I would literally tape them and transcribe them word for word to study them. So I was lucky. I knew.

What’s the best cure for heartache?
Time is the only cure. There really is no other way to get through it. You just have to suck it up. Music is tough though, you can flip through the radio as you’re and almost everything is going to remind you of that person or make you sad. The last time I had to go through heartache, I only listened to the Spanish station, so I didn’t have to understand any of the lyrics.

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