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Beastly Business: Comedian Bill Maher reveals his warm and fuzzy side.

Real Time With Bill Maher

Bill Maher slaughters sacred cows, but stands up for the ethical treatment of cattle

By Art O'Sullivan

Bill Maher possesses one of the most recognizable voices on the current political scene. The host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher--he got the ax from ABC-TV for telling the politically incorrect truth after 9/11--the comedian has a tough, take-no-prisoners comedic style. On the tube his speech resonates with a sharp, cutting edge. By contrast, at the beginning of this interview, Maher's tone is a tad impatient--until asked about animal rights/welfare issues.

"Oh, I could talk about that all day," sighs Maher, and spends most of our proverbial 15 minutes discussing animal-related issues, a subject that has him speaking softly, absent his notorious bite and cynicism. It's a warm and fuzzy side that--if taken out of context--could ruin his reputation with hard-core cynics. To be clear, Maher the animal advocate does get angry about animal abuse. On a recent Real Time program, Maher took Alaska's governor to task for the unsporting treatment of dogs forced to run dragging sleds hundreds of miles in the state's popular Iditarod race. The governor confidently reassured the host that "those dogs are bred" for that purpose. To which Maher screamed, "That's what they used to say about slaves!"

Asked about his affiliation with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), where he is a member of the board of directors, Maher says he's not in lockstep with the group. "But I take the name seriously. People should just treat animals in an ethical way," says Maher, who seldom eats meat, condemns "factory farming," and wants more "pressure for humane killing" of animals slaughtered for food.

Acknowledging that he sympathizes with animals more deeply than he does with the human race, Maher says, "We are sentient in ways animals are not. Animals are innocent. They're not mean, they don't plot." By contrast, Maher observes, "people are irredeemably fallen."

Asked what impact Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's photo-op geese killing in Ohio had, Maher responds, "It made me dislike him more." As to the event's effect on the election--"Nil," Maher says flatly. This gives him the chance to launch into a critique of the Democrats' misguided "attempt to become like the other party"--to mimic the Republican Party, the party that loves guns and violence.

"Where's the other party to stand up for that other point of view?" he asks.

Bill Maher will be standing up for other points of view-telling jokes, tossing barbs and doing his whole bit on Saturday, April 9, at 8 pm at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.

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From the April 6-13, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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