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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Bill Maher hates your (fill in the blank) religion

Bill Maher and Larry Charles getting ready to get Religulous

In Bill Maher's new documentary, "Religulous," the film's protagonist--Maher himself--feels the same way about the film's subject matter at the beginning as at the end: In other words, he thinks religion is a big crock of spit. You know irreverence is the order of the day when Maher, reacting to a smooth-talking black preacher's boast that he got a great deal on his $2,000 suits, drolly observes, "I find it interesting that you're a Christian, you used to be a Muslim but you buy all your clothes like a Jew."

"Religulous" doesn't open until Oct. 3, but after seeing the movie I couldn't wait to grill Maher about how he managed to get so many deeply religious figures to actually talk to him, since it's obvious to anyone whose ever watched Maher's act (on "Politically Incorrect" or HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" or in a comedy club) that he wasn't much of a believer. In many ways, the film is a comic bookend to Sam Harris' "The End of Faith," a humorless best seller that views religion as a bastion of superstition and moral hypocrisy. Although Maher embraces Harris' belief that religion is a destructive force that has brought great pain and suffering into the world--at one point he calls it a neurological disorder--Maher is always searching for the humor in every situation. A longtime acolyte of George Carlin, when Maher confronts a religious zealot or hustler, he prefers mocking over scolding.

Rolling his eyes, often full of derision, Maher gets in his licks with everyone, from a guy playing Jesus at a Holy Land theme park in Orlando to Muslims at a gay bar in Amsterdam to a rabbi who advocates the dissolution of Israel (he wears a card with the slogan "A Jew Not a Zionist"). As everything from "The Gong Show" to "Borat" has proved, real people and situations are often undeniably funnier than anything scripted by the best comic minds. In Holland, Maher is in the midst of questioning a somber Muslim cleric when he's interrupted by the cleric's cellphone, whose ring tone is Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

So how did Maher manage to get all these people to actually talk to him? Since "Religulous" was directed by Larry Charles, who also did "Borat," I suspected that subterfuge and trickery were involved. I was not far wrong. Here's how Maher pulled it off:

On how he got people to talk to him: "It was simple: We never, ever, used my name. We never told anybody it was me who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film. We called it 'A Spiritual Journey.' It didn't work everywhere. We went to Salk Lake City, but no one would let us film there at all."

On the element of surprise: "Larry Charles' theory is--just keep going till they throw you out. I guess he learned that on 'Borat.' The crew would set up and at the last second, when the cameras were already rolling, I would show up. So either they'd be seen on camera leaving the interview and lose face or they'd have to talk to me. It was like--'And now here's ... Bill!' You could usually see the troubled looks on their faces. At the Holy Land theme park, the PR woman freaked out and finally told us to leave. She was definitely not a happy camper."

On his encounter with Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, who tells Maher he believes the biblical account that Earth was created 5,200 years ago: "He's not going to be happy with this movie. I suspect he's going to say that the editing is not favorable to him [laughs]. And he's not completely wrong about that. But we didn't make anything up. When I told him I was worried about people [with such literal interpretations of the Bible] running the country, he's the one who says, 'Well, you don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate.' "

Tomorrow: Bill Maher tells us what he really thinks about religion.

photo of Bill Maher and Larry Charles by Alexandra Lambrinidis/Lionsgate

Comments () | Archives (308)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Anything that puts religion in it's place, "fictionland" is good for the planet. Religion goes hand in hand with complete ignorance and stupidity, with greed, bigotry, intolerance and racism thrown in for a warm glass of milk at night feeling.

There is a God, but it's only a part-time job. Like a kid with an ant farm, That would explain the short, intense periods of micromanagement mixed into long, long periods of inattention.

"imagine the problems WE can solve if we don't have the roadblocks that religion throws in front of us ".... Perhaps you've missed the point. Assuming there is no Divine: Religion didn't just descend out of the sky and fall upon US... WE are the ones responsible for putting it in place. Thinking that we then can somehow legislate it out of our lives and that will solve the problem is grossly ignorant. People get taken for losses in Credit Card scams. Eliminating Credit Cards would certainly stop that particular type of scam, but it's not going to stop humans from inventing other types of scams. The problem isn't religion, the problem is human nature.

You are forever treating symptoms and ignoring the cause. By doing so, you will never fix the problem. Think about this issue deeper. Ignore Bill and do some real thinking.

I've always wondered why the religious right is so aggressive and outright mean and unforgiving.
I don't anymore.
The truth will set them free

Every day I thank my "god" that I'm an Atheist!

The more ridicule this nonsense undergoes the better. Bill is not ridiculing god but the cult groups that have sprung up around the Idea of a god. One cannot disprove the existence of the one but pointing out the stupidity of the others makes for great entertainment.

It's amazing how many comments on this forum attack the man, not the ideas. Knowledge is the enemy of religion, and the Anti-Rationalism memes ("trust your heart, not logic") are one of religion's best tricks, evolved over a period of 2,000 years. Those who fear Bill Maher, and can't debate their religion honestly and openly, but instead resort to mudslinging, are victims of the anti-rationalism meme, and many other highly evolved traits that make religion so "sticky," so hard to get rid of.

Bill Maher is a horse's ass!

Despite the shrillness of the Christian Right or their recent convergence into a right-wing voting bloc, from the last U.S. government survey taken regarding religious affiliation in America, the largest percentage of increase (over an 1,000% increase) was not in any religion or faith but in people describing themselves as having NO religious affiliation. The recent increase in religious violence in Muslim nations is not because of an upsurge in religious fervor but the death-throes of the old order now threatened with extinction.

I feel like this movie might make up for the release of Expelled. It makes me sad, all the people who don't understand the science behind evolution and instead close their minds and believe the illogical simply because they want to. And the religious being mocked for the ridiculous things they do, think, and say -- that is retribution, even if it is small, petty, and not going to do anything but flare up religious fervor. *shrug* I'm only human.

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