On Wednesday, syndicated radio show host Rush Limbaugh took aim at a familiar target who reliably fires up his millions of right-wing listeners: Bill Maher. The long-tenured host of HBO’s Real Time went on his show last Friday and mocked red state America with his usual mix of rich-guy coastal condescension and middlebrow, sub-Leno zingers.
“We have chef Wolfgang Puck, they have Chef Boyardee,” he said, stifling a laugh. “Our roofs have solar panels, theirs have last year’s Christmas lights.” Maher concluded, “That’s why red state voters are so pissed off. They don’t hate us, they want to be us.”
For Limbaugh, this wasn’t merely an example of an old adversary once again insulting his core constituency. It was emblematic of how all liberals feel. “It unveiled a lot of the thinking about people who are among the elite,” cowed Limbaugh, pulling a reverse Ice Cube.
The irony is that Limbaugh’s aging, boomer-centric audience would probably enjoy Maher’s show these days. In the past month, Maher has stepped up his perpetual line-stepping, joking about a black congressman eating at Popeye’s Chicken, guffawing over liberals whining about Bohemian Rhapsody not having enough “dick-sucking,” and lending his platform to long-time “frenemy” Ann Coulter to make incoherent and racist comments about President Trump’s immigration policy.
The monologue last Friday about yokels from flyover country eating Chef Boyardee is the latest example of Maher’s increasingly lame, anachronistic brand of political comedy. By now, the only people who take Maher seriously as a dangerous voice on the progressive left are geriatric conservative talk-radio fans that haven’t kept up with pop culture since the early ’90s. Among actual liberals, however, Maher is now largely seen as a boor who frequently co-opts talking points from the right about dangerous Muslims and wimpy millennial “snowflakes,” even as he continues to present himself as a cool guy who’s totally down with the right causes.
Maher turned 63 last month. He’s a chauvinistic, straight white male born in the ’50s in a party that more and more is being led by women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community born in the late ’80s and ’90s, around the time that Maher starred in Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. He’s not representative of where the energy is on the left — he is, in fact, largely reviled by millennial and Generation Z progressives.
He’s not a figurehead. He’s a cautionary tale for what happens when aging, arrogant white liberals mistakenly believe that they are inoculated from turning into grouchy, reactionary old men simply because of their politics. The reality is that Maher often sounds as out of touch as the very Limbaugh-loving middle Americans that he looks down upon.
You might remember that Maher got himself in hot water two years ago for referring to himself as a “house n*****” in an episode of Real Time, provoking a mea culpa the following week. It’s unclear how close came Maher to losing his job, if he was ever in danger at all. But the incident marked a turning point in how Maher was perceived among younger generations that didn’t grow up watching him in the ’90s on ABC’s Politically Incorrect. When Chance The Rapper calls for you to lose your show, it’s safe to assume that you’ve lost the youth vote.