Bill Maher: Jersey Rules

Comedian and political commentator Bill Maher talks his River Vale childhood, why Jersey breeds so many entertainers, and Christie's shot at the presidency (hint: slim).

Photo courtesy of HBO/Janet Van Ham

You can take Bill Maher out of New Jersey, but you can’t take the Joizy out of the host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. The provocative comic says growing up in River Vale (Pascack Hills High School, class of ’74) has had a profound impact on him as a Californian. In this exclusive interview, Maher, 59, also shares his explanation for the Garden State’s ability to breed successful entertainers. And of course, we had to ask him about the race for the presidency.

New Jersey Monthly: You once told me you have a lawn in Los Angeles because of the New Jersey in you.
Bill Maher: That’s absolutely correct. Growing up in New Jersey made me want to have a lawn, even though my lawn is dead now due to the drought here.

NJM: What was it like coming of age in River Vale during the 1960s?
BM: I had the last Leave it to Beaver upbringing in America because I grew up in an all-white town. It was a world inhabited by the World War II generation, the Mad Men people. There were no race issues because there was no race [laughs] except the white one. I never did drugs in high school. I don’t remember drugs being an issue. I guess there were some degenerate kids who smoked pot, but I wasn’t in that cool group. It was so different then since teachers were absolutely sacrosanct. Nobody ever spoke back to a teacher, let alone curse at them or have sex with them, like they do now.

NJM: Why do so many prominent entertainers come out of New Jersey?
BM: Because it’s a place that motivates you to…[loses control laughing].

NJM: To leave?
BM: Yeah! You love it, but you also want to rise above it. I don’t mean that in a mean way, but it’s kind of true. Everyone laughs at New Jersey. You have to understand, when you go away to college, you’re a laughingstock since you live in the state people think literally stinks. People are constantly ragging on you because you’re from New Jersey. So there is this “I’ll show ‘em” attitude.

NJM: Do you ever linger when you return to Jersey to perform?
BM: My sister still lives in New Jersey, and sometimes I stay with her in the house where my mother lived her last 15 years. It’s in Fort Lee where there were all those traffic problems. My mother moved to a condo there since she didn’t want to take care of a lawn, ironically.

NJM: Speaking of those traffic problems, what do you think of Chris Christie’s quest for the GOP presidential nomination?
BM: He has no chance of getting the nomination. He must be kicking himself because he knows he could have had it in 2012. That’s one of the things Barack Obama knew. Everyone said to him in 2007, “You’ve only been a senator for a couple of years, wait.” He said, “You know, that’s exactly the point. Let me do this before I have a track record they can pick apart.” Obama is a brilliant man.

NJM: Who will be our next president?
BM: I don’t see anyone beating Hillary Clinton. I think we understand that 80 countries have had a woman leader but not the United States, and it’s about time. There will be a lot of energy behind Hillary just for that reason.

NJM: What about all the Hillary scandals we hear so much about?
BM: The Republicans act as if she’s this monster who has been nothing but this scandal-ridden politician. It’s not true. Hillary is actually the most boring centrist that American policy has ever seen. If you’re threatened by Hillary Clinton, you were molested by the real estate lady. Benghazi, Vince Foster, they made that shit up. She’s not scandalous. That’s not in her character. She will be our next president.

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