Comedian Bill Maher doesn't like to mince words, as he proved in nine seasons as the host of “Politically Incorrect.” Washington Post TV writer Tom Shales says, "Of all the comic commentators, Maher is the gutsiest, boldest, and least inhibited." Now some of the funniest moments from his new HBO show, "Real Time With Bill Maher," have been assembled in a slim volume Maher likes to call "New Rules." He was invited on the “Today” show to discuss the book. Here’s an excerpt: Foreword
No more books by talk show hosts! No, I mean it! Just this last one and then that’s it. Who do we think we are, anyway?
I guess it’s not enough to broadcast our every brilliant thought to millions of viewers each week. We also have to amass compilations of our favorite, most precious bon mots so that people can carry them around under their arms and enjoy them at the beach or on the subway or during a quiet moment sitting alone at home in a small room. Okay, okay, and they also make great gifts. There, I’ve said it.
But this book is different. It’s not your typical, pompous fare where I, the all-knowing host, sit in judgment, presuming to know, through my vast experience as a media whore, how you should be living your lives. No, no — not at all. This is a simple, humble collection of rules that basically points out how everyone but me has their head up their ass. Trust me, it’s a great read. And have I mentioned it also makes a great gift?
But here’s why I really wanted to publish this book: whenever I’m at an airport waiting for a plane to take me to some stand-up gig, a stranger will invariably approach me and say, “Excuse me, sir, could you drop your pants so we can see what the dog is sniffing at?”
And that’s why I wanted to make New Rules into a book — not just so there would be something else for people to discuss with me in airports, but also because it seemed about time that this “structureless” society of ours got back to the idea of rules, limits, and boundaries.
We have come to interpret the word “freedom” as meaning “without rules or boundaries,” but that’s not all there is to it. Kris Kristofferson wrote, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” apparently without considering that “nothing left to lose” is not another word at all, but four words. In doing so, he followed the rules of neither math nor grammar. What a loser.
And yet, when I was a teenager, I wanted to be just like Kris Kristofferson: grizzled. And not following the rules. Rules were for squares. I thought I was too cool for rules, which is quite amusing considering nothing about me at that age even remotely suggested coolness, except maybe my plaid polyester bell-bottoms. Of course, that’s often the way it is: The urge to rebel in youth often predates having a reason to do so. But then one day you take a lawn dart in the kidney and suddenly following the rules — at least the rules about lawn darts — doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
I never did take a lawn dart in the kidney — that’s just an example — but I did wake up one morning after a sleepover at John Waters’s house to find my sleeping bag wasn’t zipped up the same way as when I passed out. We all learn. It’s just a matter of how and when.
Whatever happened to all of the rules we used to live by, anyway? Before the “Me” Generation, followed by the “Me, Me, Me” Generation, followed by the “What Part of Me Don’t You Understand?” Generation, there were rules — rules like “No trespassing,” “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” and “Please don’t touch the dancers” ’ — and they applied to everyone. Nowadays, these same rules are either ignored completely or viewed more as suggestions to be followed á la carte, depending on which ones we like.
And our respect for rules seems to be fluid, depending on convenience. Take “Do not feed the ducks.” That rule would seem easy enough to follow, especially if we have no intention of feeding the ducks in the first place. But if we’ve come all this way with a carload of toddlers and a sack full of bread, what’s a little duck feeding going to hurt? It is presumptions like that one, that rules apply more to others than to ourselves, that have placed society into disarray and Martha Stewart into an electronic ankle bracelet.
Even our trusted leaders can’t be counted on to observe the rules — or at least they do so only selectively. “Rule of law!” Remember that popular refrain from the days of the Clinton impeachment? As House Republicans told us at the time, they really had no choice. It was all out of their hands. Legislators are bound to uphold the rules as they’re written, no matter what — except, apparently, as they apply to subpoenaing the brain dead. And by “the brain dead,” of course, I mean baseball’s Mark McGwire.
Rules are the signposts that define where our rights end and those of our fellow citizens begin. Adhering to rules and abiding by a code of civility — this is what separates us from the apes ... and Tom DeLay. Stop following the rules and you start stepping on toes. And that’s where this book comes in — not necessarily to rehash our old, out-of-date rules but to establish new ones for a self-obsessed, success-by-any-means, get-mine culture. These are the rules that, frankly, were not necessary back when we practiced those old-fashioned time wasters: courtesy, consideration, and common sense.
Rules are important — we all need them. They provide structure and help us to know where we stand with others. That’s why I’m constantly fighting with my neighbors — no rules. Okay, and because the makeup sex is fantastic. When we disregard the rules altogether we get anarchy or, worse yet, Enron.
Of course, children need structure and rules, too. I’ve always said the three most important things for a child to learn are respect, accountability, and to shut the hell up on airplanes. Rules help shape kids and let them know that they’re loved. Children not subject to these healthy boundaries often find themselves, by the time they are teenagers, lacking any real sense of security or self. These kids are destined, sadly, for social difficulties, school shootings, or, even more likely, session after session of red-hot car sex with their French teacher.
Children, though, who are exposed to the healthy, enforced rules of conscientious parenting seem to grow to their “right size,” complete with a moral compass. There is no limit to how far a child can go with just a little discipline and structure. Just look at what the Hitler Youth did for the pope.
So, then, here you have them — my New Rules for a better world, for all of you out there who love freedom but still crave a little structure. This book, come to think of it, is a lot like having to drop your pants at the airport: There’s an important point to it, but mostly it’s just plain funny. So, enjoy it! And did I mention, it also makes a great gift?
Excerpted from “New Rules: Polite Musings of a Timid Observer,” by Bill Maher. Copyright © 2005 by Bill Maher. Published by Rodale Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.