New targets are a sign of hope

Bill Maher is delighted to be able to change the subject. Although the comedian has built much of his work in the last eight years around the errors and terrors of George W. Bush, “An Evening with Bill Maher” — coming to San Francisco on Friday — is all new, and decidedly not a live performance of “The Decider,” his recent Emmy-nominated comedy special on HBO.

“It’s a nice feeling that the audience and I share, that it’s a new world, the Bush era is over,” Maher says with evident pleasure.

“There will be a few pokes at Bush, but it’s not a Bush-centric act any more, and that in itself is a hopeful feeling.”

What will be funny about Barak Obama, if he is elected? That’s yet to be seen, according to Maher. “All presidents are funny in some way, because anybody you put under a 24-hour microscope, eventually you will catch them being themselves,” he says.

As host of the HBO live talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” also up for an Emmy this year, Maher continually highlights the environment as the most crucial issue for Americans.

Following the war in Iraq and the election, he rates the country’s infrastructure as the next biggest issue, though he views them all as related.

“Nothing is going to get done unless we close out the war — even on the environment. Oil is involved with all of them, it’s even an anti-terrorism issue, and we could get our economy moving again by finding alternative sources of energy.”

The freedom we are supposedly defending in Iraq, Maher points out, is meanwhile being rapidly diminished at home. Still, he finds one cause for optimism: “Free speech, if you fight for it just a little bit, it’s still alive.”

Maher is vigorously fighting for that remaining First Amendment freedom with his new film, “Religulous,” directed by Larry Charles (“Borat”), and opening in October.

“‘Religulous’ is  a word we made up — much like religion itself is completely made up,” says Maher, who identifies as a rationalist. “It’s an attempt to give the other side to a subject that has been offside and taboo.”

The movie’s tag line: “Do you smell something burning?”

Meanwhile, “Real Time with Bill Maher” returns for a new season on Aug. 29. Before that, Maher will be at the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. No word yet on whether what he does there will share the tag with some of Maher’s earlier election commentary, “electile dysfunction.”

He says, “It’s great to have new targets and new fun and new things to joke about. Unfortunately, the world is not in a good place, but at least we can laugh about it.”

IF YOU GO

Bill Maher

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $39.50 to $65.50

Contact: (415) 421-8497 or www.ticketmaster.com

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