How Pot Helps 'Real Time' Host Bill Maher Hit the High Notes | NBC Bay Area

How Pot Helps 'Real Time' Host Bill Maher Hit the High Notes

'Real Time With Bill Maher' airs live Friday's at 10 p.m. EDT on HBO

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    "Real Time" host Bill Maher speaks on stage at the 2014 Television Academy Hall of Fame on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Calif.

    While a lung-full of marijuana can reduce some potheads to a puddle of silliness and sloth — you know who you are — the fact remains: Pot can serve a host of creative uses.

    Case in point: TV host Bill Maher.

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    Since premiering 13 years ago with "Real Time," which HBO airs live on Fridays at 10 p.m. EDT, Maher has provided an essential forum for smart discussion about politics and culture, with his opening monologue often the sharpest, best-crafted topical humor on television.

    Even better is his final segment, which ramps up from a litany of so-called "New Rules" to a jestful-yet-meaty meditation on such subjects as the election follies, political correctness, gun control and, yes, legalizing marijuana.

    Maher's vocal support for pot legalization exemplifies his largely libertarian stance. Meanwhile, there's a practical consideration: Grass helps him get his writing right.

    So what better occasion than now to salute Maher's decades of comic insight while also giving credit to his cannabis muse! After all, next Wednesday is April 20, better known among pot proselytizers as 4-20, which they observe as a special day to honor their favorite herb and to advocate for boosted legal access to it.

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    "I am hardly the only person in this world who finds pot to be a creative aid," Maher notes during a recent phone conversation. "But if I'm staring at the blank computer screen sober, I'm thinking, 'Uh, I don't want to start this, it's an ASSIGNMENT!' Then, as soon as I'm high, which takes about three seconds, it's, 'Oh, this is fun! This isn't an assignment. It's a GAME.'"

    He hastens to add, "People think I probably smoke a lot more than I do."

    No wonder. It's a part of his professional persona.

    He has wisecracked that the conservative magazine The National Review coming out against Donald Trump "is like High Times coming out against me."

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    This is a guy who jokes that he might face consequences from a lifetime of pot smoking, "but fortunately, I can treat them with medical marijuana."

    And a year ago Maher drolly paid homage to the 4-20 holiday by reciting an original nursery rhyme, "'Twas the Night Before 4-20," which included lines such as, "We lit up a joint and ate a pot brownie/ And soon were as high as a young Robert Downey."

    But despite his saucy endorsements, "I've always been a very moderate user. I'm a two or three times a week smoker, a lightweight. My priority is work — the writing process — and that's what I save it for."

    At least, he did until one show last February. In his closing segment, he framed the evident trend toward legalizing pot as something its proponents shouldn't take for granted.

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    "Progress doesn't just automatically snowball," he declared. "Think of other rights we never thought would be rolled back. Look what's happened with abortion.

    "Somehow," he continued, teeing up a punch line, "this is the year when everything from socialism to mass deportation is on the table, and voters love the authentic guys who speak their minds. But when it comes time for Congress to consider common-sense pot legislation, it's like smoking a joint with Woody Harrelson: They just won't pass it!"

    Then Maher produced a joint and, firing it up, did something he had never done before: Got buzzed, live, on the air.

    "I purposely did it at the very, very, very end of the show," he points out.

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    But things weren't really over. On the heels of "Real Time" came the weekly live-streamed "Overtime," where Maher was obliged to preside on-camera for another 15 minutes or so while he and his panel mates, most of them similarly lit, fielded questions from the audience as best they could.

    "My heart was pounding in my chest," Maher confides with a wry chuckle. "I was going, 'Hold it together. Don't say anything crazy.' The idea of ever being stoned on the real show — NEVER would I ever do that again!"

    He doesn't need to. He demonstrated his approval with those token tokes. Beyond that, Maher is happy to keep his pro-pot propensity in tighter perspective.

    "Much to the consternation of some people in the pot movement, I've made the point many times that legalization is NOT the No. 1 priority in America," he says, "and it shouldn't be." Not even on 4-20, at least not for him. "There are much bigger issues."

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    Happily, marijuana gives him a humorous assist in highlighting those bigger, sober issues for his audience.