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Bill Maher on laughter and politics

When comedian and political talk-show host Bill Maher returns to the air Sept. 12, it will be for a new edition of "Real Time with Bill Maher," immediately followed by his 10th stand-up special on HBO — both broadcast live from Washington, D.C. 

Look for Maher's announcement of the finalist in his Flip a District campaign during the Washington, D.C., edition of "Real Time." In a leadoff of the 2014 midterm elections, viewers were asked to use #flipadistrict on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to select one "loserest loser of all" congressman to remove from office. Maher then put a national spotlight on the politician during segments of his show and his stand-up comedy appearances. 

"I'll feel some glee if we can actually flip the congressman out of his district," Maher says. "I don't want to count my chickens before they're hatched, but I think we might have a shot."

Maher's weekly show is in its 12th season at HBO, following a template launched in 1993 with "Politically Incorrect" on Comedy Central. Tellingly, according to Forbes contributor J. Max Robins, Maher's executive producers and many of his writers have been with him since the first show, which moved to ABC in 1997. "Real Time" began in 2003 and has been nominated for nine Emmys. Maher has written several bestsellers, his 2008 documentary, "Religulous," made millions, and he's ranked among Comedy Central's 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time. 

When he's not gleefully "meddling with the political process," he finds time every year to travel the country and perform dozens of stand-up gigs.

Maher will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29, at the Britt Pavilion, 350 First St., Jacksonville. Piano man and composer Jim Quinby will perform from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Britt Performance Garden. Tickets cost $79 for reserved seats, $46 for lawn seating, and premium blanket seating for four costs $336. Tickets can be purchased at the Britt box office, 126 W. Main St., Medford, online at www.brittfest.org or by calling 800-882-7488.

Maher enjoys performing for audiences in red states, as well as the blue ones.

"The audiences are great in a red state," he says. "You find people who don't expect you to come there because they think you're going to write off the whole state. I know better because I travel America and know that there are many aggressive, liberal people in red states. I was in Salt Lake City a couple of months ago, and you'd figure it was all Mormons, but it is so not. I think when people look around and see 3,000 other people in the theater who think just like they do, it's an added pleasure for them. I was reading in the New York Times about the migration of blue state people to red states. It all made sense to me because I've seen it. Maybe the weather is nicer, there's more job opportunities, the cost of living is cheaper. It's not just a bunch of rednecks, especially in the cities. I can be in a Southern state for a week and not hear anyone speak with a Southern accent."

The stop on his tour for a show at the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville was a no-brainer for Maher.

"It's somewhat like preaching to the choir," Maher says. "But I love Oregon. It's got lots of old hippies, and I love old hippies. I guess I am one."

Maher covers plenty of issues during his shows, everything from the upcoming midterm elections, health care, the economy, religion and Obama and his problems with the Republicans.

"The Republicans themselves are always providing new and funny material for a comedian," he says. "When you're a topical comedian, the news is always changing so your act is always changing.

"It doesn't look great for the future, especially since we're coming up to midterm elections. When politicians run for president, they all talk like they're running for king, then they get into office and are reminded that they are not king and they can't do a lot without the help of Congress. I think everyone who loves America wants to see it do better. We want to see a Congress that is responsive. What makes most people angry is that there's literally nothing that isn't a political issue now. That wasn't always the case. There's always been two parties, and there's always been partisanship, but at least they could meet in the middle and things would get done. People would be put back to work. Now there's a standstill and nothing gets done.

"It was so hard to just pass the stimulus package. It got no Republican votes; luckily the Democrats controlled both houses or we probably would have slipped back into a depression. When Obama took office, we were losing 750,000 jobs every month. Mitt Romney and others wanted to let the auto industry fail. Luckily, we passed enough of a stimulus package and the economy has actually come back quite nicely. I keep wondering when they're going to stop calling it 'Obama's economy,' because now that's not such an insult."

The more desperate the situation, the more people need to laugh, Maher says. It's a cathartic endeavor that has been medically proven to release endorphins and work the stomach muscles. 

"People find it therapeutic," he says. "There's almost no subject in the history of comedy that is off-limits, no matter how sad. Of course, timing is important, but people will joke about anything because there is a basic human need for it."

Maher's "Real Time" is different from his stand-up. The HBO show is a mix of comedy and sincere political discussion, and there are pundits, politicians and authors who take the show in different directions.

"But stand-up comedy is really just to get those stomach muscles to work out," he says. "You want people to laugh hard and long."