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Bill Maher Saves the Oscars... At Least for Me

Posted: 02/28/11 06:50 PM ET

For my money, this year's Academy Awards telecast was the funniest in ages. No, not because of the show itself -- Anne Hathaway and James Franco's "young and hip" schtick wore thin pretty quickly -- but because I watched the show sitting next to Bill Maher at the Vanity Fair dinner at the Sunset Tower Hotel. Bill kept up a running commentary that put the on-screen patter to shame.

At one point we realized that we were both tweeting and retweeting what each of us was saying to the other. "This is excruciating for me, I can only imagine what it's like for you," I leaned over and said to him after a particularly lame joke. He then tweeted what I'd said... which I then retweeted. I'm not yet sure if this mode of communication is a good thing or a bad thing -- I'm just reporting.

Among my favorite Bill comments/tweets:

"No African American nominees? If you're black and want to make it in Hollywood this year, you better be a swan."

"Everyone seems to be talking so slow. I know Kirk [Douglas]'s excuse, what's everybody else's? This smells like the trainwreck Oscars to me."

"James Franco looks like he's modeling during hosting the Academy Awards."

"The necrology package - or as I call them at this show: the lucky ones."

"This shld give a boost to my passion project with the Farrelly Brothers 'The King's Fart.'"

When I first met Bill, the rituals surrounding our friendship were fairly straightforward. I'd do his show... he'd come over for dinner... we'd go out with friends. Now, thanks to social media, it's much more multi-layered, multi-media, and much, much more meta. And it includes twitpics like this.

When comedy works, it seems effortless. Last night's broadcast showed what happens when it doesn't: you can see the heavy lifting (Franco coming out dressed like Marilyn Monroe and delivering a lame Charlie Sheen joke? Or ending a recap of the technical awards Oscars by saying, "Congratulations, nerds!" Or Hathaway taking a "personal moment" to shake the fringe on one of her many dresses? Really?). You know things aren't going well when the funniest part of the show is the clips of Bob Hope delivering 50-year-old jokes.

As they say: "dying is easy, comedy is hard."

I had another chance to watch Bill in action last week when HuffPost held an event in Los Angeles to celebrate the serious success of our Comedy section, with Bill as our headliner.

As I told the crowd at the event, comedy has been a part of HuffPost's DNA ever since our 2005 launch. That's right, we were doing comedy on the Internet even before Sarah Palin figured out Facebook. In addition to Bill, those with serious comedy chops who've blogged on HuffPost include Larry David, Nora Ephron, Mike Nichols, Steve Martin, Al Franken, Roseanne Barr, Harry Shearer, Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, and many top-flight comedy writers, including Adam McKay and Chris Kelly, who regularly demonstrate the power of good satire to simultaneously draw blood and evoke belly laughs.

So it's not altogether surprising that HuffPost Comedy has become one of our most popular sections. Last year, it averaged over 70 million page views a month, and in November it recorded its first 100-million-page-view month. Think of that, all those millions of people with one thing in common: their bosses thinking they're working.

Before Bill took the stage, I welcomed the crowd to the Roxy, one of the most famous nightclubs in the world, and noted that this was HuffPost's first big event since our merger with AOL was announced. It really was the culmination of a dream my parents always had for me growing up in Greece: that I would come to America and, if I worked really, really hard, I might one day be an opening act in a night club.

Although doing standup was never really a childhood aspiration, I did take the opportunity to put to rest the rumors that after the AOL merger is complete, every direction on MapQuest is going to say, "Go left." I actually have mixed feelings about overseeing MapQuest. On the one hand, I am Greek, and Ptolemy wrote the first atlas, in Greek, in the second century. On the other hand, I'm a woman, so men never ask me for directions. (See how that worked? I scared you with a reference to Ptolemy, then hit you with a classic "men don't ask for directions" joke. That's how I roll: Straight Outta Athens!)

I couldn't have been happier to turn the stage over to Bill, who has been with me at practically every milestone of my adult life.

Just after I moved to Washington, almost 20 years ago, I made my first appearance on Politically Incorrect. After I got divorced, his was the first show I did -- actually on the day my divorce was final. And I once even let him talk me into getting into bed with Al Franken. In a theater. On national television. During both parties' 1996 conventions. For eight nights in a row!

Basically, to move forward after every big event in my life, I have to check in with Bill. Some people have therapy, I have Bill. He's much funnier and there's no co-pay.

And he's been part of HuffPost from the beginning. From his first post, published the day after we launched, he has always been one of our most popular bloggers -- getting millions of page views and tens of thousands of comments.

He's hilarious, he's fearless, and he never, ever takes potshots at easy targets, like former witches running for the Senate on an anti-masturbation platform.

And he manages to be both passionate and wildly entertaining. It's his ability to do both of these at once that has made him a first-class satirist in the tradition of Jonathan Swift, brandishing his wit in service of passionate conviction.

Once on stage, Bill, not surprisingly, killed. The casualties included hypocrisy, demagoguery and political opportunism. A few highlights:

"Who could resist the Republican agenda of protecting insurance companies from sick kids and naming buildings after Reagan?

"President Obama cut home heating oil for the poor. Remember Jesse Jackson's slogan 'Keep hope alive?' Obama has a new one: 'Keep alive, you hope.'

"Obama's move to the center has been so successful, more than half of conservatives now believe he deserves a green card."

"Obama's speech to the Chamber of Commerce: Why is he apologizing to them? They should be apologizing to him: Wall Street tanked the economy, government saved it. Government is why we still have an auto industry in America. Without government, AIG would now be a Halloween supply store."

"GE paid 14.3 percent in corporate taxes last year. Carnival Cruise paid 1 percent. One percent?? Strippers pay more in taxes, and they get paid in cash in the dark."

It was a great night and I want to thank my friend, therapist, and first comedy love for being such a big part of it.

During the Oscars, ABC's Anne Sweeney and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Tom Sherak came on stage to announce that the network had signed a deal to continue to be the home of the Oscars through 2020. If they're smart, they'll ask Bill to host them every year.

P.S. During the Roxy show, we showed some examples of the kinds of videos we run on HuffPost Comedy, including: the mashups put together by our brilliant and hilarious media writer Jason Linkins and our super-gifted video editor Ben Craw, who are masters at spotting phrases and trends that take on a life of their own and turning them into what they we call Mediagasms; a sample of a Hollywood mashup consisting of a certain phrase that, believe it or not, is a favorite of filmmakers everywhere; and a short piece on the life-cycle of one of last year's most viral videos. Here are the clips... enjoy!

 
 
 

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