last episode of Politi- cally Incorrect will be broadcast
on June 28. I’m going to be on it one last time, and I’ve
promised myself I won’t cry on the air. Once the cameras go
off—well, that’s another story. You see, the show has been
a touchstone for me over the last nine years—both in the evolution
of my political ideas and the changes in my personal life.
My first appearance was in November 1993, when the show was
on Comedy Central and taping in New York. I was on with Harry
Shearer, Rep. Jim Traficant, and Dr. Peter Kramer, who had
just published Listening to Prozac. Since then, Shearer—the
brilliant satirist, and voice of half of The Simpsons
characters—has become a close friend and coconspirator, Traficant
has been convicted of racketeering, and I’ve gone on to launch
a mini-crusade disagreeing with Dr. Kramer’s rosy assessment
of the miraculous effects of Prozac.
Doing PI was always a stimulating two-way street. Sometimes
it gave me the chance to mount my soapbox and sound off on
subjects I care passionately about, and sometimes it opened
my mind to new topics and ideas that I then went on to write
For that initial appearance, I had flown up from Washington,
D.C., where I was living with my Republican congressman husband
and our two preschool daughters. When I do the last PI
next week, it will be from Los Angeles, where, after a divorce
from my husband and the Republican party, I now live as a
registered independent, with my 5-foot-6-inch teenage daughter
and her tweener sister.
In between, I made a few dozen appearances on PI, crossing
swords—sometimes playfully, sometimes earnestly—with everyone
from Michael Douglas to Jesse Jackson to Cindy Crawford to
Chevy Chase to G. Gordon Liddy to Tom Arnold to Coolio. PI’s
appeal has always been the simple notion of bringing together
eclectic groups of pundits, politicians, and performers and
letting the fur fly.
In the process, the show challenged the larger shibboleths
of “proper” comment and debate in America. People tend to
talk mostly to like-minded people who communicate in the same
way. We naturally tend to fall into cliché. PI was
about breaking those clichés, and the best moments came from
unexpected juxtapositions: when a comedian popped the balloon
of a pontificating politico, when a rapper had the last word
on campaign finance reform, or when Jerry Falwell revealed—yes,
it’s true—a playful sense of humor.
In fact, the show was responsible for unleashing my own long-suppressed
inner clown. In bed, no less. In 1996, during the Republican
and Democratic national conventions, Bill Maher lured Al Franken
and me between the sheets to do political commentary from
a specially constructed bed for a segment called “Strange
Bedfellows.” It was the beginning of an oddball act of the
same name that Al and I took on the road, trading barbs and
double entendres at colleges, conventions and trade shows.
As an added bonus, I was probably the only woman in my profession
to claim a tax deduction for lingerie. (I’m not sure whether
Al deducted for his or not).
Another thing I’ll miss is traveling around the country—to
places like New Orleans, San Francisco, Aspen, Colo., and
San Diego—to tape special on-location editions of PI.
It was on one of these road shows that Chris Rock and I covered
an Al Sharpton rally in Chicago, chanting “No justice, no
peace” in our Greek accents (OK, maybe that was just me.)
For nine years, PI has been the best place on television
to find edgy political satire. But, because it’s a comedy
show, people often forget the fact that it also offered a
rare forum for certain “orphan issues”: important topics overlooked
by the mainstream media. PI delved into such knotty
matters as the ongoing madness of the war on drugs and the
destructive role of money in politics not just once in a blue
moon, but night in and night out. I regularly marveled at
the ardor and wonkish knowledge Bill brought to these issues.
In fact, he gave two rousing speeches on these topics at the
2000 Shadow Conventions that rivaled the experts in detail
and far exceeded them in entertainment value. It is this blend
of skills that makes him a first-class satirist in the tradition
of Jonathan Swift, wielding his savage wit in the service
of passionate conviction.
For some weird reason, I always ended up doing PI on
emotionally charged days in my life, including the show we
taped the day I moved into my post-divorce home in LA. The
movers were still carting in boxes when I hurried off to the
studio. Then there was the now infamous show I did a few days
after Sept. 11. It was the first post-attack PI, and
showed Bill at his best: respectful of what truly mattered
but courageously challenging everything else.
As Politically Incorrect ends its remarkable 1,600-plus-show
run, the appropriate farewell is not a eulogy but a 21-pun
salute to a man—and a show—that encapsulate what our culture
needs now more than ever: independence, fearlessness, and
an increasingly rare willingness to speak truth to power.
On the personal side, it’s also a time to celebrate a treasured
friendship that, thankfully, isn’t at the mercy of the whims
of skittish sponsors and network executives.
Bill has said that he considers his last show not so much
an end as a new beginning—”kind of like being transferred
to another diocese.” Well, my friend, you can count on me
to sing in your choir, whatever parish you wind up in.