Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Religulous, Heal Thyself

I've always been a fan of Bill Maher. When I started doing standup in the early 90's, we crossed paths at the old Chicago Improv. (By "crossed paths", I mean he was the headliner and I accosted him at the bar, hoping to get advice on how to hone my comedy skills.) In 2001, I beat out 400 other people for the "citizen panelist" spot on Politically Incorrect, by taking the position that white people appropriating black hip-hop culture was detrimental to both groups. That round-table with Maher in Pittsburgh would be the closest I got to beaming across America, as he got shit-canned by ABC for his 9/11 remarks shortly thereafter. To this day, I blame Al-Qaida for postponing my television career.

I just saw Religulous, his tongue-in-cheek documentary about how crazy he thinks religion is. He's a longtime defender of atheism and he harbors no illusions about presenting a fair and balanced panorama of the subject, so the editing is looser than Jamie-Lynn Spears. As a result, most of his interview subjects are crying foul over the final product, but that's showbiz. Despite his claim that he merely approaches religion with intellectual curiosity, Maher's incessant mockery of religious certitude seems to betray that. Hey, I'm as lapsed a Catholic as they come, but I'm still on the fence. I share his wonder and awe that billions of otherwise rational, intelligent human beings still put stock in "the talking snake", but isn't atheism unjustified certitude of the opposite kind? That makes it just another religion, and its adherents the very kinds of fundamentalists that the film dismisses. Surely, that irony is part of the comedy gambit. Watching him try to get the Jesus/Xenu/Muhammed/etc-freaks to simply say, "I don't know" is an amusing effort in futility.

Still, a great movie. Worth your inflated city amusement tax.

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