Maher and friends deliver on New Year’s Eve

January 1, 2017
Updated January 1, 2017 3:54pm

Bill Maher reinvented his New Year’s-centric visits to the Hawaiian Islands last year by adding a pair of guest comics to the bill for his fifth annual two-date tour. The trip with David Spade and Jeff Ross went so well that he kept his promise to make this a new part of the tradition.

Enter Margaret Cho and Dana Gould for the two sold-out dates this year — New Year’s Eve at Blaisdell Concert Hall and New Year’s Day at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. And when they entered, they did not enter meekly. These veteran comics (each with more than three decades on stage) brought bold material in a raucous show that had the audience of 2,000-plus laughing even through jokes it didn’t quite know what to do with.

Maher kicked off what turned out to be a nearly two-and-a-half-hour show by introducing the surprise guest who is becoming less and less of a surprise. Eddie Vedder, who was recently named to the next Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame class as a member of Pearl Jam, contributed a short set for at least the third time in Maher’s six-year series.

Vedder opened by singing “Here Comes the Sun” while playing ukulele, giving three reasons: Maher’s love of the Beatles, composer George Harrison’s connection to Hawaii and that it offers some hope, which our country is in need of in the wake of the recent presidential election.

Vedder also snuck in a quick (and admittedly rocky) version of the Beatles’ “Her Majesty” as well as a rousing performance of Little Steven’s “I Am a Patriot.”

From that point, comedy became the focus for the next two hours. Maher himself is blatantly liberal, and this year, with a presidential election fresh on everyone’s minds, he brought along two more outspoken left-wingers in Gould and Cho. Surprisingly, after Maher delivered a solid half-hour focused almost entirely on politics, his two guests barely touched on the subject.

Among Maher’s best lines:

>> saying Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million votes but that President-elect Donald Trump “had the support where it mattered — in Moscow”

>> calling Vice President-elect Mike Pence preferable to Trump because he’s “within the parameters of normal awful”

>> ribbing Trump’s appointments as a “Cabinet of opposites”

Gould followed with a strong half-hour of his own, opening by hilariously noting that he was born 9 months and 2 days after JFK was assassinated, saying it indicates a lot about how “(his) father processes grief” and proceeding to pantomime his parents preparing to conceive him.

If that sounds like it veers into gross-out territory, well, it got better/worse, with one bit on the very specific way chimpanzees kill humans and another on Trump meaning well that compared him to a bad sexual experience I cannot begin to describe here without fear of losing my job.

The topper might have been a joke about going back in time and finding Hitler as a baby. That’s the part of the joke you are probably familiar with, but Gould built on it by saying he’d kidnap that baby and time-travel again to find Charles Manson as a baby and beat him with the Hitler baby.

That joke summed up Gould pretty well. He started with something well-known and took it someplace new, bold and bordering on taboo, making it funny with great timing and a delivery style honed over his 30-plus-year career.

The audience for Maher’s shows has at times seemed taken aback by humor that pushes boundaries, but this year’s crowd was surprisingly receptive to even Gould’s most out-there bits.

Maher introduced Cho next, saying he had gotten feedback after last year’s show that the bill was too white-male-heavy and that his response was to bring along not just an Asian-American woman, but a bisexual one.

Cho had an extended bit on whitewashing in Hollywood, referencing her recent, very public conflict with actress Tilda Swinton, who plays an originally Tibetan character in the new film “Doctor Strange.” She also touched on David Carradine’s work in the TV show “Kung Fu,” testing the limits with a two-part crack about how he died (again, not safe for publication). Once again, the audience was surprisingly game, as it was for Cho’s very detailed, very scatalogical story about soiling herself while driving, which the crowd just ate up.

Maher took the stage one last time for another half-hour, talking about how Trump’s election confirms once and for all that America’s evangelical Christians are hypocrites and how the Democrats messed up by not giving Bernie Sanders a fair shot. (“Go where the energy is,” Maher said of Sanders’ campaign, joking that Sanders brought out young people by the thousands while Clinton “couldn’t fill the function room at the Olive Garden.

He also brought back a funny bit comparing the Holy Trinity to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine as part of a series of funny jokes about religion.

I’m not sure if adjustments were made intentionally, but the order and length of the sets made for a much smoother show than last year’s. All three performers were at their best, and this year’s audience got a little more Maher after his presence was lacking a bit last year.

On a final note, before the show, promoter Rick Bartalini paid a nice tribute to recently deceased local music legend Tom Moffatt, saying “There will never be another Tom Moffatt. We miss you. Rest in paradise.”