Bill Maher — comic, satirist, political lightning rod — has plans for his visit to Baltimore this weekend.

"I understand arrests are way down," he says, alluding to a downturn in police activity since the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray. "Well, I'm looking to commit some crimes. I figure, as long as there's a police slowdown — hey, take advantage."


Clearly, no subject is off-limits for Maher.

Just a few weeks ago, on the last episode of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" before the show took its summer break, he predicted some headlines for the coming month: "Bristol Palin gets pregnant while pregnant," "Top half of Caitlyn Jenner makes sex tape with bottom half of Caitlyn Jenner" and "Jesus Christ returns to Earth, says man-made climate change is real; GOP responds, 'He's no scientist.'"

To some, those "headlines" are offensive and in the worst possible taste. To others, they're howlingly funny.

Maher, who'll be bringing his decidedly left-skewing political views (and satiric sword) to the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric Saturday night, wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'm no stranger to controversy, and I'm not afraid of it," Maher, 59, says over the phone from his Los Angeles office. "Going back to when I started [in the late '70s], I was never the comedian who talked about the trivial. So many comedians … just wanted to do that little observational stuff. That was never what interested me. I was always interested in politics and religion — the big stuff."

That "big stuff" has been providing Maher material for more than three decades, spanning two TV showcases — first "Politically Incorrect," a giddy skewering of the politics of the day that ran on Comedy Central and later ABC, from 1993 to2002, and for the past 12 on HBO.

Over that time, he's earned more than 20 Emmy nominations, not to mention a reputation as a darling of the left. But his shoot-from-the-hip style, while decidedly left-leaning, is not above taking on a liberal sacred cow or two. One thing that really gets Maher's blood boiling these days is what he sees as people's increasing inability to take a joke. And if anything, Maher is an equal opportunity jokester, happily trampling sac-red cows on both sides of the political spectrum.

Make a joke about Rush Limbaugh? Sure. About Muslims? Why not. Use Caitlyn Jenner as a punchline? That may have gotten Clint Eastwood in trouble recently, when Eastwood pretended to not know who she was, but Maher has no fear treading where other comics hesitate to tread.

"The criticism I get is, 'If you criticize Muslim culture …' No, that doesn't make me a bigot. I mean, those are the only two choices? If you criticize anybody other than your own culture, you're a bigot? Of course not. That's ridiculous."

Not surprisingly, Maher's fearlessness sometimes comes with a price. People who don't like him really don't like him, and making light of hot-button topics has been known to get him in hot water. In 2001, while he was doing "Politically Incorrect," his comments on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — in which he suggested the terrorists were not the "cowards" President George W. Bush called them — led some sponsors to pull their ads and some local affiliates to pull the show. ABC canceled "Politically Incorrect" less than six months later.

Maher admits some things may be off-limits, but not because the subject is touchy or might offend. "Sure, stuff that's just pointlessly cruel, or doesn't make a point — you don't make fun of tragedies for no reason," he says. "But comedy," he quickly adds, "does make fun of horror."

Still, when it coms to being overly sensitive about jokes, it's the left who are the worst offenders, Maher says. "It is, of course, mostly coming from the left. That's why it's so disappointing, is that it's my tribe that is doing this to themselves. I've always said this to liberals, you should own the First Amendment (speech) the way right-wingers own the second (guns). But they don't — they don't care.

"We got to this point," Maher continues, clearly on a roll, "where people, especially on the left, they just hear buzzwords, their sphincters tighten, and they boo or hiss or react.

"But we can go on," he emphasizes. "We can make a joke about everybody."


Which, he believes, is the key to his appeal. His audience knows he'll crack wise on anybody. "There's got to be somebody who doesn't pander," Maher says, happy to assume the mantle. "There's just so much pandering, on the left and on the right. 'You never wanna upset your audience, never wanna go to the other team.' That's never been what I do."

What he does, Maher explains, is make jokes where jokes are waiting to be made. He doesn't do it simply to tick people off, even though it might sometimes seem that way.

"I actually don't ever try to push anyone's button," he says. "All I ever do is say what I really think, without pulling any punches. That's always been my one lodestar. I feel like it's the bond with my audience. I feel like it's the reason why lots of conservatives watch my show and come up to me and say, 'I don't agree with you much, but you're fair and you're always honest about what you say.'"