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We dress up for Bill Maher

April 14, 2003

[Originally a Billie's Bytes column]

Yes, I know I usually write about sci-fi/fantasy shows, but I had an interesting television experience this week and hey, it's my column.

One advantage of living in the Los Angeles area is the easy access to the entertainment world. "One of these days," I kept saying to Dan, "we're going to go see a television show being taped." But it's not as easy as you might think. Tickets to the really good sitcoms like Friends and Will and Grace are hard to get, and I don't watch any other sitcoms; it's hard to get excited about seeing a show you never watch. And I don't care much for game shows.

I was off last week and we decided to spend Thursday doing cheesy things in Hollywood, like the wax museum and the world record place and the believe-it-or-not. There are always hucksters near the Mann Chinese Theater giving away tickets for television shows, and a guy offered us tickets to a rehearsal of Real Time with Bill Maher that afternoon at CBS (yes, CBS, even though it's an HBO show). And we went.

If you haven't seen Real Time, it's a lot like Politically Incorrect except that it's longer, it airs live, and it's uncensored. This was only their eighth episode. The rehearsal was a lot of fun; Bill Maher, looking a bit more rumpled and less formal than he does on television, practiced his extremely funny monologue on us, and writers and staff sat in for the panelists during the discussion session. They passed out cards and asked us to write down questions for Bill, and near the end of the show, Dan and I were surprised when we were two of the three people chosen to ask Bill a question. When it was over, the staff people in their red coats invited us to come to the live show the following night, and we did. We didn't get chosen to ask questions the second night during the taping, though.

If you ever get a chance to go see a television show being taped, here's some advice from me:

1. Go EARLY. If you arrive late, they may run out of seats and turn you away; we saw it happen. An hour early is not too soon if you want to sit near the front. One woman we sat with during the rehearsal told us that if you want a seat on The Price is Right, you should get there at 5:30 in the morning. That sort of devotion to Bob Barker is beyond me, but just so you all know.

2. Wear layers. The rehearsal was warm enough, but when we filed into the audience for the taping, it was absolutely frigid. I guess it helps later to defuse the hot lights, but let me tell you, I will never again attend something like this in open-toed shoes.

3. Don't dress up unless you feel like it. Our tickets told us to dress up for the live show, so we dressed up. Nearly the entire audience was in jeans, obviously not following the instructions on their tickets.

4. Leave your cell phone in the car. They'll just take it away from you and then you have the bother of retrieving it later.

5. Take something to read. There is a lot of waiting. We waited to get in. We waited to go through the metal detector. (Our car was searched, too; security is understandably heavy at television studios right now.) After we were seated, we waited for another forty-five minutes in the freezing cold while aggressive dance music played loudly to entertain us. They told us to visit the rest rooms before being seated, because you can't get up and leave during a live show.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. We had a wonderful time. As'ad Abu Khalil, a professor at CSU and UC Berkeley talked with Bill via live feed about what the Arab world thinks of the United States, and he was applauded several times. Bill and the panelists, Arianna Huffington (columnist), Michael Eric Dyson (preacher and author) and Doug McIntyre (radio talk show host), talked about the war of course, but they also discussed the feminist boycott of the masters golf tournament and the possible overturning of Texas sodomy laws. Paul F. Tompkins was a hoot, especially during his discussion of Hootie and Tiger. And a comic named Jerry Minor and his partner Greg Robinson did an obscene musical parody that had us laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes.

One phone call from a guy who was bitching about people not supporting the troops got a marvelous response. Bill said angrily, "People can be against this war and still support the troops! I am so tired of people who mentally can't walk and chew gum at the same time." You tell them, Bill. And Arianna probably had the best line of the evening: "Actually, in Texas, although sodomy is illegal, having sex with a cow is merely frowned upon."

The show is in L.A., of course, but it airs live only on the east coast, with a tape delay in the other three time zones. So we were able to go home and watch ourselves in the audience just a couple of hours later.

Real Time with Bill Maher is hilarious, well-written, and thought-provoking. With all of the undiluted propaganda we're getting on the networks, it was nice to hear some intelligent uncensored discussion of what's really going on in this country.

Plus, seeing yourself on HBO? Surreal fun.

And that's all for this week. I promise to get back to sci-fi/fantasy next time.

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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