Maher elicits cheers inside, protests outside River Center

Most performers appearing at the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre don’t inspire protests. Bill Maher, comedian and host of HBO’s political talk show, “Real Time With Bill Maher,” was an exception to the rule Sunday night.

A crowd of protesters from the Consuming Fire Fellowship gathered outside of the theater with signs proclaiming the likes of “Awake to righteousness and sin not ...” and “Sinner you deserve hell fire!”

Some attendees, prior to entering the theater, shouted back at the protesters.

The group, members of a small Pentecostal congregation in Gloster, Miss., accused Maher of blaspheming the name of Jesus.

Reaction to the comedian inside the River Center was quite another story. Maher’s partisans, including a group of Louisiana Democratic Party members, greeted his entrance with loud, sustained cheers and applause.

A longtime politically minded comic who liberally sprinkles his act with four-letter words, Maher covered such topics as religion; guns; a changing America; Donald Trump; President Barack Obama’s re-election; and Republicans in general, specifically New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie; former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin; and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

A loud chorus of boos filled the hall when Maher said Jindal’s name. But the comic lately has found himself in the unusual position of praising the Louisiana governor for his comments that Republicans must stop being the “stupid party.” Maher did so again in Baton Rouge, but he also couldn’t resist the temptation to revisit the exorcism Jindal participated in when he was a student at Brown University.

“This is the man who performed an exorcism!” Maher said. “The Republicans are the masters of nominating the ‘Are you kidding me’ candidate.”

Christie, probably the nation’s most popular Republican office holder at the moment, got a mixed review from Maher. “He has gravitas and gravity,” Maher cracked of the hefty politician. “I bet he’s the one guy who can change the Republican Party.” Otherwise, Maher said, Republicans don’t believe in math and science; they believe in values.

Maher got one of the night’s bigger responses after he said he’s a gun owner. “I’m just not a proud gun owner,” he added. “By all means, shrink the tumor that is the National Rifle Association.”

The comic doesn’t believe, however, that more gun laws will be passed.

“This is the gun country,” he said. “We’re in our fat, old Elvis phase: obese, drug-addled and armed to the teeth!”

Speaking in the capital of Louisiana, a state whose governor is high on privatizing government, Maher got another of the night’s bigger reactions when he said government should not be run like a business. “Government is here to do specifically what business doesn’t.”

Maher isn’t the funniest stand-up comic to ever wield a microphone, but his combination of observance-fueled humor, political satire and outright jabs pleased a raucously appreciative crowd in Baton Rouge.