Lincoln-Douglas this was not, but Ann Coulter vs Bill Maher tonight at the Wang Center was certainly entertaining. I didn't know the format of the event, and I wasn't even sure if it was going to be a debate or not. How do you debate Ann Coulter? How do you debate Bill Maher for that matter? I took notes in Twitter, but you can't really link to a set of Tweets, unfortunately. (Incidentally, via Twitter, Curt Schilling was in the house.
The event started with an introduction by the programmer of the event, the 2009 Speaker Series: Live & Uncensored. Hard to believe, but the crowd was about 65/35 Democrat/GOP making for an exciting night. This introduction was followed by Coulter introducing herself with about ten minutes of GOP red meat. Her first main point was ripping on Democrats for a New York Times editorial from 1988 that called into question the GOP's choice of Danforth Quayle for VP. I'm not sure how this is relevant 20 years later, but she was earnest. The lack of relevant material continued when Coulter brought up LBJ. "I just hope Republicans aren't this insufferable when they win an election". Uh, OK. Coulter was interrupted twice by hecklers, though a stern look from her was enough to shut them up.
Maher was next with a list of 12... I forget what it was a list of, but Maher only got through about 3 of his points. There was heckling of Maher from one person up front. Maher, maybe channeling his days as a stand up comic engaged and mocked the heckler into silence. This until another heckler from the back of the room drew his ire. "Shut up. Shut the fuck up. These people paid for a ticket to hear us, not you. If you had worked as hard as we have to be up here they would have paid to see you. But shut the fuck up." (That's a paraphrase as are most of the quotations in this post.) Some other choice lines from the introduction, "George Bush did a lot more blow than Barack Obama" and "America wasn't invented in the heartland, it was invented in Boston and Philadelphia."
After this, Maher and Coulter sat down together and had an informal debate moderated by...well, moderated by someone who shouldn't have been moderating a debate. (The crowd began whispering their dissatisfaction with the moderator and Maher and Coulter were openly mocking him by the end.) The beginning of the debate was marred by most of the theater not able to hear the moderator or Coulter, which culminated in the first heckler being tossed. While being escorted out he was shouting about how three combat tours in Baghdad had ruined his hearing and I wish they had done a better sound check.
Coulter was much better in this setting displaying none of the awkwardness that hindered her intro at the podium and showing a quick wit that kept her in the game all night. She's not a professional comedian/talk show host, her genius lies in fostering controversy, but those expecting a floor mopping were disappointed. This is not to say that Maher didn't have the majority of the best lines of the evening, just that this wasn't Tyson-Spinks. I don't know what they'll debate tomorrow in Chicago as they went through almost everything tonight: the stimulus, religion and science, scandals, and "who is the biggest pussy" (John McCain, according to Coulter).
Some of the better, er, more entertaining lines of the evening:
"When Led Zeppelin fucks up the hotel room, the maids have to clean it up." Maher on the new stimulus bill.
"Science is always under attack by the liberals, never by the religious people." Coulter on religion.
"Bill's answer will be funnier and I already agree with him." Coulter on Madoff.
"I'm a little bitter about Obama picking on Limbaugh, when I'm the one with a book out." Coulter on who is the leader of the GOP.
And for the record, Coulter breached the Godwin's Law ceiling 3 quarters of the way through the debate in a discussion of stem cells.
Maher and Coulter clearly have a chemistry, and I'd listen to or watch a show if they had one. There's a charm they bring out of each other, the charm of 2 people who like each other, but LOVE to needle each other, and frankly don't mind being needled by the other.
While I find everything about the Coulter's stage character abhorrent, I give her credit for more than holding her own, adding a lot of humor to the event, and showing up in a city, which for her must be less than tolerant. This wasn't a clash of political titans, there was no ground breaking political discourse. But at the end of the day, Coulter and Maher are entertainers and in that they succeeded. If the Speaker Series' other events are as entertaining, it'll be worth showing up.
Edited to add a review of the night from Adam Fullerton and Bostonist, thought Bostonist's review has the timing all messed up either by accident or for dramatic effect.
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