Throughout the Pikes Peak Center lobby, hundreds of people sipped on their cups of wine or beer, talking about the usual subjects: the Olympics, that neat downtown celebration, the fire, the Aurora shooting and, oh yeah, a little politics.
These were not crazies. They didn't come dressed strangely or tanked up in advance. They ranged from their 30s to 70s, and the buzz of anticipation made it clear they were hoping to be thoroughly entertained.
Inside, they filled every seat, waiting patiently with no leadoff performer as the 8 p.m. starting time passed, then 8:05 and 8:10. Suddenly, at 8:15, the familiar intro music from a certain TV show on HBO caused an eruption.
Not many visiting celebrities to Colorado Springs encounter a loud and lusty, minute-long standing ovation before saying a single word.
Bill Maher did.
Maher brought his irreverent, no-holds-barred, stand-up act to Colorado, filling Denver's Paramount Theater (capacity 1,870) on Friday and another full house of 2,000 here on Saturday. Given the ticket prices, each performance had to gross at least $100,000, with hardly any expenses since Maher brings no entourage, props or stage crew.
But for Maher, it wasn't about the money. Fairly early in his nonstop routine lasting an hour and 40 minutes, Maher revealed that he was giving back all of his take from the weekend: Friday's portion going to the fund for Aurora shooting victims, and Saturday's proceeds to Waldo Canyon Fire recovery. In the process, though, he couldn't resist the chance to add one little zinger, suggesting some of the Springs donation should go toward doing something about global warming.
As much as the crowd already loved Maher, the unsolicited charitable gesture endeared him even more. And he clearly understood where he was, saying he was glad to be in Colorado because "you need to laugh after all you've been through this summer."
For those who enjoy Maher's willingness to push all limits, he delivered potshots at the usual targets: Catholics, conservatives, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, the pro-gun masses, even Barack Obama. Maher made it clear he thinks Obama has been "too nice," that in reality he's "to the right of Richard Nixon," and that Romney "definitely could win this election."
That led to arguably Maher's best line of the night, playing off the fact that Obama is "actually half-black and half-white," saying that "he's been more white the first term, so maybe he should be a black president in the second term," even to the point of "letting his hair grow out."
Maher obviously likes to criticize all sides, even to the point of suggesting at one point that the "D" for Democrats also should stand for disappointing. But never once did anyone yell out a disagreeing word — though several did try to shout some comedic reactions, bombing every time and leading Maher to say, "Look, I'm the professional here."
He came the closest to pushing too far with harsh comments about priests and their sex lives, noticing the lackluster laughs and adding, "It's OK, lots of liberals are religious." Soon thereafter Maher was challenging everyone's faith with probing questions, including simply, "How do you know?"
I could go on and on, reliving more of Maher's material. Only once could he have come across smarter, when he recalled how the conservatives had re-elected George W. Bush in 2004 by putting gay marriage on many states' ballots and firing up the base to vote against that — and for Bush. Maher said the Dems should use that same tactic now and put the issue of legalizing marijuana on state ballots, which could help the pro-Obama turnout. He apparently didn't know that Colorado, a crucial swing state, has just such an issue on its ballot, and he could've looked good by mentioning it.
Otherwise, in all honesty, retelling Maher's jokes is just not as good as hearing them in person. What struck me most, anyway, was the crowd — 2,000 local folks enjoying the chance to hear how the world looks through a different prism. And this wasn't the liberal extremists, either. Just a lot of normal people living normal lives, right here in Colorado Springs.
Maybe there's hope.