ReelzChannel's Nando Velasquez sat down with Larry Charles and Bill Maher to talk about their documentary, Religulous. Charles directed the movie, in which Maher travels around the globe interviewing people about God and religion.
Velasquez: Bill, you've been commenting on religion for years on your TV shows and in your stand-up routines. What inspired you to go out and do a feature-length movie on the topic?
Maher: Well, on the TV shows, I never felt like I had the opportunity to really get the full story out. I've always done little shows -- introduced the topic, the guests always interrupting me, and then go to commercial, or change the topic, whatever. I felt like this is the one topic that needed to be painted on a bigger canvas, and it was the one topic that I thought, "Ya know what? I don't like getting up early, and running all around the world, and being away from home. But for this topic? It's never been done, a movie like this...." And I thought, "I am the guy to do that." Who else was gonna do it? It was worth it because not only did we make a really funny movie, but I think we made a movie unlike any one that was ever made. Because this is the last taboo. And it shouldn't be taboo.
Velasquez: Yes, but this time you actually went out to people's "home turf," so to speak. How was that?
Charles: Well, we went to their houses, as they say in basketball. The fact of the matter is, we got kicked out of every one of them also. But we got what we came for before we got kicked out. So, it worked out OK for us, too.
Velasquez: Larry, is it more challenging doing Borat, where most of the people you interview and meet aren't familiar with Sacha or his characters, or Religulous, where Bill is a celebrity and is already known for his viewpoints and commentary?
Charles: Everything is difficult to do. But the fact is, we had a great time making this movie. We were just a bunch of people in a van. And it was a very handmade movie -- very humble, humble movie, actually. And so we had a really fun time making it. We laughed a lot, just kind of hanging out, and we were making a movie at the same time, which was a really wonderful experience.
Maher: We felt like the Beatles around 1962 when they were driving to Manchester for their gigs in their van.
Charles: Very stripped down.
Velasquez: Bill, what was the most-surprising thing you found on your travels, speaking to all these different people?
Maher: I think the most-surprising thing, we agree, is we found that religious people don't know very much about religion. They don't know their own religions. They -- almost none of them have read the Bible. I mean, they can quote it. They can quote a few passages, but they have no clue what's in there. If they did, if they really knew what a genocidal killing machine God was, ya know, maybe they would have second thoughts about revering a character like that.
Velasquez: Religion is such a hot topic. It practically screams controversy. Would you say this was expected from the start?
Charles: Well, the controversy -- ya know, the movie's not out yet. So, we don't know what kind of controversy we're about to face. But the fact is, that the most controversial thing that could happen from this movie is not a bunch of protestors outside a movie theater. What we want is for people who would normally be aghast and offended by this kind of movie to come in and see it -- and find out that it's extremely entertaining, it's extremely funny. And, even against their will, they find themselves laughing and having a good time.
Maher: And learning, again, they don't know that much about religion. Come in and learn about the thing that's so important to you.
Velasquez: Well, some people have already made comments about the movie. Have you seen any of them, or do any stick out? I know the Catholic League has made some negative comments.
Maher: They always say that. They've been saying that for years because I was raised Catholic. They think I'm somehow bitter. But I'm not bitter. I didn't enjoy my Catholic upbringing, but I was not abused. (Although, I'm a little offended at that 'cause I was a cute kid. So, I don't what their taste was.) No, I mean, we don't single anybody out. We're going after religion, and it's all the religions.
Charles: It's an equal opportunity offender.
Velasquez: They say you shouldn't bring up politics or religion on a first date. Which, do you think, is worse to talk about?
Maher: Well, I think that's old thinking -- that politics are certainly not off the table anymore.
Charles: Politics and religion have so blurred together, also.
Maher: That's the thing. I mean, you have to talk about religion now if you're gonna talk about politics. And you better talk about politics. You live in a democracy, for crying out loud. It's your duty as a citizen to be up on politics and discuss it, to debate it. How else are we gonna air the issues that are so important to us? And how are people not so frightened at the prospect of someone like Sarah Palin, who believes the Bible literally, being a heartbeat away from the highest office in the land? Someone who believes that end times are coming, and this is something we should devoutly be wishing? Ya know, they call it the Rapture. That doesn't sound bad, does it? They don't think it's bad. Well, this makes me a little nervous when people are rooting for the end of the world.
Velasquez: You bring up the Rapture, and that reminds me a little bit about the ending of the movie and how heavy handed and reactionary it felt to me. Would you care to comment on the ending?
Maher: Well, we don't want to give it away, but I'm Satan. No.
Charles: There is a twist, and Bruce Willis...is actually dead.
Maher: We were talking before about the fact that we couldn't find anybody who knew the difference, specifically, between Satan and the Antichrist. Do you know the difference, Nando? That's right. See?
Velasquez: Well, I would assume the Antichrist is the opposite of Jesus Christ and God, so that would make him the Devil. So they're the same guy.
Maher: That's what I thought. I asked people. I said, "Are they the same guy?" No, they all agreed that they are not the same guy. So, then I was like, "OK. Well, who works for who? Does the Devil work for the Antichrist? Or does the Antichrist work for the Devil? Or is it like the Joker and the Riddler -- they get together to gang up on Batman, but they're kind of independent agents?" Ya know, again, people don't know this stuff.
Charles: And it is like a comic book, just the way Bill described it. Think about it: Batman is Jesus, ya know; Satan and the Antichrist are the Joker and the Riddler. It's no different. It's the same sort of comic book -- childish kind of stories, exactly -- that were planted in our minds before we had a choice.
Velasquez: And, of course, according to the movie, Jonah Hill could be Jesus Christ!
Charles: Right, right. I think so, too.
Velasquez: One line you said stuck with me -- in the beginning of the movie, when you thanked a group of men you were speaking with for being Christ-like instead of Christian.
Maher: Yes. Well, that's the thing I'm saying. We're not trying to point fingers at anybody. We're not being judgmental. We're having a frolicking fun time, and we're just asking questions. That was a scene with these truckers who meet in a little chapel. It's basically a trailer that was outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, and they have their little revival meeting. I guess they're midway between their route, or something like this...
Charles: They park and they go into the truck to worship.
Maher: And like so many people we met, we liked them. I liked almost all of these people. Jesus in Holy Land couldn't have been a sweeter guy.
Charles: He was like the Big Lebowski. He was a fantastic guy.
Maher: So, it's an interesting question: Why, when these people are so nice and they want to do good, how does religion wind up being ultimately about so many bad things? And not just a little bad, ya know. I mean, we're talking about wars. Most of the wars in history have been religious wars. There are crusades, exorcisms, burning witches, inquisitions, suicide bombings, having sex with children -- it's just amazing how much bad stuff comes out of something that people were trying to make into something good.
Velasquez: Guys, thanks for your time. I think you guys are providing a service out there with this movie. Best of luck.
Maher: Thank you. If people go see it, I think they will send a message that we are not ready for Sarah Palin to take over this country and we want our country back.