Try as I might, I just can’t dislike Bill Maher, probably because we represent the same unlikely mixing of the tribes. Normally, here in the American melting pot, Jews marry Italians, and the Irish pair off with Germans and Poles till all their kids and grandkids become generic crackers who’ve forgotten how to pronounce their funny surnames. But the Jews and the Irish both carry the black comedy gene, so any hybrid is practically fated to turn out warped.
For that reason, the more scabrous lines in his monologue on Pope Francis ought to be passed over in prayerful silence. But some of his other statements sound suspiciously like serious arguments – or at any rate, like the arguments you’d find in a New York Times op-ed column:
I think it’s the easiest job in the world,” he continued. “I mean you’ve got tenure. You’re selling an invisible product that you don’t have to prove exists. Everything you say people agree with, and you’re playing the infallible card. I mean, what other business could you be in where you’re involved with a horrible child-f____ing scandal and you didn’t lose most of your customers? I don’t think it’s that hard a job.”
I think it’s the easiest job in the world…I mean you’ve got tenure.
Yeah, swell. Except that most incumbents land the job at an age when any sensible person would rather retire. To put things in perspective, Francis took the throne at 76; Benedict, at 78. By contrast, Johnny was able to step away from the desk permanently as a callow youth of 69. To defer the soft life of charity golf tournaments longer than a pope, you’d have to be a Rolling Stone.
You’re selling an invisible product that you don’t have to prove exists.
Little you know about sales, my son. Closing on a mortgage, for example, means coaxing and nagging the buyer to the title company, crossing your fingers through the three-day rescission period, and begging the scumbag brokerage owner to cut you your commission check. That’s the extent of your commitment. Even before the last of that check has disappeared into your sinus cavities, you get to start afresh with a brand-new borrower.
Selling God is much more complicated. Anyone can cancel at any time, or simply let their membership lapse. Even members in good standing can be mighty stingy about keeping their payments up, and there’s no way to foreclose on a baptism. That’s why the pope delivers chipper, quotable monologues daily – he’s re-selling people who’ve already been sold. Plus, this one has been known to phone people by way of providing customer service and technical support.
Everything you say people agree with, and you’re playing the infallible card.
Mr. Maher, meet Mrs. Mullarkey and Ms. Manson. Each speaks for tens of millions. But be careful: they bite.
The depressing truth is that almost nobody in this country agrees with more than half of the pope says. People pay him so much attention because they’re hoping he’ll rule, infallibly, for their side in the culture war. Being pope means steering the barque of Peter through crap weather while being shouted at by about a billion backseat helmsmen. Can this really be news? Have you never heard of the Internet?
I mean, what other business could you be in where you’re involved with a horrible child-f____ing scandal and you didn’t lose most of your customers?
I don’t think it’s that hard a job.
But who are you to judge? Actually, it’s true – these days, a lot of the day-to-day papal existence boils down to show business. (Some Catholics are far from thrilled about this, but given the realities of satellite communications, the fact’s unlikely to change.) If you rate the papacy strictly as an entertainer’s gig, then, yes, it must look pretty soft. You’re guaranteed good ratings. You don’t have to worry about booking interesting guests, because everyone wants to meet you, and, in any case, you get to do all the talking. Among the patriarchs of the various autocephalous Orthodox Churches and the muftis, grand and otherwise, there’s no serious competition on the order of a John Oliver.
By thunder, Bill, you missed your calling.