Comedian Bill Maher came out swinging, swaggering and swearing Saturday night with his own twisted take on the Republican National Convention and the sold-out, packed house at Ruth Eckerd Hall loved every barb he tossed out during a two-hour performance.
"I'm glad I'm on this side of the bridge – on the other side they almost drown in bull this week," he joked, before ripping on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his running mate Paul Ryan and just about every other prominent Republican notable as well as the GOP platform.
The crowd seemed to relish every joke, even those that pushed the limits of bad taste and vulgarity. Some of the crude remarks might have made the jaws drop on the elderly volunteer ushers at Ruth Eckerd but Maher got a standing ovation.
"I didn't think there were this many liberals in Pinellas County," said one woman fan waiting in the lobby before the show.
Maher, host of HBO's politically charged "Real Time," recapped the convention. He said RNC delegates went wild for Ryan "because they never quite sure what Romney's politics are – ever." Because "Picasso could not paint all the sides this man has taken."
"Ryan is a real signal from the Republicans that the party is going for the base," Maher said, noting Ryan represents the tea party. "(President Barack) Obama did the same thing," Maher said. "He did something for the base. He did something for gays, something for Latinos. He knows where the base is. For the Democrats the base is minorities, women and sane people. And for the Republicans the base is old white people who make sighing noises when they get up."
Maher said that "I read all the time that Ryan is the foremost intellectual in the Republican Party which is like saying that Gene Simmons is the foremost intellectual in KISS – technically true, but not something to point to with pride."
Clint Eastwood's rambling debate with an empty chair (representing Obama) on Thursday night also became fodder for Maher. "That was the perfect metaphor for the Republican Party – an old white guy arguing with an Obama that does not exist," he said.
He joked that "the empty chair was followed by an empty suit – Mitt Romney."
The applause came often on jokes such as "the Republicans had wanted to have hologram Ronald Reagan address the delegates but they were afraid it would upstage Romney – but here's an idea: Let's have a Ronald Reagan hologram run against the invisible Obama."