BILL MAHER: Thank you, I am so excited to be hosting Amazon Fishbowl, our weekly glimpse into the fascinating worlds of art, music, literature, cinema, and whatever-the-hell is going on between Brad and Angelina.
MAHER: So enjoy tonight, and tune in each Thursday night beginning in June for our all-new guests and shows. Okay: first in the Amazon Fishbowl, this acclaimed American author writes best-sellers like you and I write checks. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and his gripping new novel Cell is available right now on Amazon.com of course. Please welcome: Stephen King.
MAHER: How you doing?
KING: Good. Good.
MAHER: You look good.
KING: It's nice to be here.
MAHER: It's nice to have you. I have to tell you: you have, uh, entertained me more times than I could possibly list, and to me, that's all that matters is entertainment.
KING: Well the same goes back.
MAHER: Well: let's keep talking. Uh…
MAHER: And, uh…
KING: Why don't we just talk about that?
MAHER: No, you know what I want to ask you about, because a couple of months ago, I had on my other show on television…so 20th Century…
MAHER: Television. I know.
KING: That is so 20th Century. That is so gone.
MAHER: Uh, Salman Rushdie. And, you know, Salman Rushdie was telling me that he has this – and everybody knows – he has a terrible reputation as a dark guy…
MAHER: …because he people were trying to kill him.
MAHER: And he's anything but a dark guy.
MAHER: He's funny, and he's light. He's wonderful. And you have the reputation as the horror guy, and I was talking to you in the hotel…not a hotel, it's a lodge we're staying at, hotels have food.
MAHER: You too? Have no food? Okay. And you're anything but a scary guy.
KING: [laughs] See me later.
MAHER: Well that was kind of scary, the way you did that.
KING: See me later.
MAHER: No, but I mean, you are pigeon-holed, and – as we all are in show-business, as one thing or another – but, I mean, so much of your stuff…"Shawshank Redemption" —
KING: Sure, well, I mean, how many times has somebody walked up to you and said, "Oh, Bill Maher. Be funny."
KING: You know, and you're like, well, what can I do? You know. I'm just sort of stuck with this reputation of being a scary guy. So, uh…
MAHER: So what do they say to you?
KING: They say, "Are you really a scary guy?" And I say, uh, "Sure. I've got the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk." And that…
MAHER: That shuts them up?
KING: That keeps them away.
MAHER: Well, because so much of your stuff is not…I mean, I was going to say: "Shawshank Redemption." Not really a scary book.
MAHER: Not a…and I remember the guy—
KING: But, you know, I ran into a lady, uh, in the supermarket one time…
KING: She said…well, not literally, no…but she said, "You know, I don't read any of your stuff because I don't like to be scared." And I said, "Well, I did this thing call, uh, the 'Shawshank Redemption'." She said, "I saw that, but you didn't write that."
KING: I said, "Yes, I did."
MAHER: She said, "No, I like that. You didn't write that."
MAHER: Never argue with a fan.
KING: That's right. No: that's right.
MAHER: You're…you're one of the most prolific authors we have. Uh, I'm wondering if there are things that you have written that you have not published. That you don't want people to see. That you put in a drawer. And how would you feel if somebody put them out after you died?
KING: Well, that presupposes that there are things in a drawer, and there really aren't. I had Pet Sematary in a drawer for a long while because I thought that that was just too horrible. That nobody would really want to read that. And so I published it, and it was a huge success. I guess you just can't outgross the American public.
KING: See, listen to them. They like it.
MAHER: Oh, they do. Ah, let me…let me ask you about this new book, Cell, because I was reading part of it, and that is a scary one.
MAHER: Uh, it scared the pee out of me.
MAHER: Which was not good for the other people in the hot-tub.
Uh…I'm joking, of course, but…but it seems to me when I was reading this that you…we probably have that in common. For a long time, I resisted modern technology. I still am not very good at it. But it seems like…I mean, it's about, uh…people who use cellphones become kind of zombies who get involved in group-think and want to dominate the world. They become Republicans.
MAHER: Kidding. No, no. Nothing about this show is political. No politics. Um, but it seems like you were stewing about technology.
KING: Well, the…there was a review…an advance review of the book where they called me a technophobe. And I really took umbrage, and I wrote them a letter and said, "Look, I burn my own CDs. Don't call me a technophobe, gunky." You know, I get…I'm on a computer show. I'm on the first program of Fishbowl.
KING: For God's sake. So, who's your…who's your technophobe now.
MAHER: But do you—
KING: But the thing is…Friedrich Nietzsche said, "When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you." And boy, I'll tell you what: when you open your cellphone and make a call…one of the things that we've learned about this whole wiretapping scandal, and the thing with the Bush Administration is…when you're listening to the Net, you know, it's, "Can you hear me now." Guess what: they hear you just fine.
KING: There're a lot of people listening. And, uh…
MAHER: Well, I hate to defend the Bush Administration, but that is one thing that I agree with him on. I mean, I don't want my calls listened in to, but when he said, uh, "If you're talking to Al Qaeda, we want to know what it's about," it just proved that, if you're President long enough, you will say something true.
KING: That's true. But I —
MAHER: I'm more concerned about a dirty-bomb in Long Beach than I am hearing me making a deal for two ounces of pot. Not two ounces.
KING: Yeah, but you know what…
MAHER: Not two ounces. Two ounces: way too much.
KING: You know what? I think George is listening to you and your dealer, and not Al Qaeda. That's what I think. Not that you have a dealer.
KING: I'm not saying that.
MAHER: I don't. I grow my own. Anyway.
MAHER: That's not true either.
KING: Strictly for medicinal purposes.
MAHER: Yes. Exactly. Well, you used to drink. I heard that you based the character in the Shining – the Jack Nicholson character who was drinking up there in the, in the lodge…it looked a lot where…like where I'm staying…
KING: Oh, believe me…
MAHER: But he had food.
KING: If you could…if you could abuse it, I used it.
MAHER: You did?
KING: Oh yeah.
MAHER: But, you know, this is something I've always said about the arts…any of the arts…I mean, heroin: I would never recommend it, but I always said it didn't hurt my record —
KING: If it was in the medicine cabinet, you used it, yeah?
MAHER: But it didn't hurt my record collection.
MAHER: It, uh…I'm asking…you know, your body of work. Would it be bette,r worse, or the same if you had never been a drinker?
KING: Better. It would be better.
KING: Yeah, I think it would be better. But—
MAHER: Boy, that was not the answer I was looking for.
KING : Well, you know…I hate to say it, Smoochie, but it's the one you got.
MAHER: You really…you're sure of that?
KING: Yeah, I'm…well, I'm…the question is, would there be a body of work at all. Because the drinking, the drugging, and all those habits don't come out of a real happy personality. And any kind of art comes out of a, uh, you know, a conflicted personality, so, who knows. And why are we getting so deep into this anyway?
MAHER: No, I…we're not going to. The thing…`cause one thing I really want to ask you before we run out of time is about these recent scandals. I mentioned it in the monologue. The book a Million Little Pieces, uh, by James…no…James Frey was that guy—
KING: James Frey.
MAHER: And then JT LeRoy. These, uh, confessionals that turn out to be, really, not true. And, I could understand someone doing that. What bothers me is, the reaction of people seems to be, "So what?" What does that say about our society, that they don't really care where the line between truth and fiction is anymore?
KING: Well, the thing that surprised me, first of all, was to find out that…here was a guy who was in recovery from these things, that had told these lies, and then…somebody told me, but he's not in any…he's doing this all himself…and then it kind of clicked into place. Because alcoholics and drug addicts lie about the weather. They lie for practice. You know, you ask an alcoholic what time it, he'll lie about the time just to keep in practice. I knew a guy who as free-basing for five years and telling his girlfriend it was mold in the plastic shower curtains. And she believed him, because he was good at it. That's what they do. So it didn't surprise me that he was lying. What surprised me was that, after all this came out, that Oprah would kind of like, stand up and say, oh that's okay, that's okay, I mean, hey, most of the feeling of it was real. Because once you find out an alcoholic's lied about one thing, man…sorry, Katie bar the door. Probably a lot of it's lies.
MAHER: I knew a guy who told his wife he as not doing marijuana over and over, and she said, "I know you are." And he was denying it, and finally she said, "Peter, there's a piece of marijuana on your tooth."
MAHER: The book is Cell. Stephen King.