Maher is a scrappy standup comic who wisecracked his way through bad sitcoms (remember Sara?) and mediocre movies (D.C. Cab) doing a sort of discount Bill Murray—same hangdog looks, same smarmy delivery, much smaller paycheck—before the comedy gods smiled on him in 1993. That's when he was tapped to host a quirky talk show, Politically Incorrect, on cable's Comedy Central. Maher's mix of offbeat guests and sardonic wit led ABC to add the show to its late-night schedule in January 1997.
Part of Maher's payoff for plugging away long enough to get lucky is this unadorned roundup of his better PI bits, making him yet another comic turned TV star turned author (Bill, meet Jerry, Paul, Roseanne and Tim). It's a dubious distinction, since most entries in this Schtick Lit genre lack the energy of the live performances that inspired them.
Sure enough, this collection feels as forced as an antifur march in Hawaii. Maher's a clever fellow, and his Dennis Miller-like rants on Politically Incorrect ("Should we require a seven-day waiting period to have a child, and if so, would it be called the Brady Bunch bill?") are funny enough to merit network exposure. But Johnny Carson defined political comedy for 30 years on TV, and nobody ever bothered to issue The Collected Wisdom of Carnac. (Villard, $20)