Mouth by Southwest

Despite my hard-earned reputation as a bigmouth, I didn't audition for Politically Incorrect when producers from the show came to Phoenix last week. I was present as an observer, however, as 50 or so other voluble Valley locals tried out for the role of "citizen panelist" on the April 12 edition of ABC's popular squabble fest, hosted by Bill Maher.

Egged on, no doubt, by friends and family, the hopefuls showed up early at the spanking-new studios of KNXV-TV Channel 15. After doughnuts, they showed their stuff to PI associate producer Sheila Griffith and Maher's assistant Irene O'Donnell in groups of five. Each was asked to offer his or her "most politically incorrect opinion" for discussion, and all were advised to jump in and make themselves heard in the 10 to 12 minutes allotted.

The 13 semifinalists culled from this group included a "hibernation researcher," a sportswriter, a political-science teacher, a private investigator and an "actor and professional gambler." Perhaps most charming was Therese, an 80-year-old "unpublished writer" passionate about the right-to-die issue.

In the afternoon, the semifinalists were auditioned again. This time Maher himself was present, playing his usual role as wry ringmaster in the center chair. Interestingly, and to his credit, Maher's manner seemed exactly the same moderating a panel of "civilians" as it does on TV with a bunch of professional pundits or celebs--no kid gloves, no lordly patronization. But then, he was in company that, on average, was at least as bright.

At this writing, the guest panelist had not yet been chosen from five finalists: a firefighter; two ASU students, one of whom feels that Indian casinos should be taxed; a physicist concerned that speed limits are incorrectly assigned; and a biologist who believes that the educational system should be overhauled.

Maher seemed almost exasperated at times that he wasn't surrounded by gunslingers and militia fanatics. At one point, he blurted, "Well, this is no good, 'cause we all agree. . . . Where's the Phoenix, Arizona, radical right-wing nut case? What a bunch of reasonable . . . y'know, where are we, in Boston?"

--M. V. Moorhead

The edition of Politically Incorrect featuring the "citizen panelist" from the Valley is scheduled for 11:05 p.m. Monday, April 12, on KNXV-TV Channel 15.

 
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