IF YOU GO
What: Comedian and talk show host Bill Maher's 90-minute stand-up comedy show
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday April 29
Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 13350 Edison Parkway, Fort Myers
Cost: $42 balcony seats; all other tickets sold out
Information: Call 481-4849 or go to bbmannpah.com
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — While comedian, talk-show host and stand-up comic Bill Maher can boast of "three thousand screaming, fanatical liberals, mostly atheists, in Huntsville, Alabama," he might not find such a warm welcome in Southwest Florida. A protest may happen at his Fort Myers performance.
George Miller and members of the Cape 9/12 Project have made plans for a protest of Maher's Sunday, April 29 stand-up comedy show at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers on the cape912.com website.
Repeated attempts to contact Miller and other members of the Cape 9/12 project involved in the protest for comment were unsuccessful.
"We understand not everybody's gonna like it," Scott Saxon, general manager of Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, said. "Not everything is for everybody."
Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall has added extra security for Sunday's performance.
Miller, founder of the Cape 9/12 Project, writes on the event's Meetup.com page: "The disgusting, women hater Bill Maher is booked to play at the B B Mann. All patriots in SW Florida should be at the theater so that we can protest Maher ... as well as the theater for booking this disgusting person."
The protest would be the first in Saxon's six-year tenure at the venue, which can present anywhere from 100 to 175 shows per year. Saxon also points out that controversial comic and TV personality Kathy Griffin, whose pointed political material varies little from Maher's, has played three times in the past six years with no incident.
"First and foremost, [Bill Maher] is a comedian. He's been a comedian since the late '70s." Saxon said. "His comedy has morphed into something a lot more political than it probably was at the beginning."
Saxon predicts that Maher's show will be completely sold out (BBMann seats about 1,900) by Sunday, but says that programming any event is always a risk.
"We take the risk and the market is going to tell us whether or not we made the proper assessment," Saxon said. "It's not part of any subscription. People do not have to come."
Writing on his personal Facebook page, Miller called Maher a "disgusting piece of fecal material" and asked his more than 800 Facebook friends to "Please join us to show this [expletive] he is not welcome and that the theater should only book class acts instead of disgusting women haters."
Saxon believes that there's definitely a market for Maher's brand of humor, even in Southwest Florida - and that it is the venue's duty to program for all types of audiences across the region.
"We certainly understand he's controversial, especially in an area that tends to be a little more conservative," Saxon said. "We just think that there's enough of a market here to make it a successful engagement."
"We really feel that it is our responsibility to have something for everybody," Saxon reiterated. "Folks who came to see 'My Fair Lady' are a different crowd than what's coming to his show."
Barbara B. Mann has booked edgier acts in the past. In 2010, "Spring Awakening" generated headlines and letters after patrons objected to some of the button-pushing content in the show, which included a scene with brief on-stage nudity.
"Some people did not like the content, because it dealt with every controversial issue, Saxon said.
Still, out of more than 12,000 patrons who saw "Spring Awakening," Saxon received just 30 complaints - and the show was critically praised.
While a variety of local theaters have been hit with a barrage of complaints over controversial work in the past few years, none have actually seen protesters show up with signs in front of the theater. Only two venues contacted by the Daily News ever expected protesters - both for plays with themes that touched on religion and homosexuality.
Theatre Conspiracy's artistic director Bill Taylor expected protesters when his edgy group produced Terrence McNally play "Corpus Christi," which dramatized the relationship between Jesus and the Apostles. The play depicts Jesus and the Apostles as gay men living in modern-day Texas. None ever materialized.
Just this fall, the Laboratory Theater of Florida expected protesters for their production of "The Laramie Project," which covered the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.
"I thought there would be some kind of reaction for 'Laramie,'" Lab Theater founder and producing artistic director Annette Trossbach said.
The Lab Theater also received calls and letters for its production of Sarah Ruhl's provocatively titled "In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play," but no protesters.
"I feel like I've pushed the envelope out with some subject matter, and yet, people would rather protest quietly among their neighbors." Trossbach said. "There's gossip that occurs, but I've not had any picketing or anything like that."
Saxon has a few final words of advice for patrons angry that his venue tapped Bill Maher for an appearance.
"If you don't like it, please don't come. We understand," Saxon said. "That's not a problem because we will have at some point something that you want to see."
Bill Maher performs at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 29 at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers. Tickets are $42, $52, $62 and $72. Call 239-481-4849 or online at bbmannpah.com.