TV | March 26, 2022 3:14 pm

Bill Maher Pondered Masculinity and Nuclear War on This Week’s “Real Time”

Plus a few quips about the Oscars

Bill Maher
On a new "Real Time," Bill Maher talked about masculinity.
HBO

Both in the United States and abroad, we’re living through hugely significant events — whether that’s Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson. All of which led Bill Maher to open this episode of Real Time by talking about the Oscars. This included a quip on the ceremony itself, which he compared to a mortgage: “It seems to last 30 years, and I have a very low interest rate.”

Maher went on to talk about the number of remakes up for awards this year, including Nightmare Alley, which Maher quipped “was also the Republican plan on abortion.” From there he moved on to the hearing surrounding Jackson’s nomination. “If you took a drink every time they mentioned Brett Kavanaugh, you’d be Brett Kavanaugh,” Maher said — and then went on to call the hearings “Karen heaven.” 

Journalist Julia Ioffe of Puck Daily was first up, as Maher sought her expertise on Russia. The two discussed how much the general population in Russia knows about the war. Ioffe mentioned that many did, but some were reluctant to talk about it openly due to the possibility of arrest or imprisonment. Maher asked if it was comparable to the percentage of Americans who believe that Trump won the 2020 election.

Ioffe mentioned the aftereffects of deaths during the Soviet Union — and the sense of national (and generational trauma) it inspired. Maher asked if Putin was still acting rationally; both discussed his state of mind and his pending 70th birthday. As for what the  future of Ukraine looks like, Ioffe didn’t seem optimistic, given the other wars Putin has waged. This led to a lengthy conversation about Putin’s public image and his seeming fondness for getting plastic surgery.

John Heilemann and Senator Jon Tester comprised the evening’s panel, which began with an announcement of Maher’s podcast —”I don’t know how to get a podcast, but if you do…” It’s called Club Random, which focuses on topics other than politics. His first guest? William Shatner.

The panel quickly moved to talk about the Supreme Court confirmation hearings.  Tester seemed confident that Jackson would be nominated, which he was happy about — “She’s a good person,” he said. Tester went on to observe that Senators of both parties had asked “thoughtful questions.” This led to a discussion of Robert Bork’s failed nomination — Maher cited opposition to Bork as a Democratic effort, while Tester characterized it as bipartisan.

Maher cited Ted Kennedy’s speech from 1987 against Bork — and noted that many of the things Kennedy had warned about had come to pass. More broadly, Maher and his guests raised issues with the Republican politicians who, in this case, had made comments that had little to do with the candidate before them. This included Maher citing comments made by Lindsey Graham earlier this week wherein he referenced comments Maher had made.

Heilemann noted that the Bork hearings were “a constitutional law seminar,” as compared to what’s happening now. His take was that the Bork experience led to many prospective justices not speaking openly about their beliefs. 

Conversation went from there to the revelations about Virginia Thomas’s comments on the 2020 elections. “It puts [Justice Thomas]’s independence into question,” Tester said, and called for Thomas to recuse himself from cases related to the issues in question. Heilemann agreed and made the case for Thomas to be “censured in some other way.” 

Later in the panel, the subject turned to inflation and cost-of-living issues facing Americans. Maher cited that average rents were increasing at a faster pace than wages, while Heilemann alluded to Ice-T’s viral tweet about gas prices. Tester said that the Democrats had laws in the works that would address inflation.

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For the episode’s Overtime segment, the panelists and Ioffe covered a wide range of subjects, from the likelihood of Russia using nuclear or chemical weapons in Ukraine to the resignation of several of the prosecutors looking into Donald Trump in New York City. The debate over possible use of nuclear weapons — and the legacy of Mutually Assured Destruction — made for some of the most chilling moments of the night. “There are no good answers,” Maher said. “There’s only the least bad.”

For New Rules, Maher pondered who would handle high-profile paternity tests with Maury Povich retiring, and took a dig at Staind’s Aaron Lewis speaking approvingly of Vladimir Putin. The bulk of the segment found Maher discussing the state of masculinity and what the current situation in Ukraine can tell us about it. 

Maher cited Volodymyr Zelensky as an example of why masculinity still mattered — essentially, that he represents the best aspects of it. (Maher also threw a John Wick reference in there.) But Maher also connected this to a larger issue — that of fewer Americans having sex, full stop.

At the core of his argument was the idea that there’s a difference between masculinity and toxic masculinity — but Maher got somewhat bogged down in digressions focusing on “men are trash” mugs and part of the Obamacare ad campaign. But the bulk of his criticism of men fell on men themselves — leading to a profane tirade that brought the episode to a close.