On a New “Real Time,” Bill Maher Addressed the Attack on Salman Rushdie
Subjects ranged from casting controversies to Lyme disease
Friday’s episode of Real Time With Bill Maher began with Maher riffing on the Biden administration passing major legislation and the CDC’s revised COVID guidelines — with riffs on Hunter Biden and monkeypox thrown into the mix. But, not surprisingly, the bulk of Maher’s monologue focused on the FBI’s recent raid on Mar-a-Lago and the reaction it’s gotten from some of Trump’s supporters.
“Somebody has to tell these people that this is how the system is supposed to work,” Maher said. “You know when you watch Criminal Minds? It’s like that, but real.”
The first guest of the night was New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, there to discuss his latest book The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery, about his experiences after being diagnosed with Lyme disease. (It’s one of several high-profile books published in recent years by authors discussing their experience with chronic Lyme disease.) Douthat described the early days after falling ill, and being given a number of different diagnoses by the doctors he saw.
For Maher, this lined up with a running concern of his — that doctors are not, in fact, infallible. Douthat described his experience with experimenting with different forms of treatment — some of which seemed strange to him but which nonetheless had a positive effect. “For me, it was the weird stuff — and taking six years’ worth of antibiotics,” he said.
Douthat went on to talk about the difference between “science as a process and science as a system of authority.” That, in turn, led the two men to discuss COVID messaging over the last few years — and for Maher, an outspoken atheist, to quiz Douthat, a devout Catholic, about how he reconciled his beliefs with his struggles with illness.
New York Post columnist Rikki Schlott and television host Piers Morgan joined Maher for the evening’s panel. Discussion opened with Maher addressing the vicious attack on Salman Rushdie — a friend of his — earlier in the day. Maher was critical of countries where freedom of speech doesn’t exist — which included criticism of majority-Muslim countries as well as others — while Morgan argued that the U.S. and U.K. were on a similar trajectory of rejecting freedom of speech.
Schlott picked up where he left off and discussed speech on college campuses. “I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic, but the logical conclusion is that you fight words that offend you with violence,” she said. Schlott described her own experiences as an NYU student before leaving the university — which, Maher pointed out, resonated with his own argument that a college degree shouldn’t be considered necessary for success in life.
Overtime found the panelists discussing eating meat, veganism and Cracker Barrel’s new meatless patties. Maher and Schlott agreed that factory farming was alarming for countless reasons, and Maher defended vegans from a few of Morgan’s jibes. The discussion ended up ranging from everything from the difficulty of diagnosing Lyme disease to the pros and cons of presidential golfers.
The second half of the panel found the participants discussing the Mar-a-Lago raid and its aftermath, with Morgan pondering the political ramifications of the event. That led to talk of the 2024 election, which prompted the panel to return to questions of whether or not Joe Biden would seek re-election in two years. Schlott noted that her generation has been frustrated with Biden, historically.
Morgan pointed out the dissonance of some Republican politicians who had previously criticized “defund the police” messaging now calling for the FBI to be defunded. Maher, for his part, still had the attack on Rushdie on his mind.
“I’m not in a great mood about security people today,” he said — and went on to cite the slow reaction time of security guards when Rushdie was attacked along with other recent events, such as the law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting. “You guys want a little leeway? Do your f*cking job,” Maher said, “You’re security people. Provide a little security.”
“Sal, if you’re out there and you can hear me, we hope you get better, and I know you will,” he added.
For New Rules, Maher addressed everything from children screaming at amusement parks to the interior of the Mercedes S-Class. The bulk of the segment focused on various casting controversies — including James Franco’s upcoming turn as Fidel Castro and Ana de Armas’s forthcoming performance as Marilyn Monroe.
It’s an issue that has some nuance, and Maher pointed out that there were certain casting decisions that wouldn’t fly even for him — like, say, Ryan Gosling playing Frederick Douglass. Near the end of the segment, it pivoted somewhat to a broader critique of celebrity culture, with Maher observing that plenty of actors’ private lives are well-known these days, which makes it harder for them to disappear into a particular role.
“What’s Daniel Day-Lewis really like?” Maher asked. “I haven’t a clue, which is why he’s so great.” It was an interesting note on which to end the episode — especially for someone who also hosts a podcast where, one assumes, he discusses at least some aspects of his guests’ lives with them. File under: subjects Maher will, one hopes, return to in future episodes.
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