Asteroids and “Idiocracy” Showed Up on This Week’s “Real Time With Bill Maher”

Plus, abundant discussion of the Jan. 6 hearings

Bill Maher
Bill Maher on the latest "Real Time" episode.

What got the most applause during Bill Maher’s opening monologue this week on Real Time? The news that the January 6th Committee was subpoenaing former President Trump to testify, for one thing; Maher’s question to his audience about whether they’d be voting, for another. Maher covered a lot of topics over the course of this week’s monologue — all ending on what seemed like a resolutely positive note.

Or, as Maher put it, “We’re not going to be killed by an asteroid.” From there, he pivoted to a riff on Kanye West’s recent antisemetic comments and the controversy that the Los Angeles City Council is presently facing. Again, it was a monologue that covered a lot of ground; then again, this was an episode that featured both a prominent astrophysicist and a former head of state.

The former head of state in question was Benjamin Netanyahu, whose memoir is due out later this month. Maher opened the interview with a few relatively mild questions, giving Netanyahu a fair amount of room to respond to criticism of Israel’s politics and get in some criticism of the Iranian regime. 

There’s an election in Israel scheduled for the beginning of November in which Netanyahu could return to power; with that in mind, it’s not surprising that many of his answers sounded like what you might expect from a politician on the campaign trail. Maher brought up the subject of Israeli settlements; Netanyahu pivoted to discussing his diplomatic record. Maher asked Netanyahu for his thoughts on Donald Trump; Netanyahu demurred.

From there, Maher moved to the panel discussion phase of the evening, where he was joined by Neil deGrasse Tyson — who has a new book of his own — and CNN’s Mike Smerconish. Maher asked about the January 6th hearings and how Tyson squared those with his calls for a rational approach to the world. Tyson addressed the need for people to be educated in spotting disinformation. “We don’t have the tools coming out of our school system in order to combat that,” Tyson said.

“The other issue — besides the death of democracy — that’s been on my mind this week is nuclear war,” Maher said, which is pretty unnerving, as segues go. Tyson was impassioned about science, while Maher occasionally got meta about sports metaphors. Eventually, the trio discussed the potential effects of nuclear weapons — with Tyson pointing out that conventional weapons can often be deadlier than nuclear weapons.

In the second half of the discussion, Maher returned to another familiar topic — in this case, the pandemic and the initial response to it. Tyson made a solid point, however, which is to say that there isn’t data on how alternative pandemic responses might have gone. Perhaps, he argued, the response we ended up with was the least flawed out of all of the alternatives. 

Maher countered by pointing out that other countries had tried different approaches; Tyson responded by noting the population density in the United States, a point he returned to repeatedly during the discussion. 

Maher pondered Fat Bear Week and the process of becoming a saint on this week’s New Rules. Herschel Walker’s Senate run provided Maher with the bulk of the segment. “Of course, I could make a long string of jokes about how unfit for office Walker is,” Maher said, and then, after a pause, he concluded with, “And I think I will!” He noted that Walker’s various scandals make him virtually impossible to parody, though that didn’t stop him from recounting all of them. (There are a lot.) And there was a spot-on invocation of Idiocracy to boot.

Maher went on to argue that this represented a reaction to “wokeness” on the part of conservatives, and once again invoked the case of an Ontario transgender teacher in the news for the size of her prosthetic breasts. It’s an odd swerve to use a case from Canada in a segment otherwise focusing on politics in the U.S., though. 

Overtime was a quick one this week, and found Maher and Tyson discussing the cosmic calendar and the potential role of microbes on Mars. ”It may be that everyone on Earth is a descendant of Martians,” Tyson said. Smerconish discussed the Pennsylvania Senate race, and that brought the episode — and its online annex — to a close, with the next episode slated for the 28th.

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