After Five Months, Bill Maher Returned to “Real Time”

Including an occasionally surreal interview and a return to “Barbie” discourse

Bill Maher
In his first episode back after the WGA strike, Bill Maher looked ahead to the 2024 election.

It’s been just over five months since the last episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. This doesn’t mean that its host has been out of the news; his podcast Club Random has continued, and his comments on the WGA strike and his feelings on the film Barbie have drawn some headlines.

On a Friday night in September, Maher returned to the Real Time stage. Midway through the episode, he thanked the show’s writing staff and “the union folks” for the relatively quick return to production. He also made a couple of declarations as to his own current political positions, telling one guest, “I’m fed up with woke, too. That’s why I have trouble with friends in Hollywood.” 

Given that we’re about three months away from an election year, though, it wasn’t surprising that domestic politics were especially prominent in this episode. In Maher’s opening monologue, he riffed on the most recent Republican presidential debate, saying that he could only make it through the first half hour. (There was also a Lauren Boebert/Beetlejuice joke in there, because….why not, evidently.)

This suggested potentially awkward things to come, since one of the participants in that debate — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — was the first of the episode’s guests. That would make DeSantis —by my quick and informal calculation — the third participant in Wednesday’s debate to appear on Real Time.

How was the interview? Weird. DeSantis did a bit of pandering to Maher, joking that he should relocate to Florida. “There’s no vax mandates,” DeSantis said — to some applause from the crowd. Maher’s response was to take a swipe at Floridians wearing cowboy boots. (DeSantis was, in fact, wearing cowboy boots.) 

It was the rare issue where the two men saw eye to eye, and DeSantis understandably returned to it a few times over the course of the conversation. Unfortunately, two people agreeing on something — whatever the subject — makes for relatively inert viewing, and the conversation turned livelier when Maher found reasons to critique DeSantis. And by “critique,” I mean “mock.” 

One of these digs came at the fact that DeSantis was there at all. “If your campaign was going well, you wouldn’t be on this show,” Maher said. And of DeSantis’s upcoming debate with California Governor Gavin Newsom, Maher noted, “You’re going to debate Newsom. You know he’s taller and better-looking.”

The critiques were less collegial when it came to Maher’s anger at election deniers. “You campaigned for election deniers in 2020,” Maher said. “This, I do not forgive — to quote The Godfather.” It was one of several issues on which the two men clashed — even as Maher also told DeSantis that he felt that the New York Times had been unfair to how he’d handled the pandemic. 

It was a microcosm of Maher at his most engaging and his most frustrating, all in the span of one interview. Apparently, next week’s guests will include Keegan-Michael Key — which should make for a very different onstage dynamic.

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Some other notable moments from the episode:

  • Evidently, the show is back in a new studio. The biggest change seems to be new chairs for the one-on-one interview; they did look pretty comfortable, I’ll say that.
  • Maher on the current state of politics: “The Senate approved a dress code, solving a problem they created last week.” 
  • Maher on Doug Burgum: “This guy could start dating Taylor Swift, and no one would care.”
  • Writers and podcasters Mary Katherine Ham and Sam Harris, who quickly segued into a discussion of race in the U.S. I was about to note that three white people were discussing this topic, and then Maher brought up that very fact, punctuated with a “So fucking what? People can talk.”
  • Real Time’s pause in production due to the WGA strike meant that there were several months’ worth of news to address — which means that, yes, Maher did revisit the controversy over his tweet about Barbie. (He did, however, clarify that he liked the film overall.)
  • Near the end of the panel, things got contentious when Ham argued that the Russia/collusion investigation had turned up nothing, and both Harris and Maher got particularly animated in their objections.
  • Band to whom Maher compared Donald Trump during this episode’s New Rules: KISS.
  • Number of “a dingo ate my baby!” jokes this episode: one.

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