If you watch enough Real Time With Bill Maher, you’ll notice that there are certain themes that Maher has returned to repeatedly in recent years. One is the nature of free speech; another is his frustration with college students. The controversy surrounding discussions of the war in Gaza on college campuses, then, provides Maher with an issue where both themes are prominent.
Maher’s guest to discuss this issue was Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. Lukianoff is also the co-author, along with Rikki Schlott, of the new book The Canceling of the American Mind: Cancel Culture Undermines Trust and Threatens Us All — But There Is a Solution.
The two men began their discussion by talking about the recent House hearings on antisemitism on college campuses — and a viral clip of Rep. Elise Stefaniak questioning the presidents of three prominent universities. As Michelle Goldberg pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece, the reality of the conversation was a little more complicated than the sound-bite version of the exchange made it seem.
Lukianoff made a couple of interesting points, including the observation late in the conversation that “professors are getting canceled from the right, and it doesn’t make the news.” But much of their conversation was driven by Maher’s comments, which largely focused on his ongoing issues with college students. “The bigger scandal here is — these are the biggest, most esteemed colleges in the country, and they’ve raised a bunch of fucking idiots,” he said.
Things got more interesting when the two men addressed questions of “canceling” more broadly. “The right cancels people all the time,” Maher said, pointing to the case of Colin Kaepernick. Did Maher manage to work a quick dig at the New York Jets in there? He did indeed.
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Some other notable moments from the episode:
- Maher on the recent Republican debate: “It’s like a battle of the bands between the other women in Destiny’s Child and the surviving members of The Doors.”
- This episode abouinded with authors; besides Lukianoff, the episode also featured panelists Jane Ferguson (author of No Ordinary Assignment: A Memoir) and John Avlon (author of Lincoln and the Fight for Peace).
- The panel discuission began with a heated debate over the current state of the war in Ukraine, with Maher wondering openly if the conflict was in a perpetual stalemate and both Ferguson and Avlon arguing for the importance of the U.S. supporting Ukraine.
- Maher revealed that he’s somewhat partial to Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town.” “It’s not the kind of song I’d listen to, but — I ain’t mad at it,” he said.
- Ferguson was one of the sharper guests the show has had on in a while, able to discuss both her experience as a war correspondent and domestic political issues with equal skill. She also offered a sobering look at the number of journalists who have been killed to date in the war between Israel and Hamas.
- In New Rules, Maher revealed that he’s not a fan of ironically-worn ugly Christmas sweaters.
- The bulk of the segment focused on Maher criticizing the backlash that YouTube personality Mr. Beast has gotten for his altruism. (This Max Read article in the New York Times Magazine provides a good overview of the situation.) Though by the end, he’d also taken a few shots at the disability rights movement.
- Maher, upon hearing the applause that greeted his monologue: “Are you in the Christmas spirit? Is that what this is?”
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