Bill Maher’s Latest “Real Time” Episode Was a Study in Contradictions

Michael Eric Dyson, Pamela Paul and Nellie Bowles joined Maher this week

May 18, 2024 3:59 pm
Bill Maher with his book
The latest "Real Time With Bill Maher" did indeed include mention of its host's forthcoming book.

On this week’s Real Time With Bill Maher, viewers got to see something that’s a relative rarity on the show: Maher admitting an area where he doesn’t have all the answers. His guest was Michael Eric Dyson, who’s written extensively on politics, race and hip-hop. The subject of Maher’s inquiry? The feud between Drake and Kendrick Lamar.

“When I want to understand rap, I have to ask someone,” Maher admitted. “I ask my friend’s kid, I ask Killer Mike — I say, ‘translate.’”

Dyson had plenty to say on the subject. There’s been a lot written about the Drake/Lamar exchange, but not a lot that’s looked at it in the context of the medieval Scottish practice of flyting. Dyson also had some criticism of some of Lamar’s criticism of Drake, saying, “People began to question the authenticity, and I thought that was bullcrap. I’m Team Drake all day in this regard.”

Overall, Dyson also argued that the feud between Lamar and Drake was also something of a gift for anyone with an interest in language. “Whatever you say about Kendrick and Drake, the level of rhetorical ferocity, of inventiveness, of quintuple entendres, of metaphors that sing and zing — this is something that young people ought to be paying attention to,” he said. “You can’t do that and not be intelligent.”

Maher was largely content to sit back and let Dyson talk about music, language and history. He did get a few puckish entendres in, such as, “It’s not just that [Drake] wants to fuck everyone’s girlfriend?” But overall, the effect was simple: Maher was looking for an education in an area that he didn’t know much about, and he got it.

Things were very different when the panel discussion came around. Here, Maher was joined by NEw York Times opinion writer Pamela Paul and The Free Press’s Nellie Bowles, author of Morning After the Revolution: Dispatches from the Wrong Side of History. All three of them, Maher pointed out, have take criticism from the political left over their opinions; it would be fair to describe all three as “anti-woke.” Unfortunately, three people who largely agree on big questions didn’t exactly make for riveting television.

“One thing we all agree on is, we don’t like what I’ve always called the One True Opinion — that you’re only allowed to have one opinion,” Maher said at one point. He also went on to make something of a defense of Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, arguing that the context of his controversial commencement speech — made at a conservative college — wasn’t as alarming as it’s been made out to be. (Though he also argued that he and Butker were ideological opposites, saying, “I couldn’t be more not like this guy.”)

The trio also discussed gender, a subject that also came up in Maher’s editorial at the end of the episode. Predictably, the discourse included some criticism of left-wing perspectives on gender, which included citations of articles in The Free Press and the Daily Wire. But for a show that periodically emphasizes media literacy, it seems like this argument would be more convincing if Maher wasn’t citing publications with anti-woke and right-wing perspectives. On a related subject, this was a weird week for Bill Maher to praise Pamela Paul for her defense of J.K. Rowling.

Bill Maher Defended Vaccines on This Week’s “Real Time”
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was among the evening’s guests

Other notable moments from the episode:

  • Maher kicked off the panel discussion with a candid admission: “Let’s talk about these debates. I don’t really want to, but it is what’s going on in the country.”
  • Maher also proposed replacing the debates with a pee-holding contest.
  • Maher, on various Republican politicians showing up at Donald Trump’s trial dressed like Trump: “When you’re at the ‘they’re wearing the uniform of the cult leader’ stage, I don’t know if anything matters.”
  • The panel discussion got interesting when Bowles brought up a dearth of positive male role models on the left, and its relationship to ideological polarization along gender lines. Though her remedy for this — “There needs to be a left-wing Andrew Tate” — seems troubling. (Though I think Bowles was joking with that last point.)
  • Maher on whole body deodorant: “If your whole body stinks, that’s a sign that you’re decomposing and probably have bigger problems than body odor.”

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