Bill Maher’s Vaccine Skepticism Showed Up on Another “Real Time” Episode

Alternately: decongestants and vaccines are not the same

Bill Maher on "Real Time"
Bill Maher brought up COVID vaccines on a new "Real Time."

Earlier this year, Woody Harrelson hosted Saturday Night Live and added a rambling, bizarre bit about COVID-19 vaccines to the end of his monologue. On Friday night, Bill Maher opted for something similar to kick off that night’s episode of Real Time, with an extended riff on decongestants that are being taken off the shelves of drugstores by virtue of them, well, not working.

“CVS — they are going to stop selling decongestants like NyQuil. We just found out — they’ve been selling them forever, and they don’t do shit,” Maher said. “It’s a complete con job, and they didn’t do anything for you.” And then he paused. “Also, ask us about getting the new booster!”

This isn’t the first time Maher has brought up his skepticism of COVID vaccines this year; during the writers’ strike, he interviewed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. for his podcast, and their conversation sparked no small amount of controversy. COVID-19 vaccines aren’t the only instance of Maher being skeptical of vaccines in the past; a 2019 report on a Real Time episode raised similar issues.

The position of Maher’s opening monologue also seemed in tension with some moments from later in the same episode. His first guest was filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, there to talk about her documentary The Insurrectionist Next Door. Which could feel like a bit of corporate synergy, though Pelosi’s film was also — as Maher pointed out — in keeping with the themes of national reconciliation that Maher has brought up in recent years.

Late in their conversation, the filmmaker brought up an interesting point regarding her documentary — which, as the title suggests, focuses on people who took part in the Capitol breach on January 6, 2021. “I think if we hadn’t had COVID, we wouldn’t have had January 6,” Pelosi said — a nod to the destabilizing effect the pandemic had on a lot of people.

Later in the episode, Maher himself made a telling comment about partisanship, ideology and the phenomenon of doing one’s own research. “You can go anywhere on the internet and just find the answer you want,” Maher said — in the context here of coverage of Israel and Palestine. But that comment about finding only the answer that you’re looking for can apply to a lot of things — and opens the door to plenty of critiques.

After Five Months, Bill Maher Returned to “Real Time”
Including an occasionally surreal interview and a return to “Barbie” discourse

Some other notable moments from the episode:

  • Panelists Paul Begala and Bret Stephens opened the discussion with a wide-ranging debate over recent domestic and international events and whether Nikki Haley’s response to that might benefit her politically.
  • Things I did not know before watching this episode: Begala wrote Bill Clinton’s speech that’s since given rise to the phrase “Sister Souljah moment.” (If you’re unfamiliar with the term, there’s a good explanation here.)
  • Maher on the idea of human-sized dog beds: “I say if you’re going to sleep in it, you also have to shit in the yard and drink out of the toilet.”
  • Maher on ads touting AI’s abilities to change businesses: “Fuck you, HAL. My business is fine.”
  • The bulk of New Rules found Maher returning to a familiar topic: his frustrations with the current state of college. 
  • Much of the segment revisited Maher’s anger at the younger generation, though he pivoted at segment’s end to get in a few digs at “anti-elite” conservatives. “Look at these truck-driving he-men from the tool aisle at Sam’s Club,” he said, as the faces of numerous Republican politicians flashed on the screen, Ivy League alumni all.
  • Andrew Cuomo will be on the show next week. That should be…interesting.

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