Bill Maher Defends Dave Chappelle on This Week’s “Real Time”

Also discussed: the "Great Resignation"

Bill Maher
Bill Maher on the October 22, 2021 episode of "Real Time With Bill Maher."

After taking the stage to sustained applause, Bill Maher offered his audience good news and bad news. California’s wildfire season might be ended by rain, he said, but “because it’s California” that was likely to lead to more disasters — including flooding and landslides. Continuing in that same mode, Maher went on to cite Hawaii opening back up to vaccinated travelers. 

“Finally, a governor who is asking the right questions about COVID — like, how will my policies affect Bill Maher’s New Year’s Eve plans?” he said — and mentioned that his planned New Year’s Eve gig there was back on. It wasn’t the only holiday he invoked in his opening monologue; Halloween came up as well. “This is the time of year when you’re really excited about your costume, but it hasn’t gotten you canceled yet,” Maher said.

Not surprisingly, Maher had a few thoughts on Donald Trump’s recently-announced social network. “It’s called Truth Social; apparently Shit My Dad Says was taken,” Maher said.  He went on to quickly address Facebook’s recent announcement of a name change and the controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle’s The Closer — and promised more discussion of the latter subject later in the episode.

The first guest this evening was Saru Jayaraman, author of One Fair Wage: Ending Subminimum Pay in America. Jayaraman has made multiple appearances on the show, and Maher connected the “Great Resignation” to Jayaraman’s work dealing with workers’ rights. She noted that the bulk of people who have left their jobs are restaurant workers, many of whom are dealing with being paid a subminimum wage, and whose existing concerns were exacerbated by the pandemic.

Jayaraman went on to debunk the idea that people are leaving jobs due to pandemic relief funds, pointing out that a significant number of those who have left subminimum wage jobs haven’t necessarily received relief funds — they’ve just hit a breaking point.

The two clashed on a few subjects, but by and large were in agreement — and when Jayaraman pointed out that chain restaurants charged the same in states with a minimum wage for restaurant workers as they did in states with a subminimum wage, Maher cited it as an example of de facto corporate welfare. All told, it was one of the most informative one-on-one interviews Maher’s had this season — Jayaraman challenged him on a few points, but the areas in which they found common cause were also revealing.

The episode’s panel featured a pair of returning guests, Andrew Yang and John McWhorter. Both have new books out: Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy and Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. Maher kicked things off by raising the subject of supply chain issues and the state of the economy, with Yang making a case that different ways of measuring the economy had different bearings on everyday life — in other words, that just relying on the stock market to see how good things are is an inherently flawed approach.

The debate turned to a variety of subjects from there, including David Shor’s take on the Democratic Party and New York City’s handling of gifted and talented programs. From there, Maher did a quick bit on the idea of “woke horror” — which featured a poster for The Invisible Mansplainer

In the second half of the discussion, the subject turned to Dave Chappelle’s The Closer and the controversy surrounding it. That said, the debate hit something of a bump in the road early on, as McWhorter made a reference to Immanual Kant that effectively paused the conversation for a while. Maher argued that the word “transphobic” was frequently used incorrectly — and that, in the case of the debate over The Closer, that it’s being used in a situation where no hatred is involved.

It led to one of the more surreal moments on the show, when Maher cited the Rotten Tomatoes critic-versus-audience ratings for The Closer and McWhorter pivoted from there to a critique of “defund the police” rhetoric. (Or it’s possible that the audience ratings for Chappelle’s latest special are going to be weighted in favor of existing fans of Chappelle’s work — making that and the critical ratings a case of apples and oranges.) 

Maher did concede that there has been a rise in violence directed at trans people — but stated that he didn’t think that Chappelle’s latest special was the reason why. Largely, the discussion in this half of the panel found Maher and McWhorter debating back and forth, with Yang making an occasional interjection — though Maher did close the segment by asking Yang about his launch of a third party, about which Maher was skeptical. Maher cited his own skepticism of Ralph Nader’s Green Party runs — including showing a photo of him begging Nader not to run in 2004.

Maher pondered the Delta+ variant in New Rules, Chipotle’s foray into cosmetics and Kanye West’s face mask. “The purpose of a disguise is to make fewer people look at you,” Maher quipped regarding West. “You don’t look Joe Nobody — you look like Trump before he goes into hair and makeup.”

The bulk of the segment focused on whether or not the country was headed for a “national divorce.” This was taken from a Tweet posted earlier this week by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. And while he was skeptical of the source — Maher described Greene as “the house you tell your kids to avoid on Halloween” — he did note that this has been a subject a lot of thinkers have been exploring lately.

His argument? Less hatred on all sides in contemporary American political discourse. Maher made a good point — that social media can encourage very vituperative language at the drop of a hat, which then normalizes it. He went on to share an anecdote about a Bosnian-born cab driver who told him the situation in the United States reminded him of Bosnia before the civil war. He made the case for de-escalating rhetoric, reminding the audience of the blissful moment not long ago when Facebook was down for several hours. It was an unlikely note of peace to bring the episode to a close.

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