Bill Maher Counts Down to the Election on a Tense “Real Time”

Heated debates, and a debate on (microwave) heating

Bill Maher
Bill Maher on the October 30 edition of "Real Time With Bill Maher."

“Everything’s going on at once.” So said Bill Maher in the opening monologue of the latest edition of Real Time With Bill Maher. He wasn’t wrong — the election, Halloween and a full moon were among the examples he cited — but as descriptions go, it was one of the more apt for the year to date. What followed were a number of thoughts on early voting, daylight savings time and the US Postal Service — and questions of whether or not Donald Trump’s campaign rallies were contributing to the uptick in COVID-19 cases across the country. 

From there, Maher noted that California’s rates had stayed relatively low — possibly because of a lack of rallies there.  “If we want COVID here, we’ll get it the old-fashioned way — from Justin Turner,” he said. 

Maher’s first guest? Al Franken, who has pivoted to podcasting in his post-Senate career. And while Maher’s opening monologue abounded with quips, his tone turned decidedly serious as he and Franken began to speak. Their conversation went directly to a place Maher has spent a lot of time covering: what if Trump loses the election but won’t concede or leave office? Franken offered his opinion that existing institutions would prevail; Maher wasn’t so optimistic. 

Franken also made a heartfelt statement in favor of voting, and reminded viewers that he had won his first election by a margin of 312 votes. He spoke about the importance of phone banking, though the conversation was bogged down for a while in the midst of an extended riff on children using microwaves, which went on for an absurdly long time. 

From there, Maher shifted position to speak with the evening’s panelists — who, for this episode, were Democratic strategist Lis Smith and The Circus host John Heilemann. “You two are lifers,” Maher said before asking them for their insights on the current election. Both Smith and Heilemann were highly critical of Trump’s campaign events for their role in spreading COVID, before the conversation turned to the current state of things in Philadelphia. A timely discussion, to be sure — but also one that spoke to Pennsylvania’s electoral importance in the coming election.

Maher shifted the topic of the conversation to Amy Coney Barrett’s recent confirmation to the Supreme Court. He and Smith disagreed about his critiques of Barrett’s religious beliefs, with Smith arguing that Barrett’s political stances were more alarming than whether or not her religious beliefs were extreme. Smith, who had worked for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, offered some insights on questions on a potential expansion of the Supreme Court — something Buttigieg had advocated for during his run for the Democratic nomination.

The evening’s final guest was David Sanger, executive producer of HBO Max’s The Perfect Weapon, adapted from his book of the same name. After a number of very election-specific conversations, Sanger’s thoughts on cyberwarfare felt like a welcome change of pace. Maher brought up the complexities of hacking and electoral interference, including the recent case of Iranian hackers pretending to be Proud Boys.  

Sanger noted that this was less alarming than some of the other cyberwarfare actions that may be possible — including infrastructural hacks and hackers targeting state and local governments. Maher raised a number of prominent examples of hacks over the years; Sanger pointed out that security measures have improved since some of them, including the 2014 Sony hack.

“New Rules” closed out the episode, which included Maher going after some fairly blatant targets, including Justin Turner’s ill-advised World Series celebration and Miley Cyrus’s possible close encounter after trying some “weed wax.” 

Maher then spoke of the need for reconciliation after the election. When pondering a potential civil war, Maher noted, “America is a family, and the definition of family is ‘people who hate each other without resorting to violence.’” And while Maher criticized that’s coincided with protests, he reserved the bulk of his vitriol for recent deals brokered by the current administration’s fast-tracking of a 5G deal, which he pointed out can be seen as looting on a much larger scale.

Maher signed off with a reminder that the show will return next week; one would imagine he and his his guests will have even more to talk about then.

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