This Week’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” Had Mixed Messages on Mental Health

Including candid words from Senator John Fetterman

Bill Maher discussed prison
Bill Maher discussed prison on this week's "Real Time."

Some episodes of Real Time With Bill Maher feel like a kind of sampler of recent news and hot-button issues; it’s one of the handful of places on television where you might see a filmmaker discussing their work and a member of Congress weighing in on recent elections within the same hour. This week’s episode featured a disparate array of guests: Senator John Fetterman, Reason’s Matt Welch and Bad Therapy author Abigail Shrier. But there was one theme that kept showing up in different permutations: mental health. 

That said, trying to take a single underlying message from the episode might be impossible. Fetterman spoke with relative candor about his treatment for depression last year. Maher brought up Fetterman’s reputation for speaking his mind, and asked him if his different health scares had contributed to that. Fetterman went the very Generation X route of quoting Jack Nicholson’s take on the Joker from 1989’s Batman:  “I’ve been dead once already; it’s very liberating.”

Fetterman went on to address the question of whether his own career suffered from his discussion of mental health. “It’s not really a big political winner to talk about depression,” he said. But he went on to speak of the rewarding aspects of knowing that his openness had helped others.

“I want to be the kind of guy that can say something that would have helped someone like me, who was in my situation,” Fetterman told Maher.

When Welch and Shrier joined Maher for the evening’s panel discussion, Maher first brought up Hunter Biden’s trial. “Why do all the political families have this fuck-up ne’er-do-well family member?” he asked Shrier. She responded that plenty of celebrity kids don’t have loving parents, boundaries, or nurturing communities — something that she tied to the themes of her book. And from there, she went on to argue that too many kids have never been told “no.” 

For his part, Welch took on generational divides from a different perspective in light of this week’s D-Day commemoration ceremonies. “We understood that generation to have a sense of stoicism,” he said. It was Welch who took the most nuanced stance in the discussion. “When you think about the Greatest Generation, they probably could have used a bit more therapy,” he said.

From there, things headed a bit more into “get off my lawn” territory, with Maher and Shrier being, shall we say, skeptical of younger generations’ claims of PTSD. “These kids are behaving like mental patients,” Shrier said at one point. (It’s worth noting here that Shrier’s previous book faced some pretty strong criticism in the aftermath of its publication.)

In this week’s New Rules, Maher also touched on mental health from a different angle, exploring the nation’s troubling attitudes towards prisons and the psychological effects of being incarcerated. (It began with an unsettling question: why are jokes about prison rape still considered acceptable?) It was one of Maher’s better editorials: focused, with few cheap shots and a strong overall theme. Which isn’t to say that there wasn’t sarcasm: “We call them ‘correctional facilities,’ but that’s like calling the NFL a ‘brain development program.’”

In the end, Maher reserved his strongest criticism for for-profit prisons. “They don’t want them rehabilitated,” he said. “They want return customers.” It was a sobering note to close out an uneven episode — and a memorable one.

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Some other notable moments from the episode:

  • Maher on Hunter Biden’s trial: “It means absolutely fucking nothing, but let’s get to it.”
  • While the two were largely on the same page on most issues, Maher did grill Fetterman on his support for Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s ban on lab-grown meat. 
  • He also asked the Senator a ubiquitous question: “What is the deal with the wardrobe?” Fetterman was relatively blunt. “I know I dress like a slob,” he said. He also discussed the pragmatic aspects of his sartorial choices: “I’m into comfort. I don’t have to iron.” 
  • Fetterman also took a somewhat meta approach to criticism of his wardrobe: “People seemed concerned about me wearing a hoodie on the Senate floor, as opposed to — we have Senators taking bribes.” 
  • It turns out Shrier and Welch both had plenty to say about Caitlin Clark.
  • Welch on Democratic messaging on immigration: “They tell a chaotic story rather than something that makes intuitive sense to people.”
  • Early in New Rules, Maher proposed pairing luxurious first-class seating on planes with double-decker seats in coach: “Inequality Airlines: there’s something special in the air; it’s just not you.”
  • Maher on marijuana use overtaking alcohol consumption: “If alcohol use is declining, why is it still not safe to eat at a Waffle House?”
  • Maher on his new book: “If that’s not a Father’s Day gift, I don’t know what is.”

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