Bob Costas Shares Olympic Broadcasting Secrets on “Real Time With Bill Maher”

And then Nicholas Kristof and James Carville talked politics

Bill Maher
The May 28, 2021 edition of "Real Time With Bill Maher."

On this week’s episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, the applause that greeted the show’s host when he took to the stage went on for a little longer than usual. Maher himself seemed a little surprised by it, but it didn’t seem all that shocking — Maher had, after all, tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago, hence his absence from the airwaves since then.

In his opening monologue, Maher addressed the incentives that states have been using to get people vaccinated. “We’re at the Bob Barker phase of the pandemic,” Maher quipped. “All over the world, people are dying to get this vaccine,” he added. “But here, they have to give you a Jet-Ski first.”

Maher gradually pivoted from talk of the coronavirus to the current state of politics, including a riff on Matt Gaetz and cicadas. He shifted gears into a righteously angry register when it came to Senate Republicans using the filibuster to nix an investigation into the Capitol breach, however — both at those who’d voted against it and at the filibuster for making such obstruction possible.

Bob Costas was the evening’s first guest, leading to a long discussion of handshakes and the etiquette surrounding them. For his part, Costas prefers to bow. “I don’t want anyone to touch me unless they mean business,” Maher replied.

Their primary topic of conversation was the Tokyo Olympics — and, more broadly, Costas’s experience broadcasting at 12 different Olympics between 1988 and 2016. “After the first couple, I learned that the host has to be a good generalist,” Costas explained. “You don’t need to know every platform diver from Peru or every cross-country skier from Norway. That’s for the people at the venue — you just have to have the big picture.”

Costas made the case for postponing the Summer Games until 2022. He and Maher both took a few digs at the International Olympic Committee, with Costas observing that “they have a thing for authoritarian regimes.” And once the inside baseball talk on the Olympics was at an end, Costas and Maher shifted gears and discussed actual baseball, including the decision to move this year’s All-Star Game to Denver.

For this episode’s panel discussion, Maher was joined by writer Nicholas D. Kristof and political strategist James Carville. Maher looked visibly shaken regarding the future of the country, and made use of the phrase “slow-motion coup.” 

“What is going to happen in 2024, and what do we do to stop it?” Maher asked. This led the panel to discuss various options on the table for reform, including DC statehood and eliminating the filibuster. Maher also asked Carville about his thoughts on “wokeness” costing the Democrats votes, which led to one of the strangest moments on the show in recent memory. 

Carville produced a copy of “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder by one V.I. Lenin and handed it to Maher. “He couldn’t deal with the wokes in St. Petersburg 100 years ago!” Carville exclaimed. “If he couldn’t deal with extremely woke people, what are you and I going to do?” It was very, very surreal.

This led to a detour, where Carville and Maher began discussing things like corporate training on racial privilege — what Maher dubbed “you hire someone to yell at the white people.” And then Kristof pushed back. “There is a certain myopia about racial issues,” he said, “and one example of that is a panel with 3 white guys talking about race.”

The Kristof-Maher debate continued on to the next topic, with Maher bringing up Kristof’s recent column on Israel and Kristof arguing for more nuance on the subject. Carville, for his part, kept to himself; when Maher asked him to comment late in the discussion, he stated that he’d been largely content to watch the two debate one another.

New Rules followed, with Maher relishing the opportunity to soundly mock California gubernatorial hopeful John Cox and his bear sidekick, among other topics. The bulk of the segment continued in that vein, with Maher targeting celebrities exploring runs for office and their “malignant narcissism.” “The last 4 years was a warning, not an inspiration,” Maher said. 

What followed was Maher returning to a theme he’s touched on a few times this year: the idea that politics is hard work, and not something to be taken lightly. It was emblematic of the episode as a whole, which focused on national and global challenges, none of which come with easy solutions.

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