Christoph Waltz Brought a Chaotic Energy to “Real Time With Bill Maher”

Bill Maher shared advice for the holiday weekend

Bill Maher
Bill Maher shared travel advice for aliens.

The latest episode of Real Time With Bill Maher abounded with some high-level questions about the state of journalism in 2023. At times that focus widened into an exploration of contemporary media writ large, whether it was a discussion of the film industry’s lessons for politicians or an Academy Award winner’s impassioned case for watching movies alongside other people.

Christoph Waltz joined Maher to discuss his new series The Consultant. Maher spoke about his long-running belief that the two of them should be friends, owing in part to the warm reaction he’s received from many people in Europe. Waltz was a bit skeptical. “I’m a naturalized citizen,” Waltz said. “I watched the Super Bowl.” 

Maher raised an interesting point of conversation, noting that both of them had found success later in life than some of their contemporaries. “As a young person, I think I’d be more unbearable than I am now,” Waltz said. “I would have abused it shamelessly.”

Generational conflict — one of Maher’s themes of choice recently — came up when the two discussed Waltz’s upcoming show, as well as when Maher spoke of his peers who were frustrated by “how insufferably woke” their twentysomething children were.

“Oh no; I was very successful in my indoctrination program,” Waltz said. “They are not woke at all.” It’s worth mentioning here that Waltz also arrived on stage looking more hirsute than he usually does. Later, Waltz explained that it was a “protest beard” due to Lufthansa having lost the part of his luggage that contained his shaving kit.

At times, it was a strange interview to watch. Some of that was due to Waltz’s relatively chaotic presence and some of that was due to the way the two men discussed Waltz’s current project. Maher noted that he’d only seen the trailer for The Consultant, and was addressing questions about what he thought were the themes of the show based on that. But it did bring Maher around to a relatively rare occurrence on the show — arguing that the younger generation has “a good point” in terms of the need for a better work/life balance. “Americans work too hard,” Maher said. 

Waltz became much more engaged when Maher asked him about going to the movies and whether he felt that seeing movies in theaters remained important. Waltz contended that the experience of watching something together still matters. “Laughter is not only contagious, it’s reassuring that you’re not alone in the world,” Waltz said.

As it turned out, Maher’s commentary on people in their twenties didn’t end with that segment. But unlike many a Real Time episode, his tone this time out was more understanding of a generation’s frustrations and, at times, of their activism. It didn’t hurt that he and the evening’s two panelists all had distinctive ideological spaces; all three made their cases on various issues, but their disagreements were handled with force but not malice.

Some other notes from the episode:

  • Maher’s opening monologue covered a lot of ground. “Lincoln and Washington — names that somehow became synonymous with ‘You need a new mattress.’” Maher riffed on Presidents’ Day for a while, with jokes that included references to both George Santos and Amber Heard. 
  • MSNBC contributor Ari Melber and The Dispatch’s Sarah Isgur joined Maher for the panel and had a good rapport throughout, despite their ideological differences. This included a memorable exchange about therapy puppies late in the segment.
  • Early in the conversation, Melber argued that the First Amendment “doesn’t give you the right to lie your way into an insurrection.” He was talking about Dominion Systems’ lawsuit against Fox News, which Maher also addressed in his monologue. 
  • Media ecosystems and ideological coverage of different events, including the train derailment in Ohio, led the discussion into some complex areas — including when Maher noted that Pete Buttigieg, whom he generally admires, had taken 10 days to address it.
  • Melber gave a very detailed response when Maher brought up the recent open letter to the New York Times signed by a large number of Times contributors. (Full disclosure: I’m one of them.) “If you look at the march of civil rights in America, the media has often not been neutral or objective, like we’ve been talking about — it’s been anti-civil rights,” he said. “And I think there is a reasoned and constructive attention to not repeating those mistakes in the civil rights arena.”
  • A comedy segment about aliens visiting planet Earth included a dig at Cracker Barrel. After the segment, Isgur felt compelled to respond. “Cracker Barrel’s tasty, though!” she said. “It’s quality food.” At which point Maher admitted that he had never actually visited one. “I always thought it was redneck food,” he said. “That’s Waffle House,” Isgur replied. (This was not the last we’d hear of Waffle House this episode.)
  • In the second half of the panel, Maher revealed that Bernie Sanders would be a guest on the show in the coming weeks. 
  • While Maher is often critical of people in their 20s, his tone on this episode was different and, dare I say, more empathic. He pointed to the challenges many people have buying homes, and the differences between his experiences of buying a house at 29 versus what a 29-year-old in a comparable situation now would experience.
  • The bulk of New Rules found Maher wondering when (not if) we’d see a fistfight break out in Congress. This included both a sobering look at elected officials disrupting the State of the Union address and a comparison of Marjorie Taylor Greene and the bear from Cocaine Bear.”It’s okay to be crazy,” Maher said. “Just stop being so fucking needy.”
  • The gist of the segment? Congress could learn from the film industry how to make something that works even though you don’t get along. “America loves Bill Murray!” Maher said. “Do you know who doesn’t? Everyone who’s ever worked with him. Well, everyone who’s ever worked with Ted Cruz hates him.”
  • After a week off, Real Time will return on March 3.

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