David Byrne Made the Case Against Nostalgia on “Real Time With Bill Maher”

The episode also had some unexpected Oscar thoughts

Bill Maher
Bill Maher on the latest "Real Time."

Last week on Real Time With Bill Maher, Maher seemed skeptical of whether Everything Everywhere All at Once would remain in the public imagination if it won Best Picture. This week, Maher welcomed one of the film’s nominees, David Byrne, to the show. “I’m always happy to meet someone who’s a little older than me,” Maher said.

“I’m not very nostalgic,” Byrne said in response to a question from Maher about looking forward. “I feel like the next thing I do — that’s the thing I’m excited about.”

Maher also brought up Byrne’s recent 60 Minutes appearance, where he said that he’d become nicer as he grew older. Maher said that he had similar feelings — only for Byrne to ask whether or not “these people backstage” would agree with that assessment. Maher isn’t usually at a loss for words; this got something of a pause from him.

David Byrne also noted that, with respect to the former members of Talking Heads, “we’re all on pretty good terms.” The possibility of a Talking Heads reunion was a running bit in the interview — though Maher’s fondness for the band was very clear throughout the conversation.

Much of the interview found Byrne talking about Here Lies Love, the musical he co-wrote about Imelda Marcos. Byrne spoke about becoming fascinated by Marcos’s fondness for disco, and about watching a video of her dancing with a notable arms dealer, and being inspired for the project. “She inhabits this fantasy world,” he said, “and the soundtrack comes with it.”

Later in the conversation, Maher got a bit inside baseball, bringing up the process of getting the rights to songs for his film Religulous — including Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.” (Maher revealed that he’d been unsuccessful in getting Stevie Wonder to sign off on using “Superstition” in the film.) Maher quizzed Byrne on the origins of the song, and the extent to which BNyrne had been inspired by religion to write it.

“It’s about the inevitability of death,” Byrne said — which lined up uncannily well with the two men’s earlier conversation about aging. He went on to discuss his contribution to Everything Everywhere All at Once, and his decision to focus on themes of familial reconciliation. “So you’re optimistic about the future?” Maher asked.

“It’s hard to be,” Byrne said, “but yes.” It was a graceful end to a wide-ranging conversation.

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Some other thoughts on the episode:

  • Despite having an Oscar nominee on as a guest, Maher seems relatively agnostic on the ceremony itself. He mentioned that he would be performing in San Francisco on Oscar night in his opening monologue. “It’ll be a better show,” he said.
  • It’s indicative of the times we live in that sometimes as a satirist, Maher doesn’t have to say much to make a point about the current state of the world. Pointing out that, as Governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently rolled back laws protecting child laborers didn’t require too much to become a punchline — just a general sense of “how is this real?”
  • “People who hate Trump tend to focus on the ‘idiot’ part,” said journalist Josh Tyrangiel, one of the evening’s two panelists. “They forget about the ‘savant’ part.”
  • Panelist John McWhorter on Donald Trump and public speaking: “He’s as smart as a box of hair.” McWhorter’s commentary on the relative charisma of various Republican hopefuls made for some memorable snark.
  • Much of the first half of the panel discussion focused on Donald Trump’s chances of becoming the Republican nominee in 2024, and of his pros and cons relative to other potential nominees — some of whom Maher dismissed as a “tribute band” in comparison to Trump himself.
  • Tucker Carlson’s handling of footage from the January 6 attacks was also relentlessly mocked by Maher, as one might expect. “I think this is an exciting new way to teach history!” Maher said, barely able to keep from laughing. “You teach the things that didn’t go on!”
  • Turns out Maher is not a fan of articles about Jeopardy!
  • During this episode’s New Rules, Maher cited the moment when, in his view, the Academy Awards became “a four-hour lecture on how bad most people have it by the people who have it the best.” That moment, for him: Sacheen Littlefeather accepting Marlon Brando’s Best Actor Oscar.
  • That said, Maher’s description of The Godfather for younger viewers as “a long TikTok with the ‘horse head in the bed’ challenge” was a solid bit.
  • The segment ended up shifting away from the Oscars and into a broader argument about social change happening later than many people would like. “Everyone is late on everything, because that’s what it is to be human,” Maher argued.

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