EXCLUSIVE: Bill Maher is back and ready to rumble.
“I feel like Covid is still the dominate issue of our lives right now and it should not be anymore,” the Real Time with Bill Maher host says as the HBO series prepares to kick off its 20th season tonight. “And I think the big discussion on our show Friday night when we go on, is that is should we continue with the Covid policies we’ve had in the past?”
Set to feature a one-on-one interview with On Tyranny Graphic Edition: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century author Timothy Snyder and panelists Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Honestly podcast’s Barri Weiss, the Real Time 20th season debut will und undoubtedly see professional contrarian Maher also tackle the legacy and possible future of Donald Trump. Even with a tendency to lapse into grumpy old white man mode and false equivalencies when it comes to the culture wars, Maher has proven an unsparing Cicero of sorts against the tyranny of Trumpism and the frequent ineptitude of American liberals.
In that vein, the multi-Emmy nominated satirist spoke with me about his 2024 fears and the progress, or lack thereof, in the fight against the pandemic. Looking back over the years, currently longest running late night host on the air Maher also noted the shifts he’s observed in the increasingly ravaged body politic since Real Time premiered in 2003 when George W Bush was in the White House.
DEADLINE: Years ago I saw a documentary about the Rolling Stones and they interviewed the late great Charlie Watts outside some airplane hangar or something on a video shoot. And they’re asking the clearly unimpressed drummer about his career and the band, and at one point Watts looks at the camera and says, “Work five years and 20 years hanging around,” f*cking around or something like that. So, I wanted to ask you, looking back now, what does 20 seasons of Real Time feel like to you?
BILL MAHER: Not bad. Because there’s never any just doing f*ck all on my show, I mean, I work really hard on it. I like the grind. You know I’m just coming off a vacation so it kind of lands with a thud like, wow, I forgot this takes a lot of work every week. But you know it keeps me off the streets, and I’ve always enjoyed the process of putting a show together over a whole week to be able to make it the best possible show.
As opposed to my first show in the ‘90s, Politically Incorrect, which was an everyday show. And when you do an everyday show it’s a different animal. You’re just kind of throwing sh*t up against the wall and seeing what sticks. I mean, that’s sort of the beauty of it too, you know, it’s a little less polished and that can be great too.
DEADLINE: One thing I always loved about Politically Incorrect was it always felt like you were a little bit on the knife’s edge, as was the show itself.
MAHER: Yeah, like I say, there’s some virtue in both of them. Just like to continue with your music analogy with the Rolling Stones that’s a raw sound, you know, they’re not overproduced, whereas like the Beatles most of their stuff is like very perfectly completed in the studio. With the Rolling Stones, you’re just going to feel like they’re letting it rip. There’s good in both.
DEADLINE: It’s an understatement to say there hasn’t been a lot of good news the past couple of months around the ongoing pandemic with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Covid saw Real Time filming from your backyard for a while in 2020 and even go dark last year for a spell when you tested positive. So, heading back to a new season this week, what’s your feeling about the pandemic in 2022?
MAHER: I’m over Covid.
MAHER: I was never scared of it. I was always scared of the reaction to it, and as this has played out that only proved to be more true for me. I’m sure many people feel different, but that’s me. It was never that virulent a threat, I thought, to people who were in good health.
Now, some people can’t help that they’re not in good health. We should, of course, protect the vulnerable, but it was mostly a disease of the very old, which every disease is a threat to, and people who have comorbidities, which mostly is due to lifestyle.
DEADLINE: Yeah, you’ve always been quite strong about that in terms of people taking care of their health and the way they can do it.
MAHER: Right. I mean, 78%, this is just the CDC fact, 78% of the people who died or went to the hospital were obese. Now, I’m not saying they deserved to die. Don’t twist my words, please. I’m just saying that is a lifestyle, you know? So, the fact that America, the medical establishment, never even attempted to get people to live a healthier lifestyle as a response to this pandemic is a giant scandal to me. [Editors note: The CDC study from March 2021 that Maher seems to be citing actually says “among 148,494 adults who received a Covid-19 diagnosis during an emergency department or inpatient visit at 238 U.S. hospitals during March–December 2020, 28.3% had overweight and 50.8% had obesity.”]
It’s not a rarefied or weird point of view to say that if people would up their vitamin D levels, up their zinc levels, stop eating sugar, get a proper amount of sleep, stop overeating and day drinking, which is what went on during this pandemic, they would have a much better chance. The people who didn’t do that have blood on their hands. There’s no other way to put it.
I understand that the Western medical establishment is rather cozy with the pharmaceutical industry, so I understand that their only idea about solving this is a pharmaceutical response. And I’m glad there is a vaccine because many people need a vaccine. It does stop you from dying. But shouldn’t we also have at least mentioned this other way to deal with it?
DEADLINE: In terms of mentioning another way, you attracted a lot of attention last fall in your “Slow-Moving Coup” segment when you warned against Donald Trump declaring himself the winner of the 2024 election regardless of the outcome, the vote count consequences of the “stooges he is installing right now” and the threat of violence that will make January 6 look like a training session. It was a stark assessment that not a lot of people wanted to hear…
MAHER: I don’t know anyone who didn’t want to hear that except Trumpers, but maybe I missed it. Actually, what I mostly heard the reaction from that was you scared the sh*t out of us and I’m glad you did. And since I said it, I’ve noticed basically that theme being put out there in dozens of places. It’s now like part of the dialogue in America and that’s exactly what my show is meant to do, is to put ideas in the water that other people are ignoring or too afraid to say.
And you know that is certainly what I’m going to be doing about Covid also, as you mention that.
DEADLINE: How so?
MAHER: I mean, we’re in a very different place with Covid than we were just when I was on the air last time, and that is the vaccines, we know, do not prevent you from either transmitting it or getting the disease. We know that. That’s a fact now. They just prevent you from dying, which is a great part of it, let’s not undercount that. But if they don’t prevent you from transmitting it and they don’t prevent you from getting it why are we still treating this disease the way we always have? And what the f*ck is the use of a booster shot? Because I will never get a booster shot.
DEADLINE: Because you think it’s useless?
MAHER: It’s not only useless, but this is a very, very new vaccine. Okay, I didn’t want the first vaccine. We should not treat people unfairly who want to allow their own immune system to take care of the situation. But okay, I took one for the team. Now, they’re giving a fourth one in Israel with the booster shots. Now, this I read in the front page of the New York Times, which is a very pro-vaccine publication, and even they printed that many scientists in Israel were against this, scientists and doctors, because they said it might have a reverse effect, something called immune system fatigue.
Well, I don’t want that, do you? So, now you’re not protected by the vaccine or your immune system? I don’t think so.
DEADLINE: One of the emerging realities over the past few months is that many are simply exhausted by the pandemic now and what feels like ever-changing standards from governments and scientists — changing regulations, requirement and edicts, like the recent move to quarantine now for just five days if you test positive for Covid. Listening to you, it sounds like you really don’t think Dr. Anthony Fauci or the medical establishment really know what they are doing, that this is more whack-a-mole?
MAHER: They don’t know a lot about anything.
That’s not a criticism of them like they’re being corrupt although there certainly is plenty of corruption in the medical establishment. But I’ve always maintained that the big overarching theme should be that people look back and say, oh, look how far we’ve come medically. Yes, that’s true. We’re not putting wooden teeth in our mouth like in the George Washington era, and of course we have antibiotics and lots of vaccines and lots of other things that have been miraculous. But in general, we still don’t understand too much about how the human body works.
So, don’t sit there in your white coat and tell me just do what we say. When have we ever been wrong? A lot is my answer. A lot. They drilled mercury into my teeth when I was a child. Now, of course, we don’t do that anymore, but do you really think in 50 years people will look back and say, oh, yeah, we had it all figured out in 2022? No, they will be appalled at things we’re doing right now.
Medical error is still the third leading cause of death in America and that’s just based on what we know now and what we know in the future will certainly make that number rise. [Editors note: According to the CDC’s most recent report from December 2021, Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020 after heart disease and cancer. The fourth leading cause was “unintentional injuries,” which include car accidents, poisoning and falls, followed by “stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia.”]
DEADLINE: Flipping that look forward, looking back over the history of Real Time, there’s obviously been a lot of change in this country since 2003, a lot of change in this industry. For you, what has changed in terms of the show itself and the way you put it together, and what you emphasize?
MAHER: I think the politics around me have changed. In other words, the first years George W. Bush was president and the liberal half of the country was, I thought, pretty sane. Now, since about I don’t know 2015 or so there’s been a real sea change in what’s going on, on the left.
Now I always will maintain that the right is the more dangerous faction in this country, especially since they don’t believe in elections — I mean you have to keep that in perspective. One side does not believe in the form of government we have. What do you do about people who are in the government who don’t believe in your form of government?
I mean, the peaceful transfer of power was always the feather in our cap as America. It was always the jewel in our crown. It was the thing that other countries, so many other countries, had a problem with. They could not peacefully transfer from one guy to the next. We had that figured out. And now these people on the right have broken that and God knows what’s going to happen in the future. But on the left, you know, I mean a big problem is that they strike too many people in this country, for good reason, as the party of no common sense.
DEADLINE: How so?
MAHER: They have inverted so much of traditional liberalism, I mean, traditional liberalism was all about creating a colorblind society as opposed to so much of what goes on now is insisting on seeing race everywhere, things like that.
So, whereas before what I was doing was, almost always, making fun only of the conservatives. Now, I have to, if I’m an honest broker, if I’m going to just call things as I see them, I’m doing it for both sides. I mean, again, with the perspective that the right is worse, but that is a big change. And by the way, it has been embraced by the audience. Everywhere I go people tell me they appreciate this and I’m talking about mostly liberal people. You know they are not okay with what has gone on with that faction of the left.
MAHER: Excuse me let me finish my thought. They want someone to call it out.
DEADLINE: So, at the beginning of your 20th season, where do you see America at?
MAHER: Not a great place. It could’ve been worse if the election went the other way.
And I, again, per the prediction you were talking about, think the real day of reckoning is going to be between election day 2024 and Inauguration Day 2025, because that’s when the rubber really hits the road.
Trump, who, as I’ve said before, will definitely be running and definitely be the candidate for the Republican Party. He’s already running if you saw that display this weekend, and this time like last time he’s not going to concede. But this next time, he’s going to have people in place who will back him up on his lie that he won the election whether he did or not. And then what do you do when those people are much more powerful and there are two claimants to the throne? I mean, we’ve seen this play out in other countries and it’s not pretty. And I don’t know what will happen, but it frightens me a great deal.
DEADLINE: And in terms of the show itself?
MAHER: Oh, I mean, I’ll say this, we don’t live in dull times. It’s frightening in many ways, sometimes depressing, but not uninteresting.
I feel like Covid is still the dominate issue of our lives right now and it should not be anymore. And I think the big discussion on our show Friday night when we go on, is that is should we continue with the Covid policies we’ve had in the past? Or do we have to do a reset, and just say this thing is never going away and we can’t always be living in a state of emergency? And of course the other thing is, as we’ve been talking about also, Trump and what’s going to happen with our democracy.
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