The show generally follows a rather simple pattern:
- The show opens with Maher performing some kind of humorous monologue on different topics for around ten minutes.
- Maher interviews an individual about a political subject of his or her expertise for ten to fifteen minutes.
- Maher then moves to a broad discussion of current events with a panel of (usually) three individuals, hopefully representing a broad range of the political spectrum. Authors, journalists, pundits, politicians and opinionated celebrities are often members. During this section, Maher will sometimes pause the discussion to deliver scripted comedy bits.
- Midway through the panel discussion, Maher will bring a fourth member to discuss a particular issue. This person often has a higher name recognition than the other guests. After a few minutes interviewing the new guest, Maher opens the discussion back up to the rest of the panel.
- The show ends with a five-or-so-minute segment called New Rules, where Maher monologues on issues, with a picture and text caption to describe the issue. New Rules concludes by seguing into a longer and more serious statement on a topical issue.
The show is taped and broadcast live, as evidenced by its name.
Real Time with Bill Maher contains examples of:
- Analogy Backfire: Bill mimicking sarcastic anti-government questions before answering them with a Blunt "Yes". Of course, he had to change the analogy from the DMV (stereotypically inconvenient and inefficient at a job most people don't think needs to be done at all) to the Post Office for it to work...Bill: I mean, how stupid is it when people say, "Oh that's what we need, the federal government telling Detroit how to make cars, or Wells Fargo how to run a bank; you want them to look like the post office?"
Bill: Yeah. I mean, a place that takes a little note from my hand from LA on Monday, to give it to my sister in New Jersey on Wednesday, for 42 cents? Well, let me be the first to say that I would be THRILLED if America's healthcare system was anywhere near as functional as the post office.
- At Least I Admit It: Adam Schiff characterized Russian politicians' attitude toward America this way during his interview with Bill, noting that much of President Donald Trump's own rhetoric about Russia (esp. Trump's "is Putin a killer?" interview with Bill O'Reilly) has only further invited the Not So Different comparison:Schiff: The Russian narrative is, "We're a thug-ocracy, we're a kleptocracy, and we don't make any bones about it anymore. But America's exactly the same way; they're just a bunch of hypocrites."
- Author Tract: Maher has a number of pet issues that he will often dedicate large portions of screen time to addressing, including environmentalism, marijuana legalization and religion. He faced backlash for being critical about vaccines, and had to do some backtracking to state that he does believe vaccines work, but still doesn't think that they're as necessary as experts state.
- Bait-and-Switch Comment:
They just can't like the guy, and I can't quite put my finger on why...maybe it's because he's skinny.
- He said, "Republicans need to stop saying Barack Obama is an elitist, or looks down on rural people, and just admit you dont like him because of something he cant help, something thats a result of the way he was born. Admit it, youre not voting for him because hes... smarter than you."
- If he doesn't outright say what he actually thinks is the reason behind others disliking Obama, he always does the above.
- Bait-and-Switch Comparison: On the Stormy DanielsDonald Trump sex scandal:Who are you gonna believe: the fake blond with big tits or Stormy Daniels?
- Belief Makes You Stupid: Maher once told a guest that being a man of faith meant he was a man who "suspends critical judgement and accepts things on no evidence." Shockingly, Maher's religious guest agreed with him, a moment so strange that a Roman Catholic Bishop did a whole video on it.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Stretching back to his days on Politically Incorrect, Maher had a long-running love-hate relationship with conservative firebrand Ann Coulter. They hated each other's politics, but there was obviously a lot of sparks flying between them.
- Captain Obvious Aesop: He'll occasionally give one jokingly.And look, I am no fan of Assad, and I say that openly! I don't care if that costs me jobs in Hollywood!
- Deadpan Snarker: Well..."France's voter turnout was 90%. You couldn't get 90% of [eligible] Americans to vote if the election were between 'tits,' and 'bigger tits,' and they were handing out free samples!"
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: His hatred of boycotts as "un-American" to the extent of defending Laura Ingraham losing sponsors for cheap-shotting Parkland survivor David Hogg's college applications makes more sense when remembering him running his mouth resulted in a boycott that killed his last show.
- Double Standard: In one episode, he asked why Democrats who are caught in sex scandals are immediately disgraced, whereas Republicans caught under similar circumstances can go on with their careers as if nothing happened. This idea really only makes any sense paying attention solely to the last year in the film industry, rather than the last decade of scandals including Hulk Hogan's sex tape and one notable Republican's remark about the injustice of his status.
- Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: His mock PSA about young men being forced into having unwanted sex and suffering from a condition called "Lucky Bastard Syndrome".
- The Driver: Discussed in one of his "new rule" segments, where he complained about how pathetic it is that one of the hallmarks of American masculinity is driving a car - that is to say, basically just sitting on your ass and pushing down a pedal.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- The show did not solidify its long-running format for the first few episodes. One first-season episode has Bob Odenkirk perform a one-man comedy routine as God doing a Robert Evans impression, originally seen on Mr. Show.
- The show's panels used to include a lot more celebrities who lacked a background in politics or policy, some even commenting that they don't know what they're talking about and are confused about why they're there. In later seasons, the guests are almost always experts who have some reason to be speaking authoritatively. Celebrities who do show up are usually the fourth panel guest and promoting some outreach program.
- Freudian Slip: Occasionally.Bill Maher, talking about the Republican Party's attitude towards Barack Obama: "If Michelle Bachman-if Michelle Bachman... If Michelle Obama, *laughs*, says it's good to eat vegetables and take a walk, then I'm gonna sit in my garage with the car running and drink bacon grease out of a coffee can!"Bill Maher, quoting Jerry Falwell, a Heteronormative Crusader: "If you're a born-again Christian, you are a failure as a hu- If you're not a born-again Christian you're a failure as a human being."
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: As one quote goes:"The media has to stop using gay marriage as an excuse to show hot girl-on-girl action."
- Guest Host: Not for a whole episode, mind, but Seth MacFarlane did host an edition of Overtime.
- He himself has guest hosted Piers Morgan's show a few times.
- Hitler Ate Sugar: During his tirade against conservatives, who were attacking Michelle Obama for her initiative to get parents to send kids outside to play more as a way to get them to be more healthy, he responds with a deadpan comment of:"Well, I mean, you know who else "sent" people places? ...Hitler."
- Hollywood Atheist: Maher can be thought of as one (generally due to his documentary Religulous and his statements that religious belief is a neurological disorder), but is an apatheist, which technically speaking, would place him more towards "hard agnosticism" than full on atheism. Though in later years, he'd refer to himself as an atheist.
- Hypocrite: The aforementioned Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male parodied how in society male pedophiles are obviously scum, but women like Debra LaFave and Mary Kay Letourneau get a free pass.
- Hypocritical Humor: He both loves to point this hypocrisy, and do implicate himself by humorously demonstrating the faults he sees in others.Bill: When I called America a stupid country, Bill O'Reilly called me a 'pinhead', which (a) proves my point, and (b) is real smart coming from a doody-face like him!
- Jesus Was Way Cool: Religious people are one of Maher's favorite targets, but Jesus in particular does get a positive view from Maher. It is common for him to mock conservative Christians for failing to live up to Jesus' teachings on matters such as the killing of Osama bin Laden. He has consistently praised Jimmy Carter, who helped popularize the term "Born-again Christian", as an underrated president.
- Just Like Making Love:Our intention was good; to penetrate Iraq and bring it to a glorious euphoric climax. But it's clear now, that's not going to happen... and yet, we're still pounding away, causing the whole area to become painfully inflamed... and in that situation the kindest thing you can do is just pull out.
- Laughing at Your Own Jokes: Bill Maher does it as well, though you get the impression that they're not actually his jokes, but those of his writers, which he seems to be learning for the first time from the teleprompter.
- Literal-Minded: Claims Christians to be this, as noted above.
- N-Word Privileges: Maher faced heavy criticism for joking about being a house nigger during an interview with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). The following week, both rapper Ice Cube and Bernie Sanders advisor Symone Sanders were guests on the show and explained their take on Maher using the word, even during a comedy routine.Ice Cube: Its in the lexicon but thats our word now. Thats our word now, and you cant have it back.
- Odd Friendship: Bill has hit it off with the likes of Rick Santorum, Jeffrey Lord, and Milo Yiannopoulos, all of whom he vehemently disagrees with on policy, but seems to enjoy as people. The first two are even frequent panelists of the show.
- Once an Episode: New Rules will always occur. ALWAYS. The only exception came during the Writers' Strike.
- Opposites Attract: Fond of having Ann Coulter as a guest, who he's said is a friend of his, and it's rumored they used to date. A lot of this stems from him admitting that it was his old show that ended up making her famous.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: One of Maher's primary critiques of fellow liberals are those that try to police humor and language, regarding it as a distraction from real issues and contributing nothing but stifling debate as a whole.
- President Superhero: Mocked by Maher in his "New Rules" segment where he bemoaned the glut of superhero-themed movies and television series, not just for most of them being Strictly Formula, but because it instills a mindset that The Only One can do the job. He then portrayed Donald Trump's presidency as the story of a superhero named "Orange Sphincter".
- Running Gag:
- Maher will often portray a character called "Face-Ripper Monkey" as a politician, both for the humor of Face-Ripper Monkey on its own and for the benefit of attacking politicians.
- When stating a guest's particularly illustrious position, Maher will follow up with the crack, "My old job." Bill's quite the Renaissance Man.
- Sarcasm Mode: Bill's default mode.
- Spiritual Successor: To the Comedy Central/ABC program Politically Incorrect.
- Strawman Political: Often used straight and also often identified and attacked, by Maher or guests in either case.
- The Stoner: Bill mentions his love of pot at every possible opportunity.
- Take That!: Maher often directs harsh criticism at those who earn his ire.
- Thanatos Gambit: After the death of Osama bin Laden, Bill had wondered whether America's behavior since The War on Terror has been this for Bin Laden.
- True Art Is Angsty: Invoked when talking about the 2021 Oscars. Bill claims that they might as well change the name to "the Debbies," as in "Debbie Downer," since every single movie was all about how life is horrible and we all should feel bad.
- Worthy Opponent: He'll often praise conservatives for having the guts to come on his show, since they do so knowing that the audience will be against them.Bill Maher: (to Congressman Duncan Hunter) I think you're a great guy for coming here, but I really hope you lose your next election, because I think you're wrong about everything.