Bill Maher found himself in hot water last Friday night for a comment he made on HBO’s Real Talk. The comedian and late night television host is known for his controversial remarks, but many are calling out his most recent “joke” as a step too far.
The moment came during an interview with Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. What began as an innocent conversation about maturity took a controversial turn at the drop of a word. Sasse mentioned that adults don’t dress up for Halloween in his state of Nebraska, unlike in California, at which point Maher saw an opportunity to use a racial epithet.
Here’s how it went:
Maher: I’ve got to get to Nebraska more.
Sasse: You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.
Maher: Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n-----. No, it’s a joke.
The audience at the live broadcast had a mixed reaction, with some groaning and others clapping. The discussion then turned to other topics, without Sasse acknowledging the slur.
In a statement Saturday, Maher expressed regret over his word choice:
Friday nights are always my worst night of sleep because I’m up reflecting on the things I should or shouldn’t have said on my live show. Last night was a particularly long night as I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive and I regret saying it and am very sorry.
The apology comes on the heels of another controversy involving a comedian. Last week, CNN cut ties with Kathy Griffin over her appearance in a photograph with Donald Trump’s bloodied head. And just last month many believed that CBS should fire Stephen Colbert after the Late Show host made a crude sexual joke involving Trump and Putin.
Not unlike the swift backlash against Griffin and Colbert, many are now calling upon HBO to take disciplinary action against Maher:
New Rule: Don't say stupid things like that. cc: @billmaher— Scott Dworkin (@funder) June 3, 2017
Please @HBO Do Not Air Another Episode Of Real Time With Bill Maher.— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) June 3, 2017
Sasse has since responded to the incident himself:
Am walking off a redeye from LAX.— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 3, 2017
3 reflections on @billmaher
1. I’m a 1st Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard lines.
2. But free speech comes with a responsibility to speak up when folks use that word. Me just cringing last night wasn’t good enough.— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 3, 2017
3. Here’s what I wish I’d been quick enough to say in the moment: “Hold up, why would you think it’s OK to use that word?...— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 3, 2017
(4of4)— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 3, 2017
"...The history of the n-word is an attack on universal human dignity. It’s therefore an attack on the American Creed. Don't use it.” https://t.co/kEZm5vPFHK
As for HBO, the company released a statement of its own on Saturday, calling Maher’s comment “completely inexcusable and tasteless,” assuring audiences that they will be “removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show.”