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Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, decided to bring together the ugliest sides of politics and comedy by using the N-word in what he said was a “joke.”
On the latest episode of the live show, which aired on Friday night, Maher made the tasteless comment while interviewing Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska). According to the New York Times, the pair were talking about millennials and adulthood and how Californians still dress up for Halloween as adults—something that Sasse said didn’t happen in Nebraska.
“I’ve got to get to Nebraska more,” Maher replied.
“You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us,” Sasse invited.
“Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n****r. No, it’s a joke,” Maher said.
Audience members reacted between groaning and clapping, while Sasse, not addressing the comment, reacted with a facial expression that was somewhere between a smile and a grimace.
Of course, regardless of whom he referred the racial slur to, Maher’s use of the N-word is completely unwarranted, shameful, and racist. It’s never OK for a white person to use a slur created by white people that historically verbally dehumanized black people while also physically assaulting and killing them. (Here’s an extremely comprehensive guide on how not to use the N-word, if you still have questions yourself.)
Twitter immediately jumped in to vilify the talk show host, whose other “jokes” have spanned the spectrum of offending Muslims, transgender people, and women.
Bill Maher said the N-word? Wow this totally changes my previously high opinion of that smug Islamophobic misogynistic attention-whore.— OhNoSheTwitnt (@OhNoSheTwitnt) June 3, 2017
It's important to separate the art from the artist. Bill Maher may be a terrible person, but he's ALSO a terrible comedian.— Pixelated Boat (@pixelatedboat) June 3, 2017
Bill Maher is your typical too comfortable white man who thinks having sex w/ Black women & being liberal gives you a pass to say whatever.— Michael Arceneaux (@youngsinick) June 3, 2017
The one black person in the studio audience after Bill Maher said the N-Word on his show pic.twitter.com/W6zWjKAXTj— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) June 3, 2017
I can't believe Bill Maher said something racist, said no Muslim ever. #realtime— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) June 3, 2017
On Saturday morning, Sasse responded to criticism that he seemingly went along with Maher’s racist comment by clarifying that though he was “cringing,” he should have stopped Maher and asked him why he thought it was OK to use the N-word.
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
And while Sasse stood up against Maher’s comment, he doesn’t get a cookie for publishing four tweets—standing up to racism as an afterthought is much easier said than done when you’re hours behind and thousands of miles away.
Update 1:13pm CT: HBO has released a statement on Maher’s slur to the Hollywood Reporter. Said the network: “Bill Maher’s comment last night was completely inexcusable and tasteless. We are removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show.”
Update 1:53pm CT: Now, Maher himself has apologized for his choice of words.
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.