June 10th, 2017 – Bill Maher walked onto his Real Time stage last night, but instead of simply jokes he had apologies to tell. The host addressed his controversy in a roundabout way during his opening monologue by saying “Thank you for letting a sinner in your midst.” But it was during his first segment with author Michael Eric Dyson that his joking use of the n-word last week was put out in the open.
Dyson, an African American Georgetown professor who writes about racial issues, was asked by Maher to “school” him because he “did a bad thing.” He asked Maher why he was willing to apologize this time when, in the past, he had been a crusader for the left not caving into political correctness.
“There is a lot of bullshit apologizing in America, and I am against that…but when it’s appropriate, and this was appropriate,” he started. “For black folks, that word, I don’t care who you are, has caused pain. I’m not here to do that. Now the guy who was here; it’s not his fault. I feel bad about him – the senator. It’s all on me. But he said a weird thing; the comic mind goes to a weird place sometimes. But it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t said in malice, if it brought back pain to people, and that’s why I apologized freely and I reiterate it tonight. That’s sincere.”
Dyson acknowledged that he’s getting pushback from some people in the black community for coming on the show and thinking Maher would be given a pass. He continued to explain to Maher that a lot of people have described the incident last week as an “unconscious reflex of white privilege.”
Maher acknowledged the points Dyson was making but emphasized again that he wanted this to be recognized as a mistake made by a comedian.
“I just don’t wanna pretend this is more of a race thing than a comedian thing. Comedians are a special kind of monkey. We are a trained thing that tries to get a laugh…It’s like always go. We want to make those people laugh. And sometimes we transgress a sensitivity point.”
Maher continued on by paralleling his mistake with that of fellow comedian Kathy Griffin’s severed Trump head mistake. He paused to jokingly say that she owes him a fruit basket for getting her off the front page.
While Senator Al Franken decided to cancel after the incident, activist Symone Sanders and rapper Ice Cube showed up to the panel and further pushed Maher to use this as a teaching moment about why he crossed the line in this way.
“I love your show, but you been bucking up that line a little bit,” Ice Cube told Maher. “I accept your apology, but I still think we need to get to the root of the psyche, because I think there are a lot of guys out there who cross the line because they a little too familiar… or is guys who had a black girlfriend or two that made them some Kool-Aid now and then think they can cross the line, and they can’t.”
“This, to me, is a political show, and I think you just have to not step on some of the political messages that you’re saying with a joke. Because some things just ain’t funny,” he added.
Do you think Bill Maher handled his first show back appropriately? Do comedians cross the line too frequently because of a certain type of privilege?