June 3rd, 2017 – Comedian Bill Maher hosted Senator Ben Sasse on his show last night, and while the two discussed many issues, it was Maher’s racial slur that got viewers engaged with the conversation. Sasse, a republican from Nebraska, was on the program promoting his new book “The Vanishing American Adult,” and through the discussion of maturity, the topic of Halloween was brought up.
Maher began talking about how adults in California still dress up for Halloween, and Senator Sasse eased his worries by saying that offense doesn’t happen in Nebraska.
“I’ve got to get to Nebraska more,” Maher said.
“You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us,” Sasse replied.
“Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger,” Maher followed up.
There were a few beats of uncomfortable tension from the audience, and then Maher explained “No, no it’s a joke.” Sasse sat with a cringed smile on his face as the crowd then erupted in applause.
In the studio, life and the conversation moved right along, but online the focus remained on Maher’s use of the word and Sasse’s lack of response.
The word wasn’t bleeped in its original airing nor in the midnight repeat of the Real Time episode. HBO did issue at statement Saturday morning saying Maher’s comments would be removed moving forward.
“Bill Maher’s comment last night was completely inexcusable and tasteless,” Quentin Schaffer, executive vice president for corporate communications at HBO, said in the statement. “We are removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show.”
Maher, who is in his 15th season on the late-night show has been no stranger to controversy, being called out for comments he says on air and tweets online. His most recent joke scandal comes days after Kathy Griffin shared a photo of herself holding President Trump’s severed head.
Senator Sasse continued the conversation by saying comedians have leeway to cross the line, but also owned his lack of responsibility for not speaking out in the moment.
Am walking off a redeye from LAX.
3 reflections on @billmaher
1. I’m a 1st Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard lines.