Updated: Saturday, June 3, 2017, 4:20 PM
Comedian Bill Maher takes great pride in his politically incorrect language about politics, race and religion. But on Friday night, the HBO host might have actually crossed the line.
Maher has drawn widespread criticism after using a racial slur during an interview with Republican Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse during an interview on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.
During the interview, which aired live just after 10 p.m., Sasse invited Maher to visit Nebraska, telling the host, “We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.”
“Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n*****,” Maher responded, which caused his studio audience to initially groan in disapproval before shifting to applause.
“No, it’s a joke,” Maher insisted.
The slur was not bleeped out during the episode’s rebroadcast at midnight, according to New York Times media reporter Dave Itzkoff. But HBO said in a strongly-worded statement they would remove it from future broadcasts.
"Bill Maher’s comment last night was completely inexcusable and tasteless," HBO said in a statement to Philly.com. "We are removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show.”
"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," Maher said in a statement released Saturday afternoon. "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."
Sasse, who akwardly chuckled when Maher made the comment, wrote on Twitter Saturday morning that he regretted not speaking up about the use of the slur during the interview. “Me just cringing last night wasn’t good enough.”
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.
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.
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?...
"...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
Criticism was swift and widespread. Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson wrote on Twitter, “There are no explanations that make this acceptable.”
And why did the audience think it was okay to laugh? And Ben Sasse doesn't even flinch. What is happening in the world?
New York Times opinion editor Jenee Desmond-Harris said she wasn’t surprised to hear Maher drop the slur on live television.
I knew Bill Maher was a terrible person when he got all frustrated with an audience at Howard and called us "you people."
Writer and journalist Wajahat Ali also said the slur isn’t surprising, noting that Maher has a long history of using harsh language to describe Muslims.
People shocked at Bill Maher being racist-y, check w your Arab & Muslim friends. Been doing this for a LONG time, but he got hall passes.
Maher is scheduled to perform at The Borgata in Atlantic City on Aug. 19.
This is far from the first time Maher has dealt with controversy over something he said. Back in 2001, he was fired from his ABC show Politically Incorrect following comments he made about the September 11 attacks.
“We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly,” Maher said. “Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly.”
Back in 2010, in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Maher made comments about President Obama that many criticized as pushing negative stereotypes of African-Americans.
“I thought when we elected a black president, we were going to get a black president. You know, this [BP oil spill] is where I want a real black president,” Maher said at the time on his HBO show. “I want him in a meeting with the BP CEOs, you know, where he lifts up his shirt where you can see the gun in his pants. That's — 'we've got a motherf****** problem here?' Shoot somebody in the foot.”
Last month, Maher riled up critics after making an incest joke to New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman involving President Donald Trump and his daughter, Ivanka.
Read full story: HBO slams Bill Maher's racial slur as 'inexcusable and tasteless'