While interviewing Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse about the latter's new book, The Vanishing American Adult, on Friday's (June 2) episode, Sasse told Maher while in conversation that he would love to, "have you work in the fields with us."
"Work in the fields?" Maher threw back, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. "Senator, I am a house n-----."
Though the joke drew laughs from the audience, and a strained smile from Sasse, the quip almost immediately drew cries of outrage from the internet. Maher didn't initially respond... And in a bizarre move, his official Twitter account released a clip titled "Embrace The T-Word" about President Trump and fellow government officials' possible treasonous behavior shortly after the show aired. Sasse, however, did reach out to discuss the incident in a series of tweets:
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
Hindsight is 20/20 in Sasse's case; but for Maher, most likely the controversy is just beginning. As Sasse noted in his initial tweet, "comedians get latitude to cross hard lines." But coming on the heels of Kathy Griffin's recent controversy, where she came under fire — and was fired from hosting CNN's New Year's Eve special — for doing a photo shoot with what looked like the severed, bloody head of the President, comedians who cross a line may find there's less latitude in our country today than usual.
Saturday afternoon HBO released a statement to TVGuide.com saying that they'll be removing the comments from any further airings of the episode:
"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."
Maher swiftly followed up, sending the following apology to media outlets:
"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."
Watch the clip for yourself (and discretion advised), below:
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include both HBO and Bill Maher's comments.