Bill Maher clearly took it on the chin after using the n-word on Real Time a few weeks back. The comedian faced hefty criticism for what he called a bad joke and was forced to apologize on Real Time the following week. HBO also faced pressure to fire Maher from hosting Real Time, citing this incident and his longtime stance on Muslims as examples of the comedian crossing the line.
The show that followed featured a full slate of guests that addressed the incident, including Michael Eric Dyson and Ice Cube. The hip hop star provided the stiffest response to Maher’s use of the n-word, something that stood out from the mass of criticism online and leaned closely to figures like Oprah Winfrey who tapped into the history of the world. And while the incident has been dormant thanks to the general will of the news cycle and Maher being on vacation at the moment, it did find time to appear during Maher’s “Table For Three” interview in The New York Times with Philip Galanes and Fran Lebowitz.
Galanes brings up the response to Maher’s controversy, curious if the comedian knew he has truly stepped in it. The response shouldn’t be a surprise:
PG Really? Were you not looking at Twitter?
BM I think most people understood that it was a comedian’s mistake, not a racist mistake.
Some would probably disagree, especially since the comedian did apologize. They also chat a bit about the show that followed and Maher’s discussion with Ice Cube. This is where HBO host makes a distinction between what Cube said on the show and how he and his fan base view his brand of humor:
BM Listen, I hope we had a teachable moment about race: trying to make something good from something bad. But maybe also about how to handle something like this: apologize sincerely if you’re wrong — and I was — and own it.
PG Mission accomplished, as President Bush said.
BM But we don’t have to grovel, and we don’t have to admit things that aren’t true. When Ice Cube said something about my telling black jokes, I wasn’t going to be: “Oh, well, I made one mistake; I might as well admit mistakes I haven’t made.” I’ve never made black jokes. I’ve made jokes about racists. But my fan base knows that, so it never went anywhere.
The show that followed the controversy definitely did a good job at trying to turn a nasty controversy into a teachable moment, as Maher says above. It doesn’t account for the criticism he has garnered throughout the season and before, but it was definitely an attempt to mold something into a genuine moment of regret and redemption.
The interview also compares the situation with Maher’s former home on ABC and the comments on 9/11 that got him fired. Maher notes that the main difference between the two, aside from ABC’s need for advertisers, is that the 9/11 statement had a real message and the n-word controversy was just “a mistake.” Lebowitz agreed and defended him saying that “moral outrage should be reserved for Congress or the Supreme Court” and not for entertainers without any real power.
(Via New York Times)