After remaining silent overnight, Bill Maher is expressing remorse for dropping a racial slur during an interview with Sen. Ben Sasse on Friday's episode of HBO's Real Time.
"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 provided by publicist Cece York. "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."
During an interview with Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., the comedian responded to an invitation to visit his state and "come work in the fields" with mock indignity: "Work in the fields?" Maher replied. "Senator, I am a house (expletive)."
The audience responded with a chorus of groans.
In a statement issued by spokesman Quentin Schaffer, HBO said: “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.”
As of Saturday afternoon, the episode was not available on HBO's streaming platform and the interview segment was not among the clips included on the show's YouTube channel.
Maher has not spoken publicly since the episode aired.
As he got off a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, Sasse tweeted, "I’m a 1st Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard lines. But free speech comes with a responsibility to speak up when folks use that word. Me just cringing last night wasn’t good enough. 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.'"
Maher wound up on HBO in 2003 as a result of a controversial comment he made on his previous late-night show, ABC's Politically Incorrect, following the 9/11 attacks when he disagreed with then-President George W. Bush, who labeled the hijackers cowards.
"We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away," Maher said on his Sept. 17, 2001, episode. "That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, (it's) not cowardly." Politically Incorrect was canceled the following June.
HBO later picked up Maher, launching Real Time With Bill Maher on Feb. 21, 2003. The show is now in its 15th season and has earned 19 Emmy nominations.
Maher has never shied away from controversy or contentious speech. In February, the self-avowed free-speech champion invited Breitbart editor and professional contrarian Milo Yiannopoulos on the show, which prompted frequent panelist Jeremy Scahill to pull out of that episode. The guests who did come — comedian Larry Wilmore and national security expert Malcolm Nance — were not impressed with Yiannopoulous, telling him what he could do with his views.
Politically, Maher falls somewhere between a liberal and libertarian, and his show can be relied upon to feature conservative guests. He is pro-choice, supports gay marriage, marijuana legalization, animal rights and donated $1 million to Barack Obama's re-election campaign. The half-Catholic, half-Jewish comedian looks down on organized religion as a bureaucracy and has taken an increasingly dim view on Islam in recent years.
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