UPDATED: HBO has responded to Bill Maher’s use of a racial epithet on Friday night’s episode of “Real Time,” calling it “inexcusable and tasteless.”
In a statement, 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.”
PREVIOUS: Bill Maher used the N-word on Friday night’s episode of “Real Time,” drawing outrage on social media.
His guest on the show was Senator Ben Sasse, who asked the host, “Would you like to come work in the field with us Maher responded, “Work in the fields? Senator, I am a house n—.”
The comment drew laughs and groans from the audience, but Sasse appeared to laugh along. Maher quickly added, “It was a joke.” But social media was not amused, with many calling for Maher to be fired.
Deray McKesson, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, wrote on Twitter, “But really, @billmaher has got to go. There are no explanations that make this acceptable.” He then added a follow-up tweet: “And why did the audience think it was okay to laugh? And Ben Sasse doesn’t even flinch. What is happening in the world?””
Actress Danielle Brooks, who stars in Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” echoed those sentiments, writing, “Unacceptable. And the audience applauds!?! So hurtful.”
Sasse responded to the growing outrage on Twitter, posting a series of tweets after his flight landed back in Los Angeles. “Am walking off a redeye from LAX,” he wrote. “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.”
Representatives for Maher did not respond to Variety’s request for comment.
Maher has hosted “Real Time” since 2003, a year after ABC canceled his previous series, “Politically Incorrect.” That show, too, was known for its outspoken, controversial talk and humor. After 9/11, Maher referred to the U.S. response to terrorism in the Middle East as cowardly, a remark that triggered a backlash from the George W. Bush White House. Maher apologized, and said that he had not been referring to U.S. troops, but policy. The network cancelled the show the following June.
Maher has been particularly outspoken recently about political correctness on college campuses, and has chided protesters who have staged demonstrations when conservative figures have come to speak.