Bill Maher drew widespread criticism after the host used a racial slur on Friday night’s Real Time.
During an interview with Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, the Republican politician invited Maher to the state and said, “We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.”
Maher responded, “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger.”
The comment drew both groans and laughs from the Real Time audience, with Maher soon adding, “It’s a joke.”
On Saturday morning, HBO said in a statement, “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 was immediately condemned on social media following the remark, with Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson tweeting, “But really, [Maher] has got to go. 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?”
Sasse was also criticized for his lack of response to Maher’s comment; the senator smiled awkwardly to the racial slur instead of chastising the host for saying it. On Twitter Saturday morning, Sasse regretted he didn’t call out Maher on Real Time.
“I’m a 1st Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard lines,” Sasse wrote in a series of tweets.
“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.”