Bill Maher Says Using N-Word Was a 'Bad Thing' But Also a 'Comedian Thing'

Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

It is a truth universally acknowledged that old white men can—generally—say reprehensible things without suffering meaningful consequences. Such is the case with Bill Maher who, on his Friday show, performed a modicum amount of remorse for dropping the n-word last week and will now resume life as usual.


Maher invited author and Georgetown sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson onto Real Time with Bill Maher to discuss racism and white privilege, but above all, to demonstrate his acutely self-flagellating humility.

“I want you to school me. I did a bad thing,” Maher informed Dyson. He also noted that the n-word has “caused pain” in the African American community. Perceptive!

Before this overture, Maher opened his live show by thanking the audience—they had, he remarked, kindly allowed “a sinner in [their] midst.” But it was not an especially challenging crowd: some of its members yelled “We love you, Bill!” as he walked onstage.

On last week’s show, Maher’s interviewee, Republican senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska invited the host to visit the state and “work in the fields.” Maher’s grotesque response: “Work in the fields? I’m a house n——.”

HBO publicly condemned the comment and noted that it would be removed from any future airings of the episode. Maher also apologized the next day, though he made certain to note last night that many public apologies are unnecessary:

“In the conversation with Dyson, Maher noted that there was ‘a lot of bullshit apology in America. I am against that.’ But he said that in this case, the apology for the use of the ‘N-word’ was ‘appropriate.’

He said that Sasse’s comment about working ‘in the fields’ had struck him as a ‘weird thing.’

‘The comic mind goes to a weird place,’ he said. ‘That is why I apologize freely and I reiterate it tonight. That is sincere.’”


Remarking that “the comic mind goes to a weird place” seems a self-indulgent means of baking defensiveness into this so-called “sincere” apology, but as a the possessor of a mere non-comic mind, what do I know?

Dyson, who is African American, told Maher that many put pressure on his decision to appear on the show, arguing that it tacitly condoned the remarks. He assessed Maher’s blithe use of the racial slur as an “unconscious reflex” born from systemic white privilege. Dyson rightly explains that all caucasians operate from a fundamental assumption of privilege, even if we are not the sort to make racist comments.


“We have to grapple with how deeply rooted that is,” Dyson emphasized.

At this point, it seems Maher could no longer maintain his charade of penitence.

“It is not like i have made a career of this,” he said. “It is not like I went out there last Friday and said, ‘Hey, we are going to break new ground tonight.’”


Maher moreover seemed to miss Dyson’s point entirely.

“I just don’t want to pretend this is more of a race thing than a comedian thing. Comedians are a special kind of monkey. We are a trained thing that just tried to get a laugh,” he said.


I am not a scholar of race like Dyson. But my understanding as a privileged white woman is that if a white person co-opts the n-word, it is very much “a race thing.” And if the so-called “comic mind” impacts the behavior, then we need more rigorous conversations about comedians avoiding racial appropriation and, you know, not being flagrantly racist.

Ice Cube also appeared on the show on a roundtable that also included David Gregory, former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fl.), and activist Symone Sanders.


“I knew you were going to fuck up sooner or later,” Ice Cube joked. But then, he pressed further.

“What made you think it was cool to say that?” he asked Maher.

“There was no thought put into it. Obviously I told Dr. Dyson, comedians, they react. It was wrong, and I apologized. More than that, I can’t do,” Maher replied.


(I can think of a number of things Maher could do, including cancel his bullshit show, but we need to keep moving.)

“I accept your apology,” Ice Cube told Maher. “I still think we need to get to the root of the psyche.” He added that the n-word “has been used as a weapon by white people. We are not going to let that happen again.”

[Page Six]

Ariel Winter’s older sister, Shanelle Gray, has reemphasized that they do not want a relationship with their mother, Chrystal Workman.


Workman recently criticized her estranged daughter for her sartorial decisions, declaring that the Modern Family star was not sufficiently covering herself.


“It’s just the expectation,” Gray, 38, told Page Six. “My mother has always been dreaming of the spotlight, which is why she had two daughters...I think this is her way of keeping her name in the headlines.”

She also reaffirmed that Winter “has no interest in our birth mother.”

[Page Six]

Brandi Glanville, ex-wife to Eddie Cibrian, has accused his current wife, LeAnn Rimes, of harassment. Whew.


Now Cibrian has responded.

“I normally don’t respond to Brandi’s foolishness, but I will not allow false and reverse accusations to go unanswered about my wire. LeAnn is a fantastic stepmom to the boys and is always gracious to their mother. Having to put up with Brandi’s made up drama all the time is extremely frustrating...This is not healthy behavior. I’m very concerned.”



  • Talented, oh-so-hot person Kristen Stewart hung out with Twilight co-star Taylor Lautner. [Us Weekly]
  • A sexual predator stepped out. [ET]
  • Scott Disick and Sofia Richie are always FaceTiming, and it’s always ending up in the tabloids. [Us Weekly]
  • Phil Collins suffered a head injury, but according to daughter Lily Collins he’s doing ok. [The Sun]


Ice Cube’s face said it all for me.