LOS ANGELES — Comedian Bill Maher used a racial epithet during an interview Friday night with Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska on his HBO show, sparking outrage on social media.
Sasse was promoting his book, “The Vanishing American Adult,” on “Real Time With Bill Maher.”
The two were discussing teenagers and maturity when Maher mentioned that adults dress up for Halloween in California. He then asked Sasse if people do that in Nebraska.
“It’s frowned upon. We don’t do that quite as much,” Sasse said.
“I’ve got to get to Nebraska more,” Maher replied.
“You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us,” the senator added.
“Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n****r,” Maher said.
Some audience members groaned while others laughed. Sasse briefly kept quiet.
“No, it’s a joke,” Maher said, breaking the silence.
Tweets soon poured in condemning Maher’s remarks. Some called for his firing.
“But really, @BillMaher has got to go. There are no explanations that make this acceptable,” tweeted Deray McKesson, an activist and leader of Black Lives Matter.
And why did the audience think it was okay to laugh? And Ben Sasse doesn't even flinch. What is happening in the world?
— deray (@deray) June 3, 2017
Sasse addressed the controversy in a series of tweets early Saturday.
“I’m a 1st Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard lines,” he said. “But free speech comes with a responsibility to speak up when folks use that word. Me just cringing last night wasn’t good enough.”
"…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.” https://t.co/kEZm5vPFHK
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 3, 2017
The senator said he wished he had spoken up.
“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.”