Bill Maher says his use of the N-word on his HBO show was a “mistake” and that it was not his intention to cause anyone pain, in what mark his first on-air comments about the controversy.
The comedian and host had uttered the racial slur as part of a joke on Real Time With Bill Maher last week, spurring calls for him to be fired. He later apologized in a statement. He addressed the issue again on his show Friday while interviewing Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University sociology professor, New York Times contributing op-ed writer and author who covers race, politics, religion and culture.
“I wanted you to come by here because, you know, I want you to school me,” Maher said. “I did a bad thing.”
Maher, who had previously spoken out against making unnecessary apologies and had hosted the Comedy Central talk show Politically Incorrect, said “there is a lot of bulls–t apologizing in America” and that he is against that, but added, “We shouldn’t apologize for slavery and Japanese internment [camps] and Abu Ghraib and Indian genocide and [the] Tuskegee [syphilis experiment].”
“So when it’s appropriate, this was appropriate, because I’ll tell you why. Because for black folks, that word, I don’t care who you are, has caused pain,” Maher said. “I’m not here to do that.”
The host had said the N-word while responding with a joke to a comment made by guest Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
“Now, the guy who was here, it’s not his fault—I feel bad about him, the senator, it’s all on me,” Maher said. “But he said a weird thing, a comic mind goes to a weird place sometimes. But it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t said in malice. It brought back pain to people and that’s why I apologized freely and I reiterated tonight that that’s sincere.”
“I’m not here to make excuses,” he said later. “But first of all, the word is omnipresent in the culture, so the fact that it was in my mind is, you know…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, so to speak. We are a trained thing that tries to get a laugh, that’s what we do, that’s all we are always thinking…and sometimes we transgress a sensitivity point.”
Maher said his word choice was “just a mistake” and a “dumb interception.”