The Most Uncomfortable Bill Maher Moments Ever

The following article contains references to racism, transphobia, domestic violence, and body shaming. 

New rule: Bill Maher is here to offend just about everyone. Of all the late night talk show hosts, the "Real Time" frontman has developed a reputation as one of the smuggest, and in turn, most controversial. Maher has long been characterized as an old-school leftist, one who, like many other baby boomer comedians, targets the so-called woke brigade. His evolution from edgy contrarian to boomer comic, covering the familiar ground of railing against identity politics, has frequently landed him in hot water. 

As the Independent argues, the comic has, ironically, made attacking identity politics his entire identity: "In joining lesser talents in attacking the whininess of online wokery, he is surely squandering his energies in picking unwinnable fights about nothing and playing into the hands of both his own critics and of those who so cynically make a cushy living out of sowing division for mass entertainment."

Having been on the air since the early '90s, Maher has been in no shortage of controversies. But these days, the host seems more content espousing similar rhetoric found on, say, Fox News. Being a comedian unafraid of embracing unpopular opinions, it's to be expected that many uncomfortable and unpleasant moments have emerged from his schtick, from inviting problematic guests onto his show to reinforcing outlandish conspiracies. Brace yourself for the most uncomfortable Bill Maher moments ever.

Bill Maher's controversial 9/11 remarks

Before "Real Time," there was "Politically Incorrect." The '90s talk show, much like its successor, featured a mix of political commentators and celebrities brought on to discuss current affairs, imbued with host Bill Maher's quintessential irreverent humor. But Maher's penchant for contentious soundbites would prove his undoing. 

In an episode of "Politically Incorrect" that aired mere days after the September 11 attacks, Maher claimed that the terrorists who killed thousands of people were brave, while the U.S. military was complicit in cowardice. "We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly," he said. "Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, not cowardly." Per the Los Angeles Times, right-wing commentator Dinesh D'Souza, a guest on the episode, agreed with Maher's comments, stating, "You have a whole bunch of guys who are willing to give their life. None of them backed out. All of them slammed themselves into pieces of concrete." 

Understandably, Maher's hot take led to a huge backlash, with many accusing him of undermining the efforts of soldiers sent overseas, per ABC News. He apologized, explaining that his remarks were made not in reference to military personnel, but "the government, the elected officials, [and] the people who want to put up a giant missile shield, when plainly that's not where the threat is from." Subsequently, the show was canceled the following year.

Supporting the Hunter Biden laptop conspiracy

The Hunter Biden laptop controversy, in which the president's son was accused of having compromising material on his hard drive, has provided considerable fuel for the right, so self-professed liberal Bill Maher seems an unlikely candidate for bolstering outlandish conspiracy theories. But that's just what he did in 2022.

During an episode of "Real Time" (via the New York Post), Maher fanned the flames of fake news by rehashing a conspiracy much loved by Trump supporters. "Hunter Biden's laptop was buried by the press, even the head of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, said that was a mistake. They buried the story," he said, alleging a widespread and coordinated "conspiracy to get rid of somebody as bad as Trump." Subsequently, Maher called out left-leaning outlets such as The New York Times, claiming that the liberal media purposely avoided reporting on the story before the presidential election out of fear that doing so would entail a Trump victory. 

As NPR notes, the reluctance of the mainstream media in reporting on the Hunter Biden laptop story arose not from conspiracy, but from the fact that the New York Post — the outlet that initially broke the story — posited speculation as fact. For echoing conservative conspiratorial talking points, Maher was roundly criticized by sections of the public. As noted by Fansided, Twitter users expressed their disgust at the host, with one viewer accusing him of having "lost his mind... He is completely out of touch and not very funny."

Calling Milo Yiannopoulos the gay Christopher Hitchens

Bill Maher is no stranger to bringing controversial guests onto his show, but many commentators felt that inviting provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was a step too far. In his heyday as resident troll for the alt-right, Yiannopoulos routinely spouted racist and misogynistic soundbites. Shortly before destroying his own career by defending pedophilia, Yiannopoulos appeared on "Real Time" in 2017.

Maher was heavily criticized for giving the alt-righter a platform. As Paste magazine argues, inviting Yiannopoulos onto the show helped to normalize his pernicious views and take them from the far-right fringes into the mainstream. For instance, Maher stroked the avowed troll's ego by referring to him as a "young, gay, alive Christopher Hitchens," an assertion with which The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw disagreed. During his appearance on the show, Yiannopoulos was confronted by fellow guests Larry Wilmore and Malcolm Nance over his transphobia and homophobia. (Despite identifying as gay at the time, Yiannopoulos suggested that being LGBT was a psychological disorder.) Rather than debate the panelists, Yiannopoulos lamented to Maher that he couldn't converse with them because they supposedly had low IQs, prompting Wilmore to tell him to, ahem, get lost, much to the delight of the audience.

Since his appearance on the show, Yiannopoulos lost his job at Breitbart after propagating the fallacy that homosexuality is linked to pedophilia. He then claimed he is no longer gay, and has now resorted to selling Virgin Mary statues on TV to make ends meet, as noted on "The David Pakman Show."

Defending hitting women

Though he may like to portray himself as a liberal who champions liberal values, Bill Maher has exhibited arguably misogynistic tendencies on more than one occasion. In 2014, he faced a monumental backlash when he made a bizarre comparison between Palestinian organization Hamas and domestic violence, angering both supporters of the Palestinian cause and anti-domestic violence campaigners. "Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who's trying to kill u – u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her," he tweeted.

Unsurprisingly, the would-be troll was heavily criticized for the tweet. The Washington Post argued that Maher was making light of, even justifying, violence against women, writing, "Violence against women, as a hilarious joke premise, went out of style somewhere between the passenger pigeon and the Pole joke." Meanwhile, Slate condemned his conflation of the Israel-Palestine conflict with domestic violence, arguing that Maher's tweet intimates that hitting women is justifiable under the spurious guise of self-defense (despite the fact that almost half of murdered women are killed by their partners, per The Atlantic).

But this wasn't the first time Maher seemingly defended men hitting women. In 2009, he joked about domestic violence allegations against NFL player Shawne Merriman, who was accused of assaulting Tila Tequila (the claims were later dropped), quipping (via The Frisky), "Stop acting surprised someone choked Tila Tequila! The surprise is that someone hasn't choked this b**** sooner."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Telling Bernie Sanders that the US is a socialist country

If you're going to make sweeping assertions about socialism, maybe don't utter them in the presence of renowned and avowed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. In 2015, Sanders appeared on "Real Time" to discuss his run for the Democratic nomination in the presidential election. When the topic of socialism arose, Maher raised some eyebrows when he made a rather mind-boggling observation, prompting Sanders to shut him down. "Even the Republicans are not for income inequality ... It doesn't compute that that's going to be solved by socialism," Maher said. "Socialism is the programs they already like. They like social security, that's socialism ... They like the military. It's already a socialist country." This led a visibly confused Sanders to interject, "No, it's not a socialist country."

As Forbes points out, Maher has, on numerous occasions, proven that he doesn't quite understand what socialism is. For instance, he once claimed that tax haven Switzerland was a socialist country despite the fact that the ruling party at the time, the Swiss People's Party, has been described as right-wing populist. In another instance, he compared the NFL to socialism. "Americans must realize what makes NFL football so great: socialism," he claimed. "That's right. The NFL takes money from the rich teams and gives it to the poorer ones." However, as Bleacher Report highlights, the NFL, which is worth tens of billions of dollars, is an inherently capitalist enterprise and redistribution of wealth within the league does not make it socialist.

Comparing Zayn Malik to the Boston Marathon bomber

When it comes to punching down, there's seemingly nothing lower than a man in a privileged and powerful position making racist jibes about people of color. In a joke that's so tasteless and antiquated it appears fresh out of a post-9/11 Islamophobic skit, Bill Maher compared Zayn Malik, then of One Direction, to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. 

In a 2015 episode of "Real Time," Maher discussed Malik's departure from One Direction, quipping, "Just tell me two things, Zayn: Which one in the band were you? And where were you during the Boston Marathon?" The remark was accompanied by a side by side comparison of Malik and Tsarnaev. It was a bizarre joke considering that the two men don't bear even a passing resemblance to one another, and as with so many Maher gags, it seems to be rooted in Islamophobia. (As Al Jazeera points out, a number of Maher's jokes are based around "demonising Muslims as collectively violent terrorists.") Like Tsarnaev, Malik comes from a Muslim background. And, well, what's where the comparisons end. Malik is half Pakistani, while Tsarnaev is Chechen, an ethnic European.

Accordingly, Maher was heavily criticized by both One Direction fans and Muslim commentators. "It shows that he's really not missing an opportunity to engage in his Islamophobic themes," Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told People. Maher later claimed that he didn't know Malik was Muslim.

Blaming Stan Lee for Donald Trump's election

Bill Maher enraged Marvel fans in 2018 when he not only made light of comic book legend Stan Lee's death, but his entire oeuvre. "The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning," he wrote in a blog post. "Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don't know, watch a movie, I guess." In a befuddling move, he even blamed Lee for Trump's election win, leading to a collective, "Huh?" Maher wrote, "The problem is, we're using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don't think it's a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important."

Outrage ensued, with Marvel fans calling out the host for his own ignorance. Author Neil Gaiman advised people not to feed the troll, tweeting, "More people cared about Stan Lee's death than care about Bill Maher alive." Ouch! Meanwhile, the Daily Beast accused Maher of rehashing tired boomer arguments that had long been used to demonize the so-called arrested development of the adults of today.

Responding to the backlash on a subsequent episode of "Real Time," Maher clarified that he had nothing against Lee, but was irritated by the Marvel fandom. Taking aim at adults who still enjoyed their childhood pastimes, he remarked, "Grow up. That was the point of my blog. I'm not glad Stan Lee is dead; I'm sad you're alive."

The uncomfortable moment Bill Maher scolded Dave Rubin

Dave Rubin has made a name for himself in recent years for his political 180. The erstwhile "Young Turks" pundit has fashioned an entire identity out of being an ex-liberal-turned-conservative commentator. The Daily Beast argued that Rubin has become somewhat of a pawn for Conservative America, who will discard what little liberal beliefs he has left for the validation of the anti-woke reactionaries. 

Accordingly, when Rubin appeared on Bill Maher's podcast "Club Random," he undoubtedly expected the host, who shares his anti-woke beliefs, to agree with him when he brought up the subject of Donald Trump. Well, Rubin should have learned that those in glass houses shouldn't throw MAGA hats.

After making a number of vulgar jokes about gay sex — Rubin is openly gay — there was a deeply uncomfortable atmosphere between the pair. "First off, you got to break up with your boyfriend, Donald Trump," Maher remarked. Quick to appease others, Rubin hastily said that the two didn't need to discuss Trump or politics in general, leading to a toe-curling interaction in which Maher effectively scolded his guest. "You brought it up," Maher pressed, as Rubin appeared increasingly uncomfortable, his efforts to curtail the conversation disintegrating before his very eyes. "Red pill. You people make me laugh," Maher continued. "As if you would think that I would even entertain the idea of joining up with a social club that made Donald Trump its president!" No doubt, Rubin turned the same shade of red as the GOP elephant.

Bill Maher was accused of fatphobia

At the best of times, Bill Maher can come across as somewhat antiquated in his views. That was none more apparent than when he reiterated fatphobic discourse in a 2019 episode of "Real Time." Maher blamed plus size people for being a burden on the healthcare system. He also claimed that the reason so many Americans have pre-existing health conditions is because they eat too much. "Nobody comes out of the womb needing to buy two seats on the airplane," he declared to half-hearted laughter from the audience. "We scream at congress to find a way to pay for our medical bills, but it wouldn't be nearly the issue it is if people just didn't eat like a**holes," he continued, before claiming that people need to normalize fat shaming.

In response, James Corden made an impassioned plea against fat shaming on his "Late Late Show," highlighting all the ways in which Maher was misinformed about plus size bodies and its spurious links to a prevalence of chronic illness in the U.S. Weight issues in childhood, as the British host points out, are typically linked to poverty as opposed to being slovenly. And, as Corden argued, fat shaming is essentially bullying. "Now, there is a common and insulting misconception that fat people are stupid and lazy," Corden explained. "And we're not ... We're not all as lucky as Bill Maher, you know? We don't all have a sense of superiority that burns 35,000 calories a day." 

Bill Maher's anti-vax remarks

A number of celebs have exposed themselves as being anti-vax in the past couple of years. Given Bill Maher's penchant for contentious soundbites, it unfortunately comes as little surprise that he has propagated fallacies about the COVID-19 shot. When Aaron Rodgers, himself a vaccine skeptic, appeared on Maher's "Club Random" podcast in 2022, the pair found common ground when it comes to vaccines. 

Questioning the concept of trusting the science, Maher argued, "We need more people who are just saying, 'Just keep an open mind.' We're not anti-vaxxers ... Any time you take any sort of medicine it is a medical intervention. You're probably using a pharmaceutical product or a natural product, but even natural products can have very harmful effects." He suggested that vaccines should be a personal choice and that the government shouldn't mandate what people can put into their bodies, before praising Rodgers as "an ally on this subject." While Maher claims that the vaccine shouldn't be a requirement for healthy people, this is in stark contrast to the science, which shows that otherwise healthy individuals can still become seriously ill and die from COVID, as Reuters notes. Even Maher himself credited the vaccine with preventing serious illness when he caught COVID the previous year.

And though he may claim that he's not anti-vax, Maher actually has a long history of reinforcing pseudoscientific conspiracies. In 2019, he suggested that MMR vaccines are linked to autism, an assertion that HuffPost reports has been debunked by experts.

Bill Maher was slammed for his transphobic views

Despite being a proponent of liberal values, Bill Maher's views can sometimes echo the rhetoric of the alt-right. In 2022, he took aim at the trans community during a segment on "Real Time." The host questioned the rise in LGBT identifying individuals among Millennials and Gen-Z, totally ignoring the fact that being transgender was wrongly classified as a mental illness up until just a few years ago, thereby preventing people from embracing their trans identity. 

"I'm just saying that when things change this much this fast, people are allowed to say, 'What's up with that?'" Maher asserted. "All the babies are in the wrong bodies? Was there a mix-up at the plant like with Cap'n Crunch's Oops All Berries?" After making the bizarre analogy, he questioned why a rise in transgender statistics was regional, noting that California has a greater percentage of LGBT youth than Ohio; again, he fails to acknowledge that Ohio has anti-trans legislation in place, making it harder for youth in the state to come out.

The host was condemned for making remarks perceived as transphobic. On Twitter, GLAAD called out Maher for spreading disinformation about trans kids. "Pundits who fearmonger about trans youth and surgeries need to learn the facts," the organization wrote. "It's not a trend. It's not a phase. Youth are not rushed into medical transition." Similarly, Salon accused Maher of being woefully out of touch in his anti-trans tirade, highlighting that the comic was punching down by targeting children.

Ben Affleck vs. Bill Maher

Bill Maher has long faced accusations of Islamophobia. His controversial rhetoric led to a heated debate in 2014 when he was confronted by none other than Ben Affleck, after the host suggested that the majority of Muslims are sympathetic to extremism. In a "Real Time" discussion alongside atheist writer Sam Harris, Maher supported Harris' assertion that Islamophobia doesn't exist. A visibly angry Affleck interjected, "So you're saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing?", to which Maher quipped, "Well, it's not a real thing when we do it." After an increasingly fiery exchange of words, Affleck accused Maher of being racist, which he flippantly denied. "How about the more than a billion people who aren't fanatical, who don't punish women ... You're stereotyping," the actor said in an impassioned counterargument. Maher then purported that a large number of the world's Muslim population do have extremist views, to Affleck's exasperation.

As The Guardian reports, Affleck was commended for his takedown of Maher, with Twitter users praising the star for slamming the host's "gross generalizations of Islam." And as Al Jazeera highlights, Hollywood may be viewed as a beacon of liberalism, but negative stereotypes of Muslims are still pervasive, so the actor's defense of Islam was much needed in a climate that still promotes Islamophobic tropes. Addressing the confrontation in an interview with Salon, Maher insisted that he was standing up for liberal values, before refusing to discuss his argument with Affleck any further.

Using the N-word on TV

Bill Maher made everyone super uncomfortable in 2017 when, out of the blue, he dropped the N-word during an episode of "Real Time." As The Guardian noted, Maher was chatting with Senator Ben Sasse before he inexplicably uttered the racist slur when making a slavery analogy, leading many to accuse the host of finally going too far. In a statement, Maher apologized, attributing his use of the slur to lack of sleep. "Last night was a particularly long night as I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment," he said. "The word was offensive, and I regret saying it and am very sorry." HBO also condemned him and stated that the offending segment would not air in repeats, as "Real Time" is broadcasted live.

What made the utterance all the more shocking is the universal acceptance that using the N-word is never acceptable for non-Black people. Subsequently, The New York Times accused Maher of brazenly basking in his white privilege by uttering such an offensive term. "You don't need much of an imagination to envision Chris Rock, Larry Wilmore or Wanda Sykes taking a whack at that line... But Bill Maher isn't Chris Rock. He's not on 'black-ish,'" the outlet argued. "He's a 61-year-old white man who would never get a pass for jesting about slavery or the N-word. (His track record inspires too much doubt to give any benefit.)" The outlet also points out that Maher has often gotten away with his offensive material under the guise of being a liberal.

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Groping Bob Saget to mock #MeToo accusations

When "Saturday Night Live" comic and politician Al Franken was accused of sexual assault, a photo began circulating of him groping news anchor Leeann Tweeden while she was asleep, per NBC News. Peculiarly, Bill Maher thought it was a good idea to reenact the photo, in what was perceived as a mockery of the #MeToo movement. In 2018, the talk show host shared a photo on Twitter, which he still hasn't deleted, of him mimicking Franken's infamous photo by groping a sleeping Bob Saget. "These New Years Hawaii trips are getting weird – Saget, forgive me!," he captioned the cringeworthy snap. Subsequently, numerous users slammed Maher for the pic. "Jokes about sexual misconduct are: easy, not funny, offensive," tweeted one detractor.

Uproxx argued that the tweet was in poor taste, even for Maher: "Depending how you want to look at it, the timing is kind of iffy to make light on the situation, but that's exactly what Bill Maher did early Thursday morning." Moreover, the outlet highlighted that Maher's motives were questionable, since he previously supported Franken against his sexual misconduct allegations. Indeed, on his talk show, Maher said that while he acknowledged Franken's behavior was problematic, he claimed it was unfair to categorize the former senator as a predator akin to Harvey Weinstein or fellow politician Roy Moore. Again, he was lambasted, with The New York Times accusing him of mocking the alleged victims and questioning the validity of their accusations.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).