The Shady Side Of Bill Maher

Bill Maher has made an entire career out of being politically incorrect — but sometimes the creator of Politically Incorrect arguably goes too far, whether in public or in private. Remember the time he made a Popeye's fried chicken joke at the expense of black Texas Congressman and former CIA agent Will Hurd? Yikes! How about his routine condescension to Middle America: "We have chef Wolfgang Puck, they have Chef Boyardee." You may recall the time he defended fellow talking head Bill O'Reilly — who said U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters wears "a James Brown wig" — by blasting the Democrats inability to take a joke? Yeah, those are some Maher lowlights.

Despite the comedic news man's many controversies over the years, his television career has survived relatively unscathed, but that doesn't mean some of his sketchier moments didn't make big waves at the time. Here are some of the shady things the host of Real Time with Bill Maher has said, done, or been party to.

He repeatedly drops the n-word on TV

In June 2017, Bill Maher hosted Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse on his HBO talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher. During the interview, Maher dropped an n-bomb. According to The New York Times, Maher and Sasse were discussing adults dressing up for Halloween. When Sasse claimed that didn't happen in Nebraska, Maher quipped, "I've got to get to Nebaska more." Sasse responded, "We'd love to have you work in the fields with us." That's when Maher declared, "Work in the fields? Senator, I'm a house n****r." Maher called it a "joke." HBO called it "completely inexcusable and tasteless."

Using racial slurs is nothing new for Maher. He used the N-word repeatedly during a discussion on Politically Incorrect with actress Anne-Marie Johnson in 2001. She told TMZ that Maher "just doesn't understand the history of the phrase ... I don't think he'll ever receive the message that this is painful." DeRay McKesson, leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, suggested Maher get the boot, and social media lit up with calls for the comedian's termination.

Maher eventually released a statement: "Friday nights are always my worst night of sleep because I'm up reflecting on the things I should or shouldn't have said on my live show. Last night was a particularly long night as I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive and I regret saying it and am very sorry."

He blamed his 'comic mind' for the mistake

Maher apologized on air for using the n-word during a June 2017 live taping of Real Time with Bill Maher, but his word choice wasn't the best. In a conversation with author and sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, Maher said: "There is a lot of bulls**t apologizing in America, and I am against that." However, Maher said he felt like it was appropriate for him to apologize for using the n-word. "I'll tell you why: For black folks, that word — I don't care who you are — has caused pain. I'm not here to do that." 

He tried to explain what prompted his decision to make the "house n****r" comment in the first place, explaining that his guest "said a weird thing. The comic mind goes to a weird place sometimes, but it doesn't matter that it wasn't said in malice ... And that's why I apologize freely, and I reiterate it tonight. That's sincere." 

Dyson then dished out what was essentially a crash course on unconscious white privilege, explaining to Maher why his comments cut so deep. Maher represented "people who are consciously the allies of black people but who may also inadvertently, unintentionally but nonetheless lethally participate in the culture that ends up hurting ... black people in a way that has to be grappled with. That's why I think there was so much outrage."

He's made homophobic comments

For all Bill Maher's supposed liberal leanings, he's ticked off more than a few members of that camp. In April 2014, Maher angered LGBTQ viewers and allies when he spoke about Brendan Eich. Eich was the CEO of Mozilla but stepped down in 2014 after taking heat for making a $1,000 donation in 2008 in support of Proposition 8, a piece of California legislation that sought to ban same-sex marriage. "I think there is a gay Mafia," Maher cracked during a segment of Real Time with Bill Maher. "I think if you cross them, you do get whacked."

Maher has also joined in on the problematic "Trump is gay for Putin" jokes. In January 2019, the comedian ticked off reasons why he believes Trump is a "Russian agent." Part of the joke involved how much time Trump and Putin have spent together. "He met Putin five times — that's a lot of times in just a couple of years, always with nobody around. Nobody can ever know what they're doing," Maher said. "Forget collusion, I want to know if there's penetration."

A separate think piece in the Daily Beast called that type of material "irresponsible and offensive" for a number of reasons, including the notion that it could imply that "outing a powerful political leader is the greatest way to bring him shame" or that it suggests that "Trump is somehow demeaning himself by submitting to gay sexual acts."

His commentary comparing black men did not go over well

In 2010, Maher said he wished then-President Barack Obama was more like Suge Knight — a rap mogul sentenced to 28 years in prison for killing a man in a hit-and-run — instead of like squeaky-clean comic Wayne Brady. Brady wasn't impressed. 

"That means it's a diss to Obama to be called me because he wants a brother brother," Brady fumed on Aisha Tyler's Girl On Guy podcast (via The Huffington Post). According to The Wrap, the host of Let's Make a Deal "also suggested that Maher solicits African-American prostitutes and said that if "Maher wants to 'know how black Wayne Brady is,' he would 'gladly slap the s**t out of him in front of Coco and Ebony and Fox, the three ladies of the night he has hired.'"

You don't want that smoke, Bill.

He's defended the actions of child rapists

In a 1998 episode of Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher defended Mary Kay Letourneau, a teacher who pleaded guilty to raping one of her sixth-grade students and then continued the relationship with that student after she was released from prison, eventually getting married and having two children together. 

"She is in jail because she is in love. That's how I view it," Maher said (via USA Today). "Basically, they're having a family and they're keeping the mother in jail because she won't conform to what society feels should be the perfect American family." When one of Maher's guests noted that Letourneau had raped the student, Maher quipped: "Raped? Come on! How can a woman rape a man?"

That wasn't the only time Maher defended statutory rape. In a 2007 interview with Playboy (via The Hollywood Reporter), Maher said, "I think it's a little offbeat, but you know, I believe in the double standard. If a 28-year-old male teacher is screwing a 13-year-old girl, that's a crime. But with [teacher] Debra Lafave screwing her 14-year-old boy student, the crime is that we didn't get it on videotape. Was he being taken advantage of? I wish I had been taken advantage of like that. What a memory she gave him! I would think he's a champion among his friends."

He went after politicians' kids

Though almost everyone agrees that politicians' children are off limits, that's never appeared to stop Bill Maher. He made numerous vulgar comments about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, who became pregnant as an unwed teen. In June 2013, Maher mocked Palin's son, Trig, who has special needs, calling the then-5-year-old a "retard" during a stand-up set, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Palin took to Twitter to challenge the controversial comic to meet up with her when she's in his "neck of the woods." In a follow-up tweet, she added, "Hey bully, on behalf of all kids whom you hatefully mock in order to make yourself feel big, I hope one flattens your lily white wimp a**."

Maher has also taken aim at Donald Trump's adult children, including making incest comments about Ivanka Trump and comparing Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr. to Nazis.

He called Americans 'cowardly' after 9/11

In October 2001, just weeks after the horrific terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Maher said the following on Politically Incorrect, "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building? Say what you want about it ... not cowardly." According to People, those comments drew a lot of ire and some advertisers pulled their support. The show was not renewed for another season, reportedly prompting its move to HBO

Years later, the Daily Beast reported that Maher continues to have "a complicated history with 9/11." During a 2016 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, he took Apple to task for battling the FBI over iPhone encryption by once again casting the American public as weak and ignorant in the face of terrorism. "I think people in this country are spoiled, I think they're uninformed, I don't think they really know what the threats are out there," he said (via the Daily Beast). "I think partly you're a victim of your own success: 9/11 was pretty horrible, but compared to what happens in the rest of the world often, we've gotten away pretty easy."

Maher also predicted that if there was another terrorist attack before the 2016 election, Donald Trump would win because "America is known to s**t its pants."

He said Muslims are like 'the mafia'

Bill Maher has a long history of anti-Islamic comments, but few were more famous than when he got into a heated debate over religion with actor Ben Affleck and other panelists in October 2014 on Real Time with Bill Maher. Maher called Islam "the only religion that acts like the mafia" and said that Muslims would "f**king kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book." 

A heated Affleck pushed back during the episode. "How about the more than a billion people who aren't fanatical, who don't punch women, who just want to go to school, have some sandwiches, pray five times a day, and don't do any of the things you're saying of all Muslims? It's stereotyping."

In a 2015 segment of Real Time with Bill Maher, the host compared former One Direction member Zayn Malik to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, joking about what he considered similarities in appearance. "Where were you during the Boston Marathon?" he quipped, alongside side-by-side images of the two men.

He joked about Stan Lee's death

While the world mourned comic book legend Stan Lee's passing, Bill Maher took the opportunity to criticize the grieving fans and comic books, in general. "The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don't know, watch a movie, I guess," he wrote on his blog. "Personally, I'm grateful I lived in a world that included oxygen and trees, but to each his own." Maher added, "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."

Stan Lee's company, POW!, responded with an open letter to the talk show host, calling his commentary "disgusting." Maher didn't back down. On an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, he said, "I posted a blog that in no way was an attack on Mr. Lee, but took the occasion of his death to express my dismay at people who think comic books are literature and superhero movies are great cinema and who, in general, are stuck in an everlasting childhood." He added, "You can, if you want, like the exact same things you liked when you were ten, but if you do, you need to grow up. That was the point of my blog. I'm not glad Stan Lee is dead. I'm sad you're alive." 

He called David Hogg a 'bully'

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivor David Hogg's activism after the deadly shooting at his school made headlines — but not always the positive kind. When Fox News TV commentator Laura Ingraham accused Hogg of whining after getting some college rejection letters, Hogg responded by calling for a boycott of Ingram's advertisers. According to The New York Times, "at least eight" companies pulled ads from The Ingraham Angle, and she eventually apologized.

Bill Maher didn't like Hogg's approach. After prefacing that he believes Ingraham is "a deliberately terrible person" and praising the young activist for his work, Maher defended Ingraham's position by defending free speech (via Mediaite). "If you're going to be out there in the arena and make yourselves the champions of this cause people are going to have the right, I think, to argue back," Maher said, making it clear that he didn't think the boycott was an appropriate response. "[Hogg] complains about bullying? That's bullying!" Maher said. "I have been the victim of a boycott ... It is wrong. You shouldn't do this by team, you should do it by principle."

He blasted George Clooney's boycott

Sultan of Brunei Haji Hassanal Bolkiah made homosexuality punishable by death by stoning in 2019. In response, actor George Clooney wrote a column for Deadline urging Hollywood and the rest of the world to boycott nine luxury hotels owned by the Sultan's Brunei Investment Agency. "Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations? Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens?," the Ocean's Eleven star wrote. "I've learned over years of dealing with murderous regimes that you can't shame them. But you can shame the banks, the financiers and the institutions that do business with them and choose to look the other way."

Bill Maher blasted Clooney's boycott on Real Time. "Brunei has passed a law that you will be stoned to death if you are gay or committed adultery, and here we come back with the call from Hollywood celebrities to boycott the Beverly Hills Hotel," Maher said (via The Hollywood Reporter). "This really bothers me because it's chickens**t tokenism. What about Saudi Arabia? If you really want to get back at them, stop driving or using oil."