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‘Real Time’ Doesn’t Need to Go, But Bill Maher Should Be Fired (Opinion)

Variety logo Variety 6/3/2017 Maureen Ryan
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HBO should continue to air a roundtable show about current events, a forum for the witty and wise to air their views, complete with F-bombs.

But Bill Maher shouldn’t be part of it. Whether or not “Real Time” continues, Maher should be fired.

Not just for his indefensible use of the n-word on Friday’s edition of “Real Time.” Though, as last straws go, that’s more of an enormous hay bale. It’s beyond ridiculous to think that any white person, in public life or out of it, would think it’s acceptable to use that word. How can anyone take Maher seriously, on any topic, if he’s too oblivious, arrogant, and condescending to know that?

Use of that word by Maher was racist, full stop. And it’s just the latest in a very long string of racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic, and transphobic things Maher has said or tacitly encouraged (all of which makes his inevitable apology ring very hollow).

Months ago, he had the racist, sexist, hate-peddling clownshow Milo Yiannopoulos on his program, and that should have been a fireable offense. The views of the dangerously intolerant are not exactly hurting for outlets, especially given who our President is. But women and people of color who have had Milo’s number for years were not surprised to see their concerns dismissed. That happens a lot. White men of Maher’s age and class get away with being able to take the stance that they are speaking truth to power by entertaining certain brands of intolerant idiocy. That Maher speaks truth to power by chumming it up with repugnant men like Milo is debatable. That Maher is doing his cushy job from inside an enormous fortress of privilege is not.

Lines are being redrawn all over the place of late, and the shifting of popular opinion has caught many comics and commentators by surprise. Kathy Griffin provoked a whirlwind of her own with her recent antics, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all ultimately shakes out for her. She almost immediately lost her TV gig (the CNN New Year’s Eve show) over the Trump flap, and yet there’s a chance that Maher will not lose his job over a far more unacceptable act. That’s not the first or last time a woman will receive far harsher punishment than a man for her perceived transgression.

Griffin was making a satirical statement that may or may not have worked, depending on your taste or perspective. But Maher is a repeat offender, and he’s shown little remorse for his actions.

Political and social mores may be changing, but something else is going on. People who were voiceless and easily ignored now have more ways to speak up and speak out. Those who were never OK with offensive statements Maher has made over the years now have more ways to make their objections known. And the social media trends that empower them are joining their voices into a loud chorus.

So HBO has a choice: Stand by a host who has engaged in a pattern of racist and offensive statements.

Or, take this opportunity to jettison a frequently embarrassing asset — and start fresh. It would not just be a smart business move. During an era of rising hate crimes and open intolerance at the highest levels of American government, it could send a powerful statement about what matters to one of the most powerful media entities in the world.

Which side are you on, HBO?

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