Bill Maher sparked widespread condemnation after he used a racial slur on his HBO show Real Time on Friday night. The New York Times reports the offending line came while Maher was speaking with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse about teens and maturity and noted how adults in California dress up for Halloween. When he asked if that goes on in Nebraska, Sasse said it was "frowned upon," per CNN, prompting Maher to quip, "I’ve got to get to Nebraska more." Sasse replied, "You're welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us." To which Maher retorted, "Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n-----. No, it’s a joke." The audience reacted with groans and laughter, but Sasse ignored it. Shortly after the epithet was broadcast bleep-free, Twitter erupted in outrage.
"But really, @BillMaher has got to go. There are no explanations that make this acceptable," tweeted Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson. Across the political spectrum, alt-right commentator Jack Posobiec posted that "Racist Bill Maher must be fired and @BenSasse must be held accountable for his endorsement of the n-word." Maher didn't address the brewing controversy, and an HBO rep referred questions to the host's silent publicist. In a series of tweets, Sasse asserted that he wished he'd spoken up. "I'm a 1st Amendment absolutist," he wrote, adding that "free speech comes with a responsibility to speak up when folks use that word," which he concluded was "an attack on universal human dignity," adding, "Don't use it." (It's not the first time Maher has taken heat for on-air remarks.)