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Bill Maher Draws Backlash for Using the N-Word on 'Real Time'

The 'Real Time' host drew backlash when he used the n-word while joking with Sen. Ben Sasse.
Image: Real Time with Bill Maher
Real Time with Bill Maher.Janet Van Ham / HBO

Late-night host Bill Maher drew backlash Friday when he said the n-word during a live taping of his HBO show “Real Time.”

The comedian used the racial slur during an exchange with Sen. Ben Sasse, after the congressman invited the 61-year-old to visit him in Nebraska.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.”

“Work in the fields?” Maher responded sarcastically. “Senator … I’m a house n*****.”

(The video in the tweet below includes the uncensored exchange.)

The quip drew a few laughs and several audible groans from Maher’s live audience. Sasse appeared uncomfortable with the joke, but Maher continued with the segment.

But on Twitter, the outcry was near immediate. Many users called for the comedian's show to be canceled, while others pointed out that Maher has a history of toeing the line between comedy and insensitivity toward race and religion.

Maher issued a statement Saturday afternoon apologizing for the comment, adding that he lost sleep over the joke.

"Friday nights are always my worst night of sleep because I'm up reflecting on this I should or shouldn't have said on my life show," Maher said. "Last night was 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."

But the comedian has a reputation for making bold and controversial statements about race, religion and politics. His ABC talk show "Politically Incorrect" was canceled in 2003 after he agreed with a guest who said the 9/11 terrorists were not cowards. And he recently came under fire for inviting Milo Yiannopoulous to his show, which critics said gave the provocateur a platform to promote his controversial views.

An HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer called the joke "completely inexcusable and tasteless."

"We are removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show," he said.

Larry King came to Maher's defense, saying on Twitter that he's been friends with the comic for years "and there's not a racist bone in his body. Let's accept his apology and move on."

For his part, Sasse responded in a series of tweets early Saturday morning. The senator called himself a First Amendment “absolutist” but lamented the fact that he didn’t speak up after Maher made the joke.

"Here's what I wish I’d been quick enough to say in the moment: 'Hold up, why would you think it’s OK to use that word?'" Sasse tweeted.