LOS ANGELES — Bill Maher used a racial slur on his live HBO show Friday night while talking with U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse.

The Republican senator was discussing his book "The Vanishing American Adult" and invited Maher to come to his home state of Nebraska and "work in the fields with us."

Maher responded, "Work in the fields? Senator, I'm a house (expletive)" as the audience both groaned and laughed. The comedian from River Vale, New Jersey, quickly added, "It's a joke."

HBO told the Hollywood Reporter Maher's use of the word was "completely unexcusable and tasteless."

The cable channel did not make the clip available on the show's website or social media but plenty of others posted it and offered their opinion about the gaffe with some calling for Maher to be fired.

The comedian on Saturday issued an apology:

“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.”

The Maher incident happened the same day comedian Kathy Griffin held a news conference to respond to backlash to a video of her lifting a bloodied, decapitated head of a Donald Trump effigy. Griffin quickly deleted the video and apologized but was fired from CNN and lost other gigs as a result.

Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, tweeted to both Maher and Griffin that "great comedians make us think and laugh. When our humanity is the punchline, it hurts too much to think or laugh."

In a separate tweet he said, "neither history nor comedy gives you the right to use a vile slur as violent 1 liner."

Sasse was also criticized for not immediately responding but later posted a series of tweets in which he offered three "reflections" about the incident.

"Me just cringing last night wasn’t good enough," Sasse tweeted, adding that he wished he had thought to ask Maher in the moment why he thought it was OK to use the word.

"The history of the n-word is an attack on universal human dignity. It’s therefore an attack on the American Creed. Don't use it," Sasse tweeted.


Maher, a member of the Pascack Hills High School class of 1974, was fired by ABC from his show "Politically Incorrect" after making what many believed was an insensitive remark following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

HBO hired him in 2003 and has renewed the show through the 2018 season. Unlike ABC, HBO is a subscription service does not have advertisers.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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