Those offended by Bill Maher’s use of the n-word (-ga, not -ger) on HBO’s Real Time are missing his intention completely. Context matters.
First, nothing in comedy is off-limits, as long as the punchline is effective. There’s Louis CK, who has publicly used the n-word (-ger) in many of his stand-up specials, along with making effective jokes about his daughter’s dirty vaginas, raping his father, little boys’ penises, and murdering young children. Taken out of context, these topics in written form would seem inconceivable to make into a joke, let alone garner laughter. But he makes it work.
Dark humor is the most challenging to comedians, because if the joke isn’t effective, it comes off as cruel, offensive and risks the ending of their career, see Kathy Griffin. Therefore, the burden of effective deliver is much higher for comedians to make a dark joke work.
Intelligent people understand dark humor the most. We are able to look deeper than the “offensive” exterior into the underlying social commentary on which the joke is based.
Those who are outraged over Bill Maher’s use of the N-word must completely miss the point of his joke. Maher was not displaying racism, but quite the contrary, he was mocking racism.
He was satirizing a all-to-common conversation that has taken place in slave days. During slavery, their were field slaves and house slaves. Field slaves maintained the plantation, while house slaves did the laundry and cleaning. The Republican senator Maher was interviewing set him up perfectly for joke: “You should come work in in the fields with us.”
To which Maher replied, “work the fields? But I’m a house nigga!” Maher was satirizing the atrocities of slave history. In other words, he was mocking the fact that a situation like this once existed in American history, and illustrating how ridiculous it sounds today.
Here’s the other point many people are missing. Maher’s joke was also directed at the interviewee. Maher’s response jokingly implies that it was the Republican Senator’s remark “work in the fields” had racist undertones.
Many say, “But if a Republican said the word the media would’ve shunned them.” Possibly, but intent matters. Maher was comfortable saying the word because he’s comfortable knowing he is not a racist, and has been a champion for the black community for years. A conservative with questionable views on race is going to be more careful to let that word slip in a public setting.
Maher’s remark was intended to illustrate the pitfalls of racism – and yet, he is the one accused of making a racist remark. Talk about irony.