During an appearance on the SiriusXM radio show “Alter Family Politics,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) talked at length about Bill Maher and the “Real Time” host’s recent controversial use of the “n-word.” This was the first time Franken spoke candidly about the matter after HuffPost announced he was canceling his upcoming appearance on “Real Time.”
“He’s not a racist,” Franken said on “Alter Family Politics.” “I don’t think he’s a racist. But I think he just used a word that white people have no business using and he should know that.”
“Alter Family Politics” co-host Jonathan Alter asked Franken if he would likely return as a guest to “Real Time” in the future.
“Yeah, I expect so,” Franken responded. “Sure.”
The show provided a transcript to HuffPost of the relevant exchange between Franken, Alter and co-host Emily Lazar:
Lazar: Just to follow up quickly on the Bill Maher episode this week. You canceled going on that show. And you know as well as anyone that comedians cross a line for a living.
Sen. Franken: Yeah, that’s a line that he should have known. He’s been around long enough to know that that’s not a word white people can use. It just is not. And he should have known that. And look, I’ve known Bill for years. He’s a friend of mine. I just didn’t want to sit around for four to five days being attacked for going on the show before I went on the show. And frankly, I know how the show works. He does a monologue and then he speaks to the guest, so I would have been the guest he speaks to. Am I the right person to be talking to? So instead they got Michael Eric Dyson.
Alter: And Ice Cube, which would be perfect.
Sen. Franken: Ice Cube, but I’m talking about the first guest. So, Michael Eric Dyson is someone who has thought a lot about this stuff, and he’s a professor at Georgetown. I think that’s better for the show, frankly.
Lazar: But you’ve known him for years. This was crossing a line … but is there any way in the world Bill Maher is a racist?
Sen. Franken: No! He’s not a racist. I don’t think he’s a racist. But I think he just used a word that white people have no business using and he should know that. But again, he’s a friend of mine and that was hard for me. I mean, it wasn’t that hard. But it wasn’t a comfortable feeling I had calling up Scott Carter and telling him, “Look, I can’t do this.”
Alter: Do you think you’ll go on the show again after a decent interval?
Sen. Franken: Yeah, I expect so. Sure.
A spokesperson for Franken initially told HuffPost earlier this week that despite considering Maher a friend, he found the use of the “n-word” to be unacceptable.
“Senator Franken believes that what Bill Maher said was inappropriate and offensive, which is why he made the decision not to appear on the next episode of ‘Real Time,’” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “He was glad to see Bill, who the Senator considers to be a good friend, apologize and express sincere regret for his comment.”
The controversy began last Friday, when Maher joked on “Real Time” that he was a “house n****r.” Maher was in conversation with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who had jokingly invited Maher to “work in the fields” of his represented state.
After the intense backlash, Maher apologized and called his use of the racial slur “offensive.”
Georgetown University sociology professor and author Michael Eric Dyson will replace Franken on the upcoming episode of “Real Time.” Dyson, who is black, denounced Maher’s use of the term, but defended the comedian as “a champion of many fights for black justice.”
The other originally scheduled guests appear to still be attending. A representative for Ice Cube told HuffPost he would still do the show, but would use the opportunity to question the word choice. Symone Sanders, an activist and former national press secretary for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, told HuffPost she plans to attend with a similar goal.
Former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) will be present in direct opposition to Franken’s choice.
“Politics is the arena where hard issues are confronted, and as [Theodore Roosevelt] said, faces get a little dusty,” Jolly wrote in an email to HuffPost. “We need more politicians with the courage to get in the arena, instead of sitting out tough debates in the name of self-preservation.”
Journalist David Gregory is still formally scheduled to be on the program, as well.