Bill Maher is no stranger to courting political controversy in fiery monologues on his HBO show, but his latest about the ongoing situation in Afghanistan was a bridge too far for some viewers.
During Friday’s episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, the comedian and host issued a nearly eight-minute rebuke of people who complain about America, using the situation in Afghanistan as a springboard for his political rant. The predominant takeaway from the comedian’s segment seemed to be that people who are complaining about issues he deems minor in America, such as what professors are teaching on college campuses or institutional racism, pale in comparison to what the Afghan people are dealing with.
Bill Maher went on to cite even more world humanitarian issues in other countries before engaging in the age-old argument of telling people who aren’t completely satisfied with the American way of life to go to another country.
Bill Maher’s rant didn’t sit well with many on social media, who derided the comedian for essentially advocating for a lack of progress simply because other people in different parts of the world have it worse, essentially advocating for American activists to stand down until the world catches up. He also caught severe backlash from many on social media who noted that his segment almost completely ignored the United States’ culpability in the current situation the people of Afghanistan find themselves in.
Still, others praised Bill Maher, noting that their personal patriotism doesn’t exactly jive with things like the murder of comedian Nazar Mohammad Khasha. The Washington Post reports that Khasha, who made videos on TikTok and worked as a police officer, was kidnapped from his Kandahar home, tortured, and eventually executed. Maher noted in his monologue that this “hit close to home” for him as a comedian and several of his defenders on social media agreed.
Like the host, they argued that the comedian’s critics could have ended up like Khasha if they weren’t born in the United States. Most of the defenders seemingly failed to grasp the beginning of Maher’s rant in which he criticized the American right for having an “overly-sentimental” affection for the United States that often renders them blind to the nuance of the country’s issues — rendering them incapable of helping with them.
Still, others very much picked up the ball Bill Maher dropped about not criticizing America at all as long as other places have it worse, and ran with it. The debate that sparked on social media between people defending Maher’s comments (and subsequently America) and those who were arguing that he dismissed key facts about the country both here and abroad, led to his name trending on Twitter Saturday with the clip circulating far and wide.
Regardless of where viewers fall on the political spectrum, it seems the debate has less to do with differing ideologies and more to do with identifying where Bill Maher’s writing and “joke telling” falls short. On the one hand, one can be critical of America without having to fall to their knees acknowledging how much better people in the U.S. have it than in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the fact that America is indeed a prosperous country for what are undoubtedly positive reasons stemming from its people’s character. The catch is not letting the latter render potential activists inert to the former.