The HBO late-night host Bill Maher apologized on Saturday for using a racial epithet during an interview with Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, on a live broadcast of his show on Friday night. HBO denounced the remark as “completely inexcusable and tasteless,” and said it would be edited out of future airings.
Shortly after 10 p.m. on Friday, Mr. Maher, the comedian and host of HBO’s “Real Time,” was talking to Mr. Sasse on his program about the boundaries between adolescence and maturity, and how adults in California still dress up for Halloween.
When Mr. Sasse said this did not happen in his state, Mr. Maher said, “I’ve got to get to Nebraska more.”
Mr. Sasse replied: “You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.”
Mr. Maher said: “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger. No, it’s a joke.”
Some audience members were heard to groan while others clapped. Neither Mr. Maher nor Mr. Sasse addressed the comments further at the time, and the conversation moved to other subjects.
Mr. Maher said Saturday in a statement: “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.”
HBO issued its own statement on Saturday, saying, “Bill Maher’s comment last night was completely inexcusable and tasteless. We are removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show.”
The episode comes at a highly charged political moment, and at a time when comedians are facing increasing scrutiny for the political content of their material.
Last month, Stephen Colbert, the host of “The Late Show” on CBS, was criticized for a crude monologue joke he made that implied a sexual relationship between President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
And this week, CNN ended its association with Kathy Griffin, the comedian and co-host of its annual New Year’s Eve program, after she appeared in a photograph holding what looked like Mr. Trump’s bloody, decapitated head. (Ms. Griffin has since apologized. Her lawyers say she is being investigated by the Secret Service.)
Mr. Maher was swiftly condemned for his remark, in posts and comments that reverberated on social media in the minutes and hours after the interview.
Prominent entertainers called on HBO to fire Mr. Maher. The hip-hop star Chance the Rapper wrote on his Twitter account, “Please HBO Do Not Air Another Episode Of Real Time With Bill Maher.”
Before his tenure on HBO, Mr. Maher hosted the late-night talk show “Politically Incorrect” on Comedy Central and on ABC. He has been criticized for comments he made on that program, including an episode on Sept. 17, 2001, in which, while discussing the 9/11 hijackers, he said, “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”
Other commenters on social media posted tweets asking why Mr. Sasse did not take issue with Mr. Maher’s remarks right away.
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