Here’s Why Bill Maher’s Comparison of Milo Yiannopoulos to Joan Rivers Is Problematic
On Friday night, Bill Maher closed his controversial interview of Milo Yiannopoulos with a few Joan Rivers jokes, making a comparison between the alt-right hate-spewer and the legendary comedienne.
Can we talk?
As horrible as Yiannopoulos has proven himself to be, in the interests of free speech, there’s no inherent problem with Maher inviting the Breitbart editor onto his HBO show, Real Time, to spar like adults. A creature like Yiannopoulos should be documented—by mainstream media and LGBTQ media alike. Maher regularly provides a platform to those with whom he disagrees—most famously (and regularly) Ann Coulter, another hated persona of the far-right—and typically makes great television out of shutting them down and making them appear foolish.
But Friday’s episode—and Maher’s interest in intelligent debate and uncovering the truth—ultimately fell short.
The biggest problem with Friday’s episode is that Maher had a golden opportunity to really call Yiannopoulos out, but instead their one-on-one was full of ego-stroking and courting more resembling a circle jerk than real talk.
Most problematic was the TV host’s conclusion. Maher ended his interview by drawing focus to the jokes of the iconic Joan Rivers:
These are some things Joan Rivers said, who, by the way, when she died, Obama—the liberal president that we all love—commented—[and presidents] don’t comment unless they are a national treasure—he said, “Not only did she make us laugh; she made us think.” Here is what she said on Michelle Obama: “Blackie-O. You know Michelle is a tranny.” On Robin Quivers: “Bitch, you look like a fucking mudslide.” “I hate Houston! It’s crawling with bugs. Oh wait, that’s Whitney Houston.” That’s the person we find to be a national treasure! I am just saying, the line is kind of blurred.
But the line is not blurred.
Rivers was a stand-up comic. Yiannopoulos is a political pundit and journalist. There’s a difference. While Rivers worked in comedy clubs, Yiannopoulos’ speaking tours take him to college campuses.
But let’s dig in here.
Yiannopoulos’ humor doesn’t work because it’s not intended to be humorous. As he did Friday on HBO, Yiannopoulos spews hate against transgender people and their “identity issues,” when in reality he’s the one having an identity crisis. Yiannopoulos throws his support behind an administration and political party that is virulently anti-LGBT. Quite simply, he regularly argues against his own interests and the interests of his “community.”
Rivers was a comic, paid to make people laugh. She believed the only way a comic could successfully make fun of one group is by making fun of every group. And she did this; no one was safe from her pen. But unlike Yiannopoulos, Rivers didn’t actually believe people should be discriminated against.
Maher ending his interview with three out-of-context Joan Rivers jokes is insulting to her legacy, and comparing her to Yiannopoulos plants a seed that what the latter is doing should be considered acceptable.
I regret that Rivers isn’t around today to make fun of Yiannopoulos. She would have found a gold mine of material and let him have it. Thankfully, comedian Larry Wilmore—formerly of Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show—was on Maher’s panel on Friday night, and during Overtime (the YouTube after-show of Real Time), he gave us all a taste of the candor Rivers made famous.
The below back-and-forth occurred after Yiannopolous condemned the fight of transgender individuals to use the bathrooms of their gender identity and intentionally mis-gendered the trans student who brought her university to court for sex discrimination, saying, “I think women and girls should be protected from having men who are confused about their sexual identities in their bathrooms” (to which Maher ignorantly replied “That’s not unreasonable” as if that’s what the discussion is really about here).
Wilmore: I think it’s sad. The same arguments that were used against gay people—people treating them like aliens who just want to fuck anything that moves, and that’s why we should avoid them at all costs—
Wilmore: No, let me finish my thought, please.
[The crowd applauds]
Wilmore: It’s true. There’s a difference without a distinction, because it’s using the same type of arguments. It’s like when people try to compare gay and black. Yeah, they’re not the same thing. We shared invisibility. You know, people didn’t see us in society, and gay people hid out from society. But there were a lot of the same issues that you have to deal with when you’re marginalized. So the attack—you can always find an extreme person that becomes the object of your attack and assign that to everybody. So if you say, “Well, that person is weird,” or “They want to commit sexual assault,” then everyone thinks all transgender people want to do is commit sexual assault.
Yiannopoulos: Well, they are disproportionately involved in those kinds of crimes.
Maher: They’re what?
Yiannopoulos: Vastly disproportionately involved in sex crimes.
[The crowd rumbles, and you can hear audience members say “bullshit” and “liar.” To be clear, as The Daily Beast has pointed out, trans people are “disproportionately involved” in sex crimes—as the victims, which is something Yiannopoulos was most likely well aware of.]
Yiannopoulos: That’s not a controversial statistic, and frankly, you’re suggesting these people are the victims of some kind of discrimination. Well, I’m saying to you this is a psychiatric disorder, like identity disorder or like sociopathy.
Wilmore: I didn’t say dscrimination; you said discrimination. I said marginalization.
Yiannopoulos: I don’t want these people around little girls in bathrooms! It’s terrifying.
Wilmore: This is what I said: The same arguments were used against gay people. You should do your homework. Homosexuality was called a “disorder.” It was a “psychological disorder.”
Yiannopoulos: Maybe it is. I feel a little “disordered.”
Wilmore: Maybe you are, but most homosexuals are not.
[The crowd applauds again]
Things became heated, though, when Yiannopoulos turned to Maher and derided his fellow panelists as “awful people,” “stupid,” with “low IQs,” to which Wilmore brilliantly responded, “You can go fuck yourself” to uproarious applause. He also put Yiannopoulos in his place by referring to his “pathetic, douchey little ass.”
Before the segment ends, Wilmore tells Yiannopoulos to “go fuck yourself again” for comments the alt-right monster had made about Saturday Night Live and Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, and fellow panelist Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. Navy Officer and spy, tells Yiannopoulos to “fuck off” as well.
Watch for yourself below:
That is the legacy of Joan Rivers. At least it was alive and well with one person on the Real Time panel, but what a shame that person wasn’t Maher himself.