Bill Maher, the comedian who hosts the HBO program "Real Time with Bill Maher," is facing controversy after a monologue that was perceived as insulting residents of red states despite ostensibly arguing for their economic interests.
On Friday night Maher argued that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who scrapped a plan to build a second Amazon headquarters in New York City earlier this month, should create that facility in an economically impoverished Middle American city that (in Maher's mind) really needs it.
"Bezos, you’re worth $130 billion. Take one for the team! Stop playing cities off against one another and help a dying one come back to life," Maher scolded the corporate executive. He also compared him unfavorably to infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel, who Maher argued transformed Las Vegas into the bustling metropolis that it is today despite that city having few prospects prior to the middle of the 20th century.
While this argument may not have been controversial on its own terms – few would necessarily disagree with Maher that "we have a problem in America called spatial geographic inequality, which means that the most affluent and educated people are clustered in just a few cities" — Maher also made a number of jokes about the red states that have become controversial.
"Maybe that has something to do with why Trump voters are obsessed with ‘owning the libs,’ because the libs own everything else," Maher joked at one point, adding that "the blue parts of America are having a big prosperity party, while that big sea of red feels like their invitation got lost in the mail — and they still use the mail."
On another occasion he joked, "That’s why red state voters are so pissed off. They don’t hate us, they want to be us. They want to go the party. It’s like we’re the British royal family and they’re Meghan Markle’s dad."
He also quipped that there are "no red carpets in Wyoming," that they only wear Target, that "we have chef Wolfgang Puck, they have Chef Boyardee" and that "our roofs have solar panels, theirs have last year’s Christmas lights." Liberals and conservatives alike congregated on Twitter to denounce his condescending attitude toward Middle America.
Maher also discussed the revelation that Jussie Smollett, the former co-star on the hit Fox show "Empire," is alleged to have faked a racist and homophobic hate crime against himself. After arguing that this was because "there’s nothing more powerful than being a victim" in modern America, the comedian argued that "I feel like we’ve gone from this place where I hear people say, ‘Victims should be believed.’ Victims should be taken seriously. Victims should not always be believed. Take you seriously – that’s a big difference, but we seem to have skipped that step because we always do."