UPDATED with video: Bill Maher says he intends to give the commencement speech at Berkeley’s December graduation ceremony and challenged liberal college students nationwide to condemn an effort by the Berkeley student group that invited and then tried to un-invite him, because “my reputation isn’t on the line. Yours is.”
Maher, earlier this week, had announced via Twitter that he would not comment until tonight’s broadcast of his HBO late-night show, on the effort by some University of California Berkeley students to uninvited him as their 2014 fall commencement speaker.
“All week long I’ve had all these requests for interviews about this…I said I would save it for HBO – because they pay me,” Maher began, on tonight’s edition of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.
A group of undergrads at the University of California tasked with selecting the commencement speaker last August invited the outspoken, politically minded, avowed atheist comic/TV show host to deliver their December commencement speech. But after he made provocative comments on his October show to which they objected, that committee of undergrads, who call themselves The Californians, voted to withdraw the invitation they had extended to Maher. The very next day, UC Berkeley told The Californians to peel an eel, because, “This university has not in the past, and will not in the future, shy away from hosting speakers who some deem provocative.”
“The UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher’s opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech,” the school said in a statement, adding that “the administration’s position on Mr. Maher’s opinions and perspectives is irrelevant in this context.”
“I’m happy to do it…. because,though I never attended Berkeley, I was very aware of their place in the American debate — on the far left,” Maher said tonight, wryly.
“And, in a country where the Democratic party has sold out to the center, and even the right, this is what is needed – this is why I wanted to accept this invitation. And invited ME because it was 50th anniversary of something that is legendary on that campus: the Berkley free speech movement. I guess they don’t teach irony in college any more,” he added.
In that October 3 program, Maher had said Islam “is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book.” This comment inspired the launch of a petition on Change.org to have Maher yanked as commencement speaker, complaining, “Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for,” and that, “In a time where climate is a priority for all on campus, we cannot invite an individual who himself perpetuates a dangerous learning environment.”
It reached 4,000 signatures.
“We had a discussion about Islam that I’ve had 1,001 nights with a lot of other people — but [Affleck’s] an A-list movie star, so now our very deep media started to care about it,” Maher said tonight, angrily adding, “It’s always easy to do a story about somebody being mad at somebody.”
He added, in a message to The Californians: “Whoever told you you only had to hear what didn’t upset you?”
Maher expressed appreciation for the University, which “has come down on my side, saying what I’d hoped they’d say all along, which is that ‘We’re liberals — we’re supposed to like free speech’.”
Before tonight’s broadcast, petition creator Khwaja Ahmed urged viewers to “Tweet #NoMaher #RealTime (the show hashtag) during the show and show that the Berkeley and national community will not condone the celebration of hate on campuses across the country.”
“We need you to show your support for this cause and let Bill Maher know where you stand on this issue,” Ahmed said on his petition’s Change.org page.
Maher, in turn, delivered his own call to action.
“So, here’s my final plea to you LIBERAL — in the truest sense of the word — college students, not just at Berkeley but all over the country: Please, weigh in on this. My reputation isn’t on the line. Yours is.”
And then, this happened: