UPDATE with video Bill Maher didn’t exactly go easy on his pal Al Franken tonight, spending much of the opening monologue and a big chunk of Real Time’s season finale tossing joke grenades at the Minnesota senator. But the HBO host drew a hard line between the former Saturday Night Live staffer and the ever-growing gang of famous abusers and grabbers.
Maher then described the scandal – the photo of Franken “mock-groping” Leeann Tweeden, then writing and demanding a rehearsal of a sketch calling for a kiss. “Al’s a friend,” Maher said, “but Al I gotta tell you, if you write a comedy sketch where you, Al Franken, kiss a model and the next line of dialogue isn’t ‘Get off of me, creepy,’ it’s not comedy, it’s science fiction.” (Watch Maher’s monologue below.)
Jokes out of the way, Maher got to his point: “He did a bad thing and the condemnation has been universal, which he deserves. What he doesn’t deserve is to be lumped in with Roy Moore. Or Kevin Space. Or Harvey Weinstein. Or Donald Trump, who calls his accusers liars, threatens to sue them, did long riffs at his rallies where he said they were too ugly for him to assault.
“Plus, with Al Franken we’re talking about one incident. Trump has 16 accusers. Roy Moore has nine. Roy Moore spent more time chatting up young girls at the mall than Santa Claus.”
Franken came up again later in the show when comedian and activist Chelsea Handler joined the panel and noted that Franken, facing one allegation, took responsibility, while Trump pretends he’s going to sue his accusers. (Watch the segment above.)
“I agree with you on Al Franken,” Handler said. “I’m sorry, he’s not a predator. Everybody who’s met him knows that’s not true. He made a mistake. He’s not a predator.”
Maher then challenged this afternoon’s cable news wisdom that Franken should resign, decrying a culture that doesn’t know “the difference between zero tolerance and maximum punishment.”
At which point panelist Rebecca Traister, a writer for New York Magazine and author of All the Single Ladies, took the mic, metaphorically speaking, and dropped it, all in one long, breath-free and beautifully worded speech. Carl Bernstein, environmental activist Bill McKibben and author Max Brooks were also on the show, but Traister deserves all of the last words here:
“To focus on what the punishment is going to be,” she said about the harassers, “is on some level an easier conversation to have, because then we get to fight about it. ‘Should he resign?’ – and then we get to go to our partisan battle stations.
“(That’s easier) than actually looking at the more difficult conversation, which is about the whole culture, a culture that empowers white men to abuse their power in a million ways, from the villainous predators to the fact that there is a sense of humor that we all understand in this country, that if a woman is asleep it’s funny to grab her t*ts. And that a man can gain power and stature and a place in the public sphere by profiting from that comedy.
“That doesn’t make him the same as Harvey Weinstein, but it’s not about him. It’s about reckoning with the fact that we make that culture, we participate in that culture, it’s our good politicians, it’s our friends, it’s our husbands, and it’s ourselves. That is a harder conversation to have and it’s the one we should be having about this moment, not ‘Should he resign…”
Watch the panel segment above, and Maher’s opening monologue below.
Real Time With Bill Maher returns to the HBO line-up on January 19.