Bill Maher on Berkeley Speech Controversy: "They Don't Teach Irony in College Anymore"

The HBO host is under fire for comments about Islam
Janet Van Ham/HBO

Bill Maher has broken his silence about a controversy surrounding plans for him to speak at Berkeley's commencement in December. 

"Though I never attended Berkeley, I was very aware of their place in the debate — on the far left," Maher said on Friday's Real Time. "In a country where the Democratic Party has sold out to the center and the right, this is what is needed. This is why I wanted to accept."

But a group of Berkeley students started a petition asking the university to rescind Maher's invitation, citing a heated exchange he had with Ben Affleck over Islam. In the controversial Oct. 3 segment, Maher and author Sam Harris suggested that liberals are afraid to criticize abuses against women and minorities in the Muslim world because they fear being accused of Islamophobia. 

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On Friday's episode, Maher noted that he was invited to speak in part to mark the 50th anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech movement, adding drolly, "I guess they don't teach irony in college anymore."

He said the Affleck segment was the type of conversation they'd had "1,001" times on Real Time, but because Affleck is an "A-list movie star," the media started to care.

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"Whoever told you you only had to hear what didn't upset you?" Maher said in reference the angry students.

He added that he wants to come, and the only reason he would pull out of giving the speech is if his presence would turn the graduation into a media circus and detract attention from the graduates.

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"Here's my final plea to you liberal college students," he said. "Please, weigh in on this. My reputation isn't on the line. Yours is." 

In the segment with Affleck, Maher said Islam "acts like the Mafia" and "will kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book."

Affleck called those statements racist, and some Berkeley students agreed. Berkeley, however, did not take back their invitation, with the administration citing its dedication to free speech but also cautioning that inviting Maher was not an endorsement of his statements, past or present. 

Here's the original segment:

Twitter: @AaronCouch 

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