Maher had come under fire for booking Yiannopoulos, an openly gay, self-described libertarian who once led a Twitter campaign to trash comedian Leslie Jones after her appearance in the “Ghostbusters” reboot. One of Maher’s previously scheduled panelists, journalist Jeremy Scahill, refused to appear alongside Yiannopoulos, writing that the show gave the Breitbart editor “a large, important platform to openly advocate his racist, anti-immigrant campaign.”
Maher said he didn’t see it that way. At the start of his conversation with Yiannopoulos, the host explained: “I think you’re colossally wrong. But if I banned everyone from my show who I thought was colossally wrong, I’d be talking to myself.”
Maher’s guest agreed, saying, “If you don’t show up to debate, you lose.”
Yiannopoulos, in pearls, camo pants and stacked bracelets, quickly taunted Maher’s audience with sweeping negative statements about gays and women, laughing when the crowd booed. “I’m kidding,” he chided. “You’re very easily triggered. It’s pathetic.”
Then the conversation shifted to an easygoing back-and-forth about the role of unfiltered comedy in a freethinking society. “Humor’s what drives people together, not breaks them apart,” Yiannopoulos said.
But when he insulted Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman — comics Yiannopoulos said he admired, until they “contracted feminism” — Maher checked him. Same for Yiannopoulos’s derision of Lena Dunham, but for a different reason. “Let’s not bash fellow HBO stars,” Maher joked.
Finally, Maher advised Yiannopoulos, who is British, to “get off the Trump train.”
“For a guy who loves free speech,” he said, “you picked a weird boyfriend.”
But Yiannopoulos didn’t take any real heat until he met Maher’s other panelists.
After a debate about the laws restricting transgender people from using certain bathrooms, during which Yiannopoulos suggested that transgender people “have a psychiatric disorder,” he went on to insult Maher’s guests, specifically comedian Larry Wilmore and former U.S. intelligence officer Malcolm Nance. “You always invite such awful people on your show. They’re so stupid,” Yiannopoulos told Maher. “You need to start inviting higher IQ guests or this is going to be a disaster.”
This provoked a swift response from Wilmore: “You can go f— yourself, all right?”
Wilmore also voiced a defense of Jones, saying the Saturday Night Live star is not “barely literate,” as Yiannopoulos had once written. “Go f— yourself for that one, okay?”
A few minutes later, after Yiannopoulos said he preferred Russian spies to Saudis, Nance asked, “Are you American?”
“No, he’s not American,” Maher answered.
“Oh! F— off,” Nance responded.
When Maher expressed confusion over how so many ultraconservative Americans had made a flamboyant British man their ideological leader, Yiannopoulus explained that many had not.
“The worst people on the very far left and the very far right hate me,” he said.
Wilmore had the perfect rejoinder to that: “I think you’re leaving out a lot of people.”