The very best comedians are unscripted. They are members of a small group of people who have the exquisite ability to move freely from conscious (socialized) thought to spontaneous, unsocialized and unscreened thought. So it is with Bill Maher.

Is he a bigot? Not a bit more than anyone over the age of 50, born in the United States. Slavery happened. Mass murder of native Americans happened. Eugenics happened. Each of these travesties has language embedded in them that is a part of anyone who lived through them.

Comedians who ply their craft live are at risk of saying something offensive all the time. The genius of comedy must not be held hostage because there are occasional eruptions of unconscious memories that so many of us share.

The audience laughed because they share in those memories. Many are embarrassed, as likely is Maher, by the sudden recognition of what lies within. A sincere apology should suffice when “slips” such as Maher’s occur.

Discussion of repressed feelings would help to free us from residual prejudice.

Hubert Kauffman, Oxford, clinical psychologist

Editor’s note: During HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” broadcast live on June 2, Maher used a racial slur during an interview with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse. Maher has since apologized to his audience.

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