On Friday night, Bill Maher welcomed an unlikely guest to Real Time: BJ Novak, writer/co-star, bestselling author and filmmaker of Office.
Novak attended the HBO program to promote his directorial debut Vengeance, an indie spiralball about an opportunistic New York City journalist/podcaster who ventures to Red State Texas to investigate the death of a former flame . So, of course, Maher tried to engage Novak on a number of sensitive cultural issues related to the political divide in that country.
Maher began by asking Novak about “the cognitive dissonance of, I disagree with you politically, but I like you personally…how can we do this nationally en masse?”
“In my opinion, it’s more about emotion than argument, and I think it’s about stopping us from picking at the scab on anything that we disagree about,” Novak explained calmly. “Twitter is a drug for that, and when we’re apart behind screens, we pick the scabs, we bite the cankers of things we disagree on. And I think if we all try to do that less and focus on things like comedy, sports, art or whatever, or sit down at dinner, I think that’s a start.”
The audience gave Novak a round of applause, which made Maher grin sheepishly.
Then Maher delved into the so-called “abandon culture,” which in this case encompassed the notion that Twitter-satisfied viewers somehow censor Hollywood productions, and not the other way around.
“We’ve talked a lot about freedom in the arts on this show lately — we’re going to talk about that tonight,” Maher offered, before continuing, “You know, you wrote a few episodes of … The Office that they do now.” do not show. I see Jamie Foxx’s new movie has been put on hold – I’m guessing he shot it a few years ago but they’ll never show it. They do less comedy. I mean you found a way to make comedy about something, but I’m sure you have to be very careful about a lot of different things. They make less because it’s not worth even trying. Where are you in?”
Novak wasn’t that convinced by Maher’s theory. “I think there’s a difference between the gatekeepers and the audience — and I think you see that firsthand as a stand-up. The audience, I think, is pretty down for everything,” he said. “They’re pretty smart people who can be trusted a lot more than the gatekeepers sometimes worry. The gatekeepers are concerned about the gossip in their own spheres, but I think the audience can be trusted to be pretty smart.”
“But that’s out of the hands of the audience,” Maher shot back.
“I mean that,” Novak replied. “I mean, I don’t think the problem is that the audience is too sensitive. I think the problem is that people worry that others are too sensitive.”
Maher was speechless.
The Office episode controversy mentioned by Maher could use a little context. He was referring to an episode of The Office, “Diversity Day,” which Comedy Central decided to skip from an office marathon on its network. The episode is still available on streaming services and for purchase, so clearly this was a decision made by the gatekeepers and not the audience as Novak claimed.
As for Jamie Foxx’s directorial debut, All-Star Weekend, which the actor claims has been postponed indefinitely due to sensitivities towards Robert Downey Jr., who plays a Mexican in the film, well, the film has already been Filmed in 2016, and apparently that featured Foxx as a white racist cop and Downey Jr. as a Mexican. The film was originally scheduled for release in February 2018, timed to coincide with NBA All-Star Weekend, but was not completed in time. Its release date was then pushed back a year to NBA All-Star Weekend 2019, but still not completed in time. All-Star Weekend’s release was subsequently pushed back to late 2019 and then 2021, but is now apparently on hold. We don’t know if this has to do with the quality of the film or other factors, but rest assured it’s the studio’s decision.
One key piece of information that Maher conveniently didn’t mention regarding All-Star Weekend is that Jeremy Piven has second billing on the film in addition to his obvious post-production issues. In late 2017 and early 2018, eight women accused Piven of sexual misconduct.