Unlikely duo Bill Maher, Megyn Kelly give #CancelCulture scolding it deserves

Unlikely duo Bill Maher, Megyn Kelly give #CancelCulture scolding it deserves
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One of the more fascinating interviews you'll see occurred Friday night between two people who have much more in common than might at first appear, HBO's progressive provocateur Bill MaherWilliam (Bill) MaherBill Maher to Joy Reid: 'Very nervous' about Biden's chances after GOP convention Bill Maher revives QAnon gag: 'I am Q' Oliver Stone, Bill Maher tangle on reliability of US intelligence on Russia: 'You think they're lying?' MORE and former Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

What made this conversation particularly interesting was the authenticity displayed by the two protagonists, particularly around the topic of #CancelCutlure. You've heard of #CancelCulture, of course: “The practice of no longer supporting people, especially celebrities, or products that are regarded as unacceptable or problematic,” is the official dictionary definition

Maher and Kelly are two big names who know this culture well. Maher via his firing from "Politically Incorrect" on ABC in 2002 and Kelly via her ousting from "Megyn Kelly Today" on NBC in 2018.

In Maher's case, he was seen as lauding the courage of terrorists for carrying out the 9/11 attacks by acting as suicide bombers willing to take their own lives, as opposed, in his view at the time, to the U.S. military relying on cruise missiles launched from ships out of harm's way.

"I was s**tcanned by ABC, you were s**tcanned by NBC," Maher told Kelly in Los Angeles on Friday night.

The s**canning of Kelly occurred 15 months ago, and it was about as limp and laughable as any seen on the network level.

The hot mess began after Kelly, during a panel discussion around #CancelCulture, lamented increasingly-banned costumes such as cowboys and indians. She then drifted into an unplanned discussion regarding wearing blackface as a costume for Halloween. 

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She suggested that blackface was fine when she was growing up in the ‘80s as long as you dressed up as a character, with the host citing "Real Housewives of New York" cast member Luann de Lesseps’s recent costume of choice – dressing as Diana Ross – as an example.

If you watch the tape of what quickly morphed into a huge controversy, there's one key tell why this comment was completely benign: The panel, and more importantly the live studio audience, doesn't even flinch when Kelly makes the comment in question: No gasps. No stunned reactions. Because what Kelly said was not only accurate, it was said with zero malice or racial implication. 

No matter. The host apologized twice, once on air where she was reduced to tears and once in a letter to staff. But by that point, the mob that is #cancelculture on social media, which hardly represents even a small fraction of the country, had her career in its sights.

Meanwhile NBC, looking to cut bait with its high-priced talent, got what it was looking for: An excuse. So why did NBC want out? One theory, and it's a good one, is that Kelly had used her show to interview alleged victims of former "Today" show host Matt LauerMatthew (Matt) Todd LauerComcast shareholders reject proposals for outside sexual harassment investigation at NBC Ronan Farrow fires back at Matt Lauer 'shoddy journalism' accusation: 'Just wrong' Megyn Kelly calls independent Tara Reade interview the 'wave of the future' MORE

NBC brass and some other hosts probably didn't appreciate that kind of journalism very much. So with the blackface excuse in hand, one that allowed the network to look morally superior in the process, Kelly's run at NBC was abruptly over in less than two years. Months later, photos of everyone from Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) to Canadian Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauCanada says former ambassador to US violated conflict-of-interest law No new Canadian COVID-19 deaths reported for first time since mid-March Trudeau announces millions for first 'Black Entrepreneurship Program' MORE dressed in, yep, blackface, entered the public domain. Many of those who screamed for Kelly to be ostracized from media for simply having a conversation about blackface didn't feel anything should happen to Northam or Trudeau for actually committing the act. 

“When that happened to you, I was angry for you, honestly," Maher told Kelly Friday night. "Because this cancel culture... when they do polls, they find, like, 80-90 percent of the people in this country hate this s**t. Even liberals hate this s**t. This is one reason why Trump got elected, because people hate political correctness so much that they’ll even take it in the mouth of a werewolf when he’s not politically correct," Maher continued.

"Because he's a fighter and that's the package it comes in," Kelly noted.

“I mean, you even apologized for something that I didn’t think was that awful,” Maher said to Kelly. “It’s like, why couldn’t you just say, ‘OK, I was a little inartful at how I expressed that, my bad, let’s move on with our lives.’ No. Instead it’s, you have to go away for all-time. Who are these perfect people who have never made any mistake?”

"My own take on it is the country's going through something right now," Kelly replied. "Marginalized groups are rising up and trying to find positions at the table. Equal positions. And that's a good thing ... the question is, how do you do it? Do we do it with grace and humanity and understanding that people make mistakes? And that we're all imperfect. And we're all going to screw up ... and we can't expect a perfect score of any person."

"The people who hate bullying are always bullying," Maher added.

Indeed. And fortunately, the influential people having this conversation includes President Obama, who has slammed #cancelculture. So has comedian Dave Chappelle.

"Try to guess who this is," Chappelle asked his audience in his panned-by-woke-critics-for-being-too-insensitive 2019 Netflix standup special, "Sticks and Stones."

“Uh, Duh… Hey, der, if you do anything wrong in your life, and I find out about it, I’m going to try take everything away from. I don’t care what I find out. It could be today, tomorrow, fifteen, twenty years from now — If I find out, you’re f***ng….duh…finished.”

“Who is that?” the comic asked again. “That’s you! That’s what the audience sounds like to me!”

Chappelle went on to host “Saturday Night Live” months later while never apologizing for being the same entertainer he's been since bursting on to the scene almost 20 years ago.

And maybe that's the trick.

As Maher said, the people who hate bullying are always bullying.

The best way to defeat a bully? Punch back. Hard.

The progressive Bill Maher sat down with the pragmatic Megyn Kelly on Friday. They share a talent you can't teach: Authenticity.

Maher's show will be back next week. Millions will watch.

Millions more should be watching Kelly. Because at a time when media is largely broken with the most unhinged getting ample airtime, a voice of sanity and reason like hers is undoubtedly back in high demand.

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill and co-host of "WOR Tonight with Joe Concha" weeknights on 710-WOR in New York. Follow him on Twitter @JoeConchaTV.