On Friday night, Bill Maher welcomed an unlikely guest to… real time: BJ Novak, de Office writer/co-star, bestselling author and filmmaker.
Novak attended the HBO program to promote his feature film debut Revenge, an indie screwball about an opportunistic New York City journalist/podcaster who ventures to the state of Texas to investigate the death of a former flame. So of course Maher tried to involve Novak in some current cultural issues related to the political divide in this country.
Maher started the case by asking Novak about “the cognitive dissonance of, I don’t agree with you politically, but I like you personally… how can we do that en masse nationally?”
“In my opinion, it’s more about emotion than arguing, and I think it’s about stopping ourselves from doing everything we can to disagree,” Novak explained calmly. “Twitter is a cure for that, and when we’re separated behind screens, we pick the scab, bite the canker sores of the things we don’t agree on. And I think if we all try to do less of that, and focus on things like comedy, or sports, or art, or whatever, or sitting down at the table for dinner, I think that’s a start.”
The crowd gave Novak a round of applause, causing Maher to grin awkwardly.
Next, Maher waded into the so-called “cancellation culture,” which in this case included the idea that Twitter-happy audience members somehow censor Hollywood productions and not vice versa.
“Lately we’ve been talking a lot about this show – we’re going to talk about it tonight – the freedom in the arts,” Maher offered, before continuing: “You know, you’ve written several episodes of… The office which they don’t show now. I see Jamie Foxx’s new movie has been shelved – I think he made it a few years ago, but they’ll never show it. They make fewer comedies. I mean, you’ve found a way to make a comedy about something, but I’m sure you have to be very careful with a lot of different things. They make less because it’s not worth trying. Where are you with that?”
Novak was not so convinced of Maher’s theory. “I think there’s a difference between the gatekeepers and the audience — and I think you see this firsthand as a stand-up. The audience, I think, is pretty down for everything,” he said. “They’re pretty smart people and they’re a lot more to be trusted than the gatekeepers sometimes worry about. The gatekeepers are concerned about the chatter in their own realms, but I think the public can be pretty smart.”
“But it’s not in the hands of the public,” Maher retorted.
“That’s what I say,” Novak replied. “I’m saying, I don’t think the problem is that the public is too sensitive. I think the problem is people worry that other people are too sensitive.”
Maher was speechless.
The Office episode controversy that Maher mentioned could use a little context. He referred to an episode of The office“Diversity Day”, which Comedy Central decided to omit from a Office marathon on her network. The episode is still available on streaming services and for sale, so this was clearly a decision of the gatekeepers and not the public, as Novak claimed.
As for Jamie Foxx’s directorial debut All Star Weekend, which the actor claimed was indefinitely suspended due to sensitivities about Robert Downey Jr. who played a Mexican in the movie, well, the movie was shot all the way back in 2016, and apparently Foxx played a white racist cop and Downey Jr. as a Mexican. The film was originally scheduled to release in February 2018, timed for the NBA All-Star weekend, but was not completed on time. The release date was subsequently pushed back a year to NBA All-Star Weekend 2019, but was still not completed on time. All Star Weekend‘s release was subsequently shifted to late 2019 and then 2021, but is now apparently on ice. 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.
An important piece of information that Maher rather conveniently failed to mention about: All Star Weekend is that, in addition to the apparent post-production issues, Jeremy Piven has a second billing in the film. In late 2017, early 2018, eight women accused Piven of sexual misconduct.