bill maher will hurd
Controversial HBO host Bill Maher, right, asked ex-CIA GOP congressman Will Hurd if he was collecting intelligence at 4am outside a Popeyes Chicken on his show Friday night
The media personality made the uncalled-for joke in the middle of a heated, but unrelated, exchange with Republican congressman Will Hurd - in an incident more egregious than Maher's 2017 "house n*****" controversy.

During the interview on his weekly HBO show, Bill Maher was questioning why Hurd, who is African-American, decided to be a Republican.

"What's in it for you? What is in the Republican party for you? You were in the CIA!" asks the host, who had earlier accused Hurd of serving "traitor" Donald Trump.
"I was in the CIA for almost a decade. I was the dude in the back alleys at four o'clock in the morning collecting intelligence on threats to the homeland," replies Hurd.

Maher: "That's where you'd collect it, huh? Wow. By the Popeyes Chicken?"

Hurd talks over the repartee with a pained half-smile, and goes on to say that he worked in India and Pakistan, before "managing all of our undercover operations in Afghanistan."

While mocking the seriousness of Hurd's "back alley" assignment passes for a joke, implying that he worked next to a fried chicken chain restaurant appears to be a jab based entirely on the color of his skin.

To what extent the stereotype that black people like fried chicken is a harmless social observation, or a holdover (along with their purported proclivity for watermelons) from the kind of condescending jibes that whites used to make during pre-Abolition times is a matter of some debate.

But Twitter was unlikely to let it go - particularly considering that several media figures have been dragged over hot coals for far less, perhaps without the shield of Maher's solidly pro-Democrat views.

Maher has form. Two years ago on the same show, when Nebraska senator Ben Sasse asked the interviewer if he wanted to "work the fields" in his home state, Maher replied that he was a "house n*****."

At least that time, though insensitive, the reply could have been considered an overly-vivid turn of phrase, and the comment was directed at Maher himself, who quickly said "It's a joke!" to slightly uncomfortable cheers from his audience.

There were no long-term repercussions. It is less clear that with growing attention to language, and his track record, Maher will get off so easy this time.