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The Appalling Monica Lewinsky Jokes—and the Comedians Who’ve Apologized

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Downey also did not respond to Vanity Fair’s request for comment.

Bill Maher

After the Starr Report was released, Maher actually seemed to blame Lewinsky for the Clinton affair. In 1998, he claimed:

“She comes off as someone who basically blackmails the president of the United States…And Katie Roiphe wrote a great article the other day, and she said there should be a term connoting the opposite of sexual harassment—when a person of less power uses her sexual attractiveness or personal relationship with the person in greater power to get ahead. No pun intended.”

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In spite of the 27-year age gap and enormous power differential between the president and the former White House intern, Maher added:

“I think Monica Lewinsky is the one who should apologize to America. She’s the homewrecker. And if anybody really owes an apology, I think it’s her.”

Like Letterman, Maher was also affected by Lewinsky’s essay for Vanity Fair.

“I was moved by it. I gotta tell you, I literally felt guilty,” Maher told his HBO audience in 2014. “I remember doing a million Monica Lewinsky blow job jokes, and I kinda feel bad.”

Recalling the gist of her essay to his audience, Maher explained, “She says it out there, which is basically, ‘I’ve spent 20 years in infamous person prison, because what? I had an affair in my early 20s’…People have worse problems, but I am sympathetic to her.”

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Since that public change of heart, Maher has seemingly remained in Lewinsky’s corner. Just last year, when Clinton claimed that his affair with Lewinsky had been a means to manage his anxiety, Maher called out the former president on Real Time.

“Can I, for one second, channel Monica Lewinsky?” said Maher, referencing the explanation Clinton gave in Hulu’s documentary about Hillary Clinton. “Just gotta say the blindness of a man saying that I had this affair with this person was to manage my anxieties—how does that make her feel? It’s a terrible thing to say…This to me was very callous. It’s like, ‘Is there a human being there?’”

Since 2014, Lewinsky has taken control of her narrative by publicly speaking about bullying and the harm it causes.

“We tend to look at [it] as a binary question; should we public shame or shouldn’t we?” Lewinsky told John Oliver in a 2019 interview. “I do think there’s a spectrum of behavior on which we can kind of judge as a society, is this where shaming is effective to change social behavior or is it damaging?”

Speaking about her own experience, she added, “I think at 24 years old it was really hard to hold on to a shred of dignity or self-esteem when you’re just the butt of so many jokes.”

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During the interview, Oliver asked Lewinsky, quite simply, how she survived the ridicule.

“I don’t actually know,” Lewinsky responded. “It was an avalanche of pain and humiliation.”

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