The New Yorker Festival dropped Steve Bannon as a headliner amid widespread outrage following news that the former adviser to President Donald Trump would take part in the fall event. The decision to drop Bannon came after at least five comedians scheduled to appear at the festival said they would not participate in an event alongside the former White House adviser.
“I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff members to think that I’ve ignored their concerns. I’ve thought this through and talked to colleagues—and I’ve re-considered. I’ve changed my mind. There is a better way to do this,” The New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote in a long statement explaining the decision. “If the opportunity presents itself I’ll interview him in a more traditionally journalistic setting as we first discussed, and not on stage.” In the statement, Remnick defended the decision to invite the firebrand white nationalist, saying that “to interview Bannon is not to endorse him.”
Remnick seemed well aware when he announced the lineup that the decision to invite Bannon would be controversial. “I have every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation,” Remnick told the New York Times in the piece announcing Bannon’s presence at the festival. “The audience itself, by its presence, puts a certain pressure on a conversation that an interview alone doesn’t do.”
The outrage, however, seemed to come at a much faster clip and was much more intense than Remnick seems to have anticipated. Perhaps most importantly, several key guests quickly took to Twitter to say they wouldn’t participate in the festival. And it quickly looked like the race to pull out of the event was gaining momentum. John Mulaney tweeted “I’m out” saying that he supports “public intellectual debate … this isn’t James Baldwin vs William F Buckley.” He was not alone. Judd Apatow also took to Twitter to say that he wouldn’t “take part in an event that normalizes hate.”
Jim Carrey quickly picked up the baton with a simple message: “Bannon? And me? On the same program? Could never happen.” Patton Oswalt had a suggestion after he dropped out: “See if Milo Yiannopoulos is free?” And Bo Burnham wasn’t exactly diplomatic: “I am respectfully saying fuck that.”