I remember feeling pissed off in February 2017, when Bill Maher invited Milo Yiannopoulos on Real Time. As someone who’d followed his show since high school, I’d always hated when Maher would bring on some idiot Republican to do nothing but stir the pot. But at least many of those had a consistent ideology whereas Milo was just a performance artist of no substance. In the middle of the dozens of think pieces written excoriating Maher – some good, some bad – I saw that Chez Pazienza had weighed in on the topic and read what he had to say.
As was often the case with Chez, when everybody rushed in to gang up on someone for saying or doing something reprehensible, he had the good sense to take a larger view of things and not get caught up in the internet mob. I know all too well what this is like; as a Millennial, I have seen people my own age (including myself) rush into the mob to “take a stand” and while our intentions are good, critical thinking falls by the wayside if we’re not careful. In this essay, Chez reminded me to think critically:
Bill Maher isn’t the enemy…It’s one thing to criticize him for individual viewpoints you maybe have an issue with but another thing entirely to rant about how he’s some kind of monster because he doesn’t conform to whatever the hell you adamantly believe someone must…The enemy should be incredibly obvious at this point and it’s imperative that we use every responsible weapon in our arsenal, even the insufferably smug ones, in the war against that enemy. I personally disagree with Maher on a number of issues and have throughout his lengthy career as a political comic, but I accept that in the end he’s on the side of the angels. What this means is that I hear him out even when I find him wildly off-base but have continued to allow for our differences because there’s far more I agree with him on than disagree — and I acknowledge that he’s an authoritative comic voice against a horrifying common foe.
Chez could be hard on Millennials and the left when he had to be, but he did it out of a sense of love. He believed passionately in the same things we do and didn’t want us to get caught up in infighting or internet shaming because he knew we were better. I began reading the Banter regularly because Chez wasn’t afraid to tell young, idealistic people like me that we could believe in our ideals and still engage with others in a rational way. If there’s anything I take from him, it’s my belief that we are too good for infighting, and we’re too good for unthinking outrage.
Unfortunately, that would be the last new article I’d ever read from Chez. He would die less than ten days after writing it.
I only came on to the Banter after Chez died, and apart from a brief Twitter interaction or two, I never met him or knew him, but I got to know him through his work. He was a compassionate individual, fearless in the questions he asked and the attacks he leveled, and he was never afraid to tell the truth even if it made you uncomfortable. He never lost sight of the bigger picture and didn’t want us to, either.
I know that for all who knew him, this is a sad time, especially as we’ve lost (at this point) a year’s worth of essays that he’ll never write concerning Charlottesville, the Mueller investigation, and #MeToo. I know his opinion would have been welcomed in all these discussions, and it’s unfortunate that we don’t have it. But if we’re to honor him today, the best way to do it is to throw ourselves into our work with the same gusto he did. He’s one of many people who inspired me to do what I do now, and I know I’m not the only one who would say that.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.