Crass jokes and people pushing the envelope has been, and probably always will be, with us. They were written on the walls in Pompeii and the walls of modern public restrooms. We may chuckle or cringe, but how far is too far? And who gets to decide when we have crossed a line.

In the past week, two entertainers have been accused of crossing the line of good taste. One, Kathy Griffin, has been fired from her job and has lost many sponsorship deals. The other, Bill Maher, has apologized for his comments.

Griffin participated in a photo shoot with celebrity photographer Tyler Shields, who then released the now infamous photo above. The backlash was huge. Griffin apologized.

“I’m a comic. I cross the line. I move the line, then I cross it. I went way too far,” the comedian said in a video posted on Instagram. “The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people. It wasn’t funny. I get it.”

I am sorry. I went too far. I was wrong.

A post shared by Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) on

But how far is too far? Griffin’s attempt at art was to mock the president, she said. People didn’t get it.

“I think there will be a lot of people who will absolutely hate this, but again, that’s the beauty of it,” he said. “Am I saying that anyone should actually be killed? No, it’s like a movie. How many movies are there where the president gets killed or this happens? Tons upon tons. But again, when it’s an image, especially an image like this, people don’t see it like that. They see it as reality, and that’s why it’s so shocking to some people.”

There was also backlash to the backlash. In one instance, when Donald Trump Jr. criticized Griffin, responses pointed to the distasteful things his father has done.

Others pointed to Trump friend Ted Nugent in 2007 when he, threatened “the lives of Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton” and said Obama could “suck on his machine gun.”

Did he go too far?

Nugent told FOX News, “I was on stage at a rock-and-roll concert when Obama was a senator, not the president, and I made an outrageous metaphor telling him that we will not accept his gun control laws, but I never threatened anyone.”

Except for that time when you said Obama should be beheaded and/or hung. Did that cross a line?

“I’m with you on the free speech, and it’s good to see that everyone is condemning Kathy Griffin’s action, because it is nasty. This is a world of terrorism where beheading is a reality, and she euphemized that, she actually referenced that to the president of the United States. We’re talking apples and grenades here. I did nothing to harm any one, she came out with symbolism that was truly vile.”

Is it not crossing a line when it’s spoken instead of an art piece? Is it not going to far because you say it at a rock concert or an NRA event?

On Maher’s Friday, June 2 edition of “Real Time,” Maher was speaking with U.S. Senator Ben Sasse. The exchange went as follows.

Discussing his new book on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday evening, Sasse told Maher he would be welcome in Nebraska as “we’d love to have you work in the fields with us”.

“Work in the fields?” Maher replied. “Senator, I’m a house nigger.”

The audience laughed and groaned, with some applause. Sasse kept quiet, before Maher said: “No, it’s a joke.”

Maher and HBO have responded.

“Friday nights are always my worst night of sleep because I’m up reflecting on the things I should or shouldn’t have said on my live show, Maher said in a statement. “Last night was a particularly long night as I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive and I regret saying it and am very sorry.”

“Bill Maher’s comment last night was completely inexcusable and tasteless,” the HBO statement said. “We are removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show.”

Maher was trying to be funny. However, after reading several stories and hundreds of comments, I have come to realize that many people don’t know and/or don’t understand the context of the phrase.

According to Wikipedia, the term was used in the speech “Message to the Grass Roots” (1963) by African-American activist Malcolm X, wherein he explains that during slavery, there were two kinds of slaves: “house Negroes”, who worked in the master’s house, and “field Negroes”, who performed the manual labor outside. He characterizes the house Negro as having a better life than the field Negro, and thus being unwilling to leave the plantation and potentially more likely to support existing power structures that favor whites over blacks. Malcolm X identified with the field Negro.

You can read Malcolm X’s speech here.

Regardless of what Maher was attempting, the joke fell flat. I groaned when he said it. I get what he was trying to say. I just question whether it was the best choice of words, particularly since Sasse wasn’t going in that direction.

Though no one is seeking an apology from Sasse, he offered one. I’m not a fan of Sasse, but he did what most of us would probably do. He cringed uncomfortably, but offered no retort. Yes, he should have said something, but I have been in many interviews as a reporter where I wanted to say something, but I was in disbelief that someone could say such things in the 21st century.

Like Sasse, I will defend the right to free speech, no matter how distasteful it is. Free speech is fundamental to American society and I wouldn’t ever want it curbed. We has a society have to decide what is acceptable and what deserves scorn. And there doesn’t seem to be a consensus.

Why does one group of people become outraged when President Obama was burned in effigy, but are fine with the words Maher used? Why is there such a divide when Kathy Griffin holds up a bloody rubber head of President Trump, but not when Nugent speaks?

Why do we have such a difficult time determining how far is too far?

We can look at other areas of American society where this question has no good conclusions. Rappers use the n-word. They also use the word faggot. Many musicians degrade women. But how far is too far?

Is it scrawling racial slurs on a basketball player’s home? Is it killing people because they are different? Is it yelling racial and ethnic slurs at someone who has a different religion than you?

This video breaks my heart that I still live in a world where some believe this behavior doesn’t cross a line.

If we had a frank discussion, I would suspect more people would find all these actions detestable, yet, when they occur, everyone picks sides and tries to justify the behavior.

JC on Twitter said, “Yeah, I chuckled. Would’ve been funnier if a black comedian delivered that punchline.”

Why? Why does it make it okay to utter certain words if you are a certain race? Is that not hypocrisy?

In 2008, al-Qaeda’s then number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called the newly-elected President Barack Obama a house negro. Was that too far? Or did we dismiss the comment because of who said them?

Where do we draw the line? I don’t know. The line moves depending on where we are as a society and how much we want to defend that in which we find distasteful. Most would agree the things I’ve written about here crosses the line, but is it still free speech? Is it too far?