Why Did SNL Fire This Comedian Before He Even Started?

I wouldn’t be surprised if most weekends during the season of Saturday Night Live, the cast and crew are pretty stressed. From putting on the show to getting everything into place, it must be a crazy 48 hours until Sunday morning. Well, their upcoming season premiere may be a walk in the park after the drama of the past weekend. 

After the iconic sketch show announced its three new hires, Bowen Yang, Chloe Fineman and Shane Gillis, numerous examples of the Gillis’ previous racist, homophobic, and sexist remarks took over the Internet. 

If you’ve been living under a rock, first — can I move in with you? That sounds so much nicer than dealing with the reality that is this news cycle every morning — but second, let me catch you up. Like I mentioned, last Thursday NBC announced their three new hires, including SNL’s first permanent full-Asian cast member, Bowen Yang. Shortly after the announcement, multiple clips surfaced of Shane Gillis using racial slurs in podcast episodes as recently as 2018 (the severity of which Gillis must have been aware of, because some of the episodes were scrubbed from the Internet after his hiring).

In the clips, Gillis is heard refers to people in Chinatown with a slur commonly used against Asian Americans, mocks a Chinese accent, and complains about being misunderstood by Chinese waiters.  Yikes.

As you’d expect, half of the Internet was demanding for him to be properly held accountable for his words — while the other half was shouting about the perils of “cancel culture” and how comedians are precious angels that were sent down from the heavens to talk into a mic about their life. (As a stand-up myself, in no way/shape/form do I believe that I was put on this Earth to talk about Zara dressing rooms and my Tinder dates on a stage, but rather it’s because all my friends just got tired of hearing about the same stories.)

Among those defending Gillis was presidential candidate Andrew Yang, whom Gillis previously described with a racial slur.

Amid the controversy, Gillis took to Notes App where most apologies in the public eye start out. But his apology was… more of a compliment to himself and how he “pushes boundaries” and sometimes good comedy involves “taking risks”? It also was the length of a Tweet, so I guess he just wanted to chance to feel like Millie Bobby Brown. Take a look for it yourself:

This all came to a head yesterday, when an SNL spokesperson released this statement on behalf of Lorne Michaels announcing Gillis would not be joining the cast after all:

“We want SNL to have a variety of voices and points of view within the show, and we hired Shane on the strength of his talent as a comedian and his impressive audition for SNL. We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days. The language he used is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable. We are sorry that we did not see these clips earlier, and that our vetting process was not up to our standard.”

Do I buy that they never so much as… Google-searched their new hires? Not totally. I mean, my college advisor told me to hide pictures of me holding a plastic cup at a bar in order to potentially get an internship at The Rachael Ray Show. I feel like we need more from SNL in terms of their vetting process, because these remarks aren’t from pre-Y2K but literally this past year. But we will take this small step of progress along the way. 

Of course, Gillis still has the Notes App on his phone, so he released this statement soon after — it’s your standard straight, white man approach: address how stupid this situation is, compliment himself, shade the other party involved, before concluding out of frame with him stepping over dirty underwear on his floor to compliment himself in the mirror. End scene: 

Some people defending Shane are claiming that this was an overreaction to his comedic voice, but if you say your comedy “pushes boundaries,” people are going to push back when you overstep and trade in “hahas” for hate speech. Additionally, there’s a difference between pushing a boundary and pushing a marginalized group down. Hopefully, someone learned that from all of this. 

And because of this, it looks like some companies are willing to state publicly that racist remarks clearly justify taking action to fire an employee. Now that 30 Rock is done, let’s do the White House next?

Speaking of politics, Yang says he disagrees with SNL’s choice to fire Gillis and actually wants to sit down with him for an interview. I will definitely be sitting under a rock for that one. 

Image: Phil Provencio / Courtesy of SNL

Danny Murphy
Danny Murphy
Danny Murphy is a comedian and writer who lives, laughs, and gets his credit card declined in New York. His writing appears in Glamour, Marie Claire & Cosmopolitan and he performs standup wherever people will let him shout at them.