'Boundary Pushing' Or Tired Racism? When Comedians Deserve The Sack

Alleged comedian and painfully white man Shane Gillis has been booted from SNL just five days after joining the iconic American sketch show.

And nothing of value was lost.

Five days ago, SNL announced three new performers would be joining its cast: Chloe Fineman, Bowen Yang and Shane Gillis.

Asian Twitter went off, celebrating Yang becoming the first East Asian cast member in SNL’s 44-year history. It’s a significant development for diversity, representation and inclusion, and not just in the comedy scene. SNL is an American institution, and inviting Yang on screen sent a message of acceptance to many Asian-Americans.

Then, because every small step for man is inevitably met with one giant clothesline tackle to the neck, Gillis’ past attempts at comedy were brought to attention, and quickly turned that innocent joy to ash.

In a series of recently resurfaced clips from Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast, a show Gillis ran with fellow white man Matt McCusker, the two can be heard mocking Asian people for several painfully long minutes. Gillis in particular uses ethnic slurs, complains that he finds their attempts at learning English annoying, and mocks Asian accents.

“Let the f**king chinks live there,” says Gillis, speaking to McCusker about how disgusting they both find Chinatown. He then derides Asian waiters attempting to take his order despite a language barrier. Truly this is the peak of comedy.

It isn’t uncommon to find decade-old comments made by ignorant young people who have since learned and changed. That is unfortunately not the case here. Gillis and McCusker’s reprehensible rants were from a podcast episode dated September 2018, and there is little indication their sentiments have changed.

“You can be racist to Asians,” said Gillis in a 2016 interview with Billy Penn, speaking about a show wherein he and various other comedians vomited up any old garbage to see what stuck. Judging by these examples of Gillis’ work, it’s a lesson he took to heart.

These aren’t the only hurtful and discriminatory comments from Gillis that have resurfaced. In other episodes of the podcast, Gillis and McCusker can be heard using a veritable smorgasbord of slurs such as “f*ggot” and “r*tard”. They have also ranked comedians by how funny they are by race, gender and sexual orientation, and referred to women who fought in the American Civil War as “flat-chested f*king bitch[es]”.

Apparently, Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast was secret enough that SNL didn’t know about these statements before hiring Gillis. Now that they do, Gillis is out.

"We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days," an SNL spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter this week. "The language he used is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable. We are sorry we did not see these clips earlier, and that our vetting process was not up to our standard."

Apparently, Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast was secret enough that SNL didn’t know about these statements before hiring Gillis. Now that they do, Gillis is out. (Image: Twitter)

Responding to his firing in a Twitter statement this morning, Gillis said that it "feels ridiculous for comedians to be making serious public statements". Apparently he is baffled that there are consequences for saying words in a profession built upon saying words.

"I'm a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL,” continued Gillis, his self-concern displaying an inability to read a room never previously observed in a professional comedian. “That can't be taken away.”

“Of course I wanted an opportunity to prove myself at SNL, but I understand it would be too much of a distraction. I respect the decision they made. I'm honestly grateful for the opportunity. I was always a mad tv guy anyway.” (Mad TV is a sketch show that is now defunct, much like Gillis himself.)

Gillis’ brand of alleged humour is actively damaging. While Yang’s hiring was an invitation, Gillis’ was a slap, a reminder to people of colour that there is no place for them here, and that they will never really belong; that their existence is funny, and not in a good way; that they are there to be laughed at, not with.

Striking at vulnerable people is never funny or “edgy' -- it is hurtful, destructive and contributes nothing of value.

Gillis’ ousting from SNL helps to mitigate some of the damage, but it’s painful to think of all the talented and hardworking comedians of colour who are turned off the profession by the culture Gillis perpetuates.

Last Friday, Gillis released a statement saying that he was "happy to apologise to anyone who’s actually offended", demonstrating a belief that nobody could “actually” be offended by use of the word “chink”. Which, just to make clear, is internationally recognised as a derogatory ethnic slur.

"I'm a comedian who pushes boundaries," said Gillis.

In an uncharacteristic move, this is actually really funny, since what Gillis considers boundary-pushing many others consider tired, racist sentiments you’d hear from someone who was already old in the 1960s.

"My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”

Maybe he should start with trying to be the best person he could be.