NBC’s Emmy-winning, late-night comedy show “Saturday Night Live” took fans on a casting roller coaster this week after hiring — and firing — Shane Gillis, a comedian who got his start in Philadelphia venues and took on hot water after internet users unearthed a history of homophobic and racist remarks.
Gillis, originally from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, was blasted on Twitter for videos in which he uttered derogatory slurs about Chinese people and LGBTQ folks. Comedy reporter Seth Simon circulated the clips on the social media site.
In the first clip, from a September 2018 episode of Gillis’ podcast “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast,” the comedian says, “Why do the fucking ch-nks live there?” An ensuing excerpt from the same episode shows Gillis making fun of Asian people learning English.
Footage from another podcast episode shows Gillis and co-host Matt McCusker making jabs at fellow comedians, referring to their peers as “white f----t comics” and “f-----g gayer than ISIS.” The pair goes on to rank other performers’ routines based on their race, gender and sexual orientation. “White chicks are literally the bottom,” Gillis said. “Ali Wong is making it so Asian chicks are funnier than white chicks.”
“Saturday Night Live” ousted Gillis on Monday, four days after announcing his hiring.
“After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining SNL,” a statement released Monday by a spokesperson on behalf of “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels reads. “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 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.”
Ahead of the firing, major players from Philly’s comedy scene chimed in.
“We, like many, were very quickly disgusted by Shane Gillis' overt racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia — expressed both on and off stage — upon working with him years ago,” reads a Sept 12. tweet from Good Good Comedy Theatre, a local Chinatown venue where Gillis used to perform. “We've deliberately chosen not to work with him in the years since.”
Gillis circulated his own statement on Twitter in response to “Saturday Night Live,” saying that “of course he wanted an opportunity” to prove himself on the show, but understands “it would be too much of a distraction.” The Pennsylvanian noted he respects the production team’s decision.
“I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss,” he added. “If you go through my 10 years of comedy, most of it bad, you’re going to find a lot of bad misses. I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said. My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”
An anonymous source included in a Vulture article described the scene of Gillis’ past Philadelphia performances.
“Just want to say as a comedian who came up in Philly comedy at the time Shane was blowing up, [it] was extremely discouraging!" they said. "As a queer female-bodied comedian, a man using the language he did and got so much recognition for was really disheartening.”
The clapback surrounding Gillis nearly eclipsed the joy late-night fans felt from “Saturday Night Live”’s other newly-revealed cast additions.
The show’s 45th season will feature out gay man Bowen Yang, the production’s first person of Asian descent, and celebrity-impressions extraordinaire Chloe Fineman.