Cancel Culture Strikes Again

SNL Hires And Fires Shane Gillis

Reem Abouchleih, Contributing Writer

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Though Saturday Night Live is in its forty-fifth season, the show is still as popular as ever. With constant pop culture references and laughs to be had, fans of the show were on edge to see who was added to the cast this season. On September 12th, SNL announced three new cast members: Bowen Yang, Chloe Fineman, and Shane Gillis. Mere hours after the new cast had been announced, controversy stuck the internet. Freelance comedy journalist Seth Simons tweeted a video from September of last year of Shane Gillis and podcast co-host Matt McCusker making racist and otherwise offensive comments.

“An Asian trying to learn English bothers me more than someone listening to Lil Uzi Vert,” Gillis said in the clip, “Nice racism. Good racism. I love to be racist.” The two comedians continue by making fun of New York City’s Chinatown, describing its “weird f***ed” up buildings,” imitating the accent of a Chinese waiter, and using an anti-Asian slur.

Two days after the cast list was revealed, an SNL spokesperson on behalf of producer Lorne Michaels went on the record as saying, “After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining ‘SNL’. 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 [sic] 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 standards.”

Gillis, obviously hurt by being fired, tweeted out two statements. The first of these came on September 12th, stating “I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss. 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.” Four days later, he then tweeted, “It feels ridiculous for comedians to be making serious public statements but here we are. I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. 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.”

Celebrity reactions were polarized. Radio host Howard Stern said, “I don’t know that this kid couldn’t have been told ‘the stuff you did was unacceptable, do you feel you could grow from this and offer an apology?’” Comedian Bill Burr had a more aggressive reaction, saying, “Did they go back and also try and look back at the good things the person might have done, or are just looking for the bad stuff? Burr continued, “none of them care; all they want to do is get people in trouble.”

On the other hand, others called him out for his problematic behavior. Comedian and former SNL cast member Rob Schneider tweeted, “There’s a difference between exposing truths through free speech and just being ugly. It’s not okay to say racist things under the guise of comedy. Just because you have a mic in your hand doesn’t make the racist things you say any less racist.”

Despite where you may fall on the debate whether Shane Gills deserved to lose his job or not, one thing is certain: Gillis’s case is just one example of “cancel culture”, a fairly recent trend where celebrities are boycotted or “canceled” because of questionable acts or unpopular opinions. This has happened to a plethora of comedians.

Upon his 2015 hiring, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah faced backlash regarding tweets that could have been taken to be anti-Semitic and misogynistic. Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the Oscars after homophobic tweets and jokes surfaced. Dave Chappelle faced public backlash after making offensive jokes in his recent standup specials. Sarah Silverman recently revealed that she was denied a movie role recently after producers on the show discovered a 2007 sketch in which she wore blackface. Offensive comments or not, would Shane Gillis have been fired if it weren’t for the mob mentality of “cancel culture”?