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Arts | Coolture

‘SNL’ fires Shane Gillis over racist slurs — and he seems OK with that

2019 Clusterfest -  Larkin Comedy Club – Day 1
Shane Gillis, shown performing in San Francisco earlier this year, has been fired by “SNL.”
(Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic)

Comic Shane Gillis has been fired by “Saturday Night Live” without ever setting foot in front of the sketch-comedy show’s cameras.

Gillis, one of three new “Saturday Night Live” cast members announced Thursday by NBC, was immediately the focus of controversy over racist slurs — one, in particular, was aimed at Chinese people — that he used in recent podcasts.

“After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining SNL,” an NBC spokesperson said Monday in a statement on behalf of “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels.

“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.”

From Hillary Clinton singing “Hallelujah” to “Racists for Trump,” “SNL” has embraced liberal politics. So when bigotry is the joke, the series should know better.
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Gillis also made a statement Monday, via Twitter, and he wasn’t exactly repentant.

“I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. That can’t be taken away,” Gillis said. “Of course I wanted the 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.”

The show has previously been taken to task for not being sufficiently diverse in its casting, to the point where it held auditions in 2013 specifically to add a black woman to the cast. Last Thursday, it announced that it was bringing on gay Asian comic Bowen Yang as a series regular, along with Chloe Fineman, a white woman, and Gillis. Leslie Jones, who was hired as a writer after those 2013 auditions before being made a cast member, signaled her departure a few weeks ago.

Gillis had responded shortly after the slur started circulating with a statement that ramped up the backlash.

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“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,” Gillis posted Thursday on Twitter. “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.”

Sarah Silverman, host of the Emmy-nominated variety sketch series “I Love You, America,” calls “cancel culture” a “mutated” form of McCarthyism.

In addition to the 2018 slur that surfaced Thursday, Gillis used the same word repeatedly to refer to Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and others in a podcast recorded in May.

The Taiwanese American former tech exec tweeted directly at the comic Saturday, saying, “Shane — I prefer comedy that makes people think and doesn’t take cheap shots. But I’m happy to sit down and talk with you if you’d like.”

Now it looks as though the comedian is taking him up on the offer. “Shane Gillis reached out,” Yang tweeted Monday shortly after Gillis’ firing was made public. “Looks like we will be sitting down together soon.”

Comedy impresario Brian Volk-Weiss, whose company Comedy Dynamics has produced specials for Ali Wong, Tiffany Haddish, Jim Gaffigan and many others, was among those unimpressed by Gillis’ non-apology last week.

“How is using a 10-out-of-10 undeniably racist word, how is that pushing boundaries? That’s not pushing boundaries — that’s going backwards,” Volk-Weiss said in an interview Friday.

“It’s 2019, and everybody knows Asian people do not want to be called that,” said the producer, whose wife is Chinese. “It’s that simple. You make them feel bad.”

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