When there is breaking news about comedy, there are two guarantees.
The first is that it’s never good news. There is never an article about John Mulaney curing some disease or Sarah Silverman winning Le Mans. It’s only a story about controversy.
Knowing that, the second guarantee is that for a few days, my Facebook feed becomes fucking insufferable. Between hot takes, juicy bits, and other nonsense, every comedian wants to lob out some nugget for all of social media to socially mediate. I’m also totally guilty of this myself, so I apologize if I’ve made your timeline insufferable.
So, if you are a comedian or know a comedian, or know anyone that has watched a Netflix special or has an opinion about free speech, your timeline these past 24 hours has no doubt been filled with stories of Shane Gillis.
And I’m about to make it worse.
In the crazy circumstance that you’ve been living in a hole, here is the briefest recap that you will need.
Shane Gillis is a comedian and podcaster (though, really… aren’t we all?) who was announced to join the cast of Saturday Night Live, a sketch comedy show that some of you may have a passing familiarity with, last week.
It took a journalist virtually no time at all to find podcast footage of Gillis using a slur when referring to Chinese people (yes, THAT slur) as well as a mocking accent. That footage was found quicker than it took me to write this sentence, as well as other footage which included homophobic slurs to describe Judd Apatow and Chris Gethard.
Gillis attempted to defend himself by calling him “a comedian who pushes boundaries” and said he would be “happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said.” The next day, Vice News found another podcast (because, of course they did) in which Gillis used the same slur (yes, THAT same one) to refer to Andrew Yang, who, if elected president, probably has a list of at least one guy that will not be getting $1,000 a month.
Yesterday, the decision was made by Saturday Night Live to not keep Gillis on the cast. Making his own personal statement on twitter, Gillis wrote, “I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get on SNL. That can’t be taken away.” Was Gillis unaware that SNL was, literally, just taken away from him? We’ll never know, I suppose.
Five minutes ago, I started typing this in the hopes that I could find something interesting to say about the situation.
And that brings us to right now.
Let’s get the most important issue out of the way right now: Of course SNL had to fire Shane Gillis.
Even if Lorne Michaels doesn’t care about anything Gillis said or did, this is the sole card he could play coming into this new season of the show. You just cannot have a brand new cast member come on the show whilst in the middle of a controversy like this. Michaels would have no choice but to air some sort of sketch addressing the episode, and that it not what he, or Saturday Night Live needs. Not to mention that keeping Gillis on would be a logistical nightmare for Bowen Yang, another new cast member and the first Chinese-American to be on the SNL cast.
There is no amount of interviews or explanations or apologies that anyone here could do to stop the media frenzy that would have ensued, especially when Michaels is probably trying to get the story of Eddie Murphy returning to host the show circulating in the air.
There is one more person, however, who also needs to be fired: whoever is in charge of vetting new cast members. I guarantee you that there is someone who said before Gillis got hired, “Yeah, I listened to the podcast. We’re ok.”
That being said, it’s hard to blame this person: people lie about listening to comedian’s podcasts all the time.
There have been a few stories circulating the comedy world lately: The negative feedback to Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special Stick & Stones (and, to a lesser extent, Bill Burr’s Paper Tiger), as well as the local story of Louis C.K. selling out six shows at the Zanies in Rosemont, Illinois.
All of these conversations has led a group, usually older white male comics to all ask the same question: Is PC culture killing comedy?
No. It isn’t. Shut up, you fucking morons.
This is the entirety of my think piece about this issue.
Let’s get back to Shane Gillis’ apology that he made for a moment. Or non-apology.
First, let’s address his claim about being a comedian who “pushes boundaries”. What, exactly, is he pushing here? The ability for white dudes to use words that they know are offensive and have roots in really horrible places? Doing so doesn’t make you brave or some kind of hero. It just makes you gross. If this is what is considered to be “pushing boundaries”, then I would repeat what comedian Adam Burke wrote about this incident yesterday: “Sometimes, the boundaries push back.”
Saying that you are sorry to “anyone who’s actually offended” is the most nonsense non-apology that you can do. For starters, the word “actually” is a deft touch, because that places the wonderful implication that there are people who aren’t offended by this but are saying that there are. And even if that is true, all that does is then create the thought in certain (read: stupid) people’s head that ANYONE who says they’re offended probably really isn’t. So, fuck off, Shane.
If Gillis is truly sorry for what he said, and his preface about being a boundary-pushing comedian would suggest he doesn’t, then he wouldn’t make an apology to anyone he offended: he would make an apology for saying something offensive. I know it seems like it doesn’t make much difference just moving a few words around, but words and their placement mean everything.
Apologizing to those offended puts all of the responsibility on the listener. The inference is clear: if no one was offended by hearing that word, then Gillis doesn’t have to be sorry for saying it. Everyone is happy and can move on, and we’re now allowed to use a racial slur with origins that run back to the 1880’s.
But think for a moment what would happen had Gillis taken ownership and said, “I’m sorry I said something offensive. I said something I knew would upset people. Maybe not all people, but some people. And I know that it was wrong.” That would change how I feel about Gillis and what happened.
In the meantime, everyone involved with the issue will be fine. Saturday Night Live will have its season premiere a week from Saturday. Shane Gillis will be ok, too. Maybe he’ll use this opportunity to brand himself as the edgy comic that’s too dangerous for television and use that for more bookings and a Netlfix special called Triggered or Safe Spaces or some bullshit like that. Until then, he’s allowed to keep doing whatever he thinks pushing boundaries is.
I doubt that what I wrote upset any of you, but maybe it did. I don’t want to take chances.
I’m sorry if you got offended.