“Saturday Night Live” announced Thursday afternoon that it had added three new featured players to the cast ahead of its upcoming 45th season: Bowen Yang, Chloe Fineman and Shane Gillis, the last of whom has already had to respond to a controversy over racist jokes he made on his podcast last year.
Yang, who joined SNL as a writer last season, has appeared on the show before. In March, he played Kim Jong Un in a sketch with episode host Sandra Oh. Outside Studio 8H, he co-hosts the podcast “Las Culturistas” and has earned fans through oddball videos featuring him expertly lip-syncing dialogue from movies and viral videos.
Yang, who is Chinese American, is a particularly celebrated addition to the sketch comedy series. As noted by Vanity Fair, SNL has featured so few cast members (not to mention hosts) of Asian descent over the years that the show has intermittently recruited Akira Yoshimura, its longtime production designer, to portray Sulu of “Star Trek.” (Yoshimura first appeared as the character in a 1976 sketch; he reprised it as recently as 2017.) Yang is also openly gay and has explored queer culture in his comedy. Last season, he co-penned the well-received “GP Yass,” which affably riffed on the appropriation of gay and drag culture.
Fineman has performed with the Groundlings, the Los Angeles-based comedy troupe known for churning out SNL players including Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. On Instagram, where she goes by @chloeiscrazy, she has posted videos of herself impersonating tween-favorite YouTube star JoJo Siwa, actor/fashion plate Timothée Chalamet and her own mom.
Gillis was recently featured in Comedy Central’s annual “Up Next” showcase. One profanity-laced routine posted to the network’s YouTube account pokes fun at his rural upbringing — and the culture shock he felt moving to Philadelphia and, later, New York. “I took Skoal out of my mouth to come up here, and I didn’t vote for Donald Trump,” he jokes. “That makes me like the Nelson Mandela of Central Pennsylvania.”
Hours after SNL announced the casting news, journalist Seth Simons tweeted a video from September 2018 of Gillis recording an episode of his podcast alongside co-host Matt McCusker. In it, both men use slurs against Chinese people, mock their accents and make other racist remarks about Chinatown.
“I’m like, what are you guys doing here? Get these ducks out of the window,” Gillis says, one of the milder comments in the video. Later in the episode, Gillis says that “an Asian trying to learn English bothers me more than someone listening to, like, Lil Uzi Vert while I’m trying to eat ... dinner. Nice racism. Good racism. I love to be ... racist.”
Simons, as well as Reddit users on a “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast” fan page, suggested that episodes of the podcast had recently been scrubbed from the Internet. Fans cautioned each other to be wary of circulating links to the episodes.
In a tweet Thursday evening, Gillis described himself as “a comedian who pushes boundaries,” then added that he is “happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said.”
NBC has not yet responded to The Washington Post’s request for comment. SNL’s 45th season will premiere on Sept. 28. It will notably not feature Leslie Jones, who announced last month that she would be leaving after five seasons.
This post has been updated.