The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Shane Gillis no longer joining SNL cast after outcry over racist language

"Saturday Night Live" announced Sept. 16 that the show will no longer hire Shane Gillis whose past use of racist, homophobic and sexist language sparked outcry. (Video: The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

“Saturday Night Live” has parted ways with Shane Gillis, the just-hired stand-up comic whose past use of racist, homophobic and sexist language led to a firestorm last week.

The comedian, who was announced Thursday as a featured player for Season 45, was criticized for using slurs against Asians and the LGBT community in recent podcast episodes.

SNL producer Lorne Michaels confirmed the development in a statement sent through a spokesperson on Monday: “After speaking with Shane Gillis, we have decided he will not be joining SNL.”

“We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days,” the statement read. “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.”

A new cast member’s racist comments puts SNL in the center of latest comedy storm

Gillis responded on Twitter. “Of course I wanted an opportunity to prove myself at SNL, but I understand it would be too much of a distraction,” he wrote. “I respect the decision they made. I’m honestly grateful for the opportunity.”

The statement from the spokesperson said that Gillis was hired “on the strength of his talent as a comedian” and his audition. “We want SNL to have a variety of voices and points of view within the show.”

SNL also added two other featured performers last week: Bowen Yang, who was widely celebrated as the show’s first cast member of East Asian descent, and Chloe Fineman. But hours after the casting announcement, freelance comedy journalist Seth Simons called attention to a 2018 episode of “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast” in which Gillis and co-host Matt McCusker used slurs against Chinese people, mocking their accents and making racist references to Chinatown. (All past episodes have been scrubbed from the podcast’s YouTube channel.)

Gillis initially addressed the mounting backlash by tweeting that he is a “comedian who pushes boundaries. Sometimes I miss.” He added he was “happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually been offended by anything I’ve said.”

Gillis, who is from Mechanicsburg, Pa., was unknown to a broad national audience before last week, but his star was rising: Over the summer, he performed in showcases for Comedy Central’s “Up Next” and the Just for Laughs comedy festival.

This isn’t the first time an SNL hire has caused controversy. Melissa Villaseñor, who will begin her third season when the show returns Sept. 28, was criticized in 2016 after social media users uncovered years-old tweets with questionable humor about race. The show never publicly addressed it.

In this case, the offending language was recent, and it came not in a tweet or a stand-up set but on a podcast, where the line between joke material and casual conversation can seem blurrier to the public.

The debate over SNL’s hiring choice raised questions about the show’s vetting process. It also came amid a broader conversation about “cancel culture” and what ways comedians should be held accountable for offensive material.

Vice reported Friday that Gillis had used an anti-Semitic and racist slur to describe Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang in May while appearing as a guest on another podcast. “I prefer comedy that makes people think and doesn’t take cheap shots,” the entrepreneur responded on Twitter, but he said he didn’t think Gillis should lose his newly announced SNL job over the remark.

Not everyone agreed, including some fellow comedians. “As a comedian I usually side with the comedians on sensitive subjects. But this is just plain racist,” tweeted comedian Jimmy O. Yang. “Standing up against this is just as important as supporting our Asian brothers and sisters. This man has to go.”

Read more:

How we ended up vetting celebrities as carefully as politicians

The weird ways people have been fired from ‘Saturday Night Live’