The show is bringing on board Groundlings performer Chloe Fineman, current writer Bowen Yang—who will become the first East Asian cast member in the show’s history—and a stand-up comedian from Philadelphia named Shane Gillis.
Turns out it was Gillis who had reason to be concerned about his “problematic” history.
He was apparently worried enough to delete all of the videos from his podcast’s YouTube channel and all but the most recent episodes from the internet. But that wasn’t before a journalist named Seth Simons posted a clip from a September 2018 episode of Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast, which Gillis co-hosts with fellow comic Matt McCusker.
In the clip, Gillis says, “Damn, Chinatown is fucking nuts,” before adding, “Let the fucking chinks live there.” Throughout the rest of the short clip, both Gillis and McCusker comically imitate stereotypical Asian accents as they complain about the “dishonest” nature of MSG and the “fucking hassle” of ordering food from someone who doesn’t speak English well.
In another clip from the same podcast episode, the pair spend time arguing that not only white people can be racist before McCusker says he thinks South East Asian women “take the cake” in terms of looks. “You like ladyboys?” Gillis asks in response.
In another podcast clip from earlier this year uncovered by Vulture’s Megh Wright, the pair can be heard using homophobic slurs to mock comedians like Judd Apatow and Chris Gethard, calling them “white f*ggot comics” and “fucking gayer than ISIS.”
Gethard responded on Twitter Thursday night, writing, “One of the guys SNL hired today is in trouble for calling me a f*aggot on his podcast (among other things). This was his reaction to my special about depression.” Referring to his HBO special about suffering from depression, he added, “I feel confident that at least in this moment I’m more proud of Career Suicide than he is of his shitty podcast.”
They also spend time on that same episode arguing that men are funnier than women and ranking comedians by race, gender and sexual orientation. “White chicks are literally the bottom,” Gillis says, adding, “Ali Wong is making it so Asian chicks are funnier than white chicks.”
Wright quotes the owner of a Philadelphia comedy club owner who says the theater “stopped working with [Gillis] within the past few years because of racist, homophobic, and sexist things he’s said on and offstage.”
A representative from Saturday Night Live was not immediately available for comment.
Gillis’ comments already appear to be outraging people on Twitter. In one tweet, CNN opinion writer Jeff Yang wrote, “Yeah if you want to know what being a person of color is like, it’s literally that for every Bowen Yang-shaped step you take forward, you also take one racist-ass Shane Gillis-shaped step back.”
Stephanie Foo, a producer for This American Life, added, “This is the most racist thing I’ve heard against Chinese people in a long damn while. Why on earth would you say this in public? Let’s make him fucking regret this.”
Comedians, who are often hesitant to criticize the jokes of other comics, also shared their disappointment in the hire.
Korean-American comedy writer Daniel Chun, who has written for both The Simpsons and The Office, responded by saying, “This is stupid and racist, but at least it’s also unfunny.”
Comedian and actress Jen Kwok tweeted, “If you don’t think racism exists and is a problem on every level, here is a video of two white guys having a casual conversation in which they make fun of Chinese people for two minutes straight. As comedy. In 2018.”
Lao comedian, podcaster and showrunner Kulap Vilaysack, simply wrote, “This makes me very mad.”
And Padma Lakshmi said, “Besides being incredibly racist, it’s also just not funny. Is this the White Privilege Podcast Hour or what?”
But there is another contingent of comedy fans who are holding him up as an avatar of anti-woke, politically-incorrect comedy that has mostly been represented on SNL of late by “Weekend Update” co-anchor Michael Che.
Like Che before him, Gillis also defended comedian Louis C.K. in an interview with PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com last year. “It’s not like stand-ups were looked at as great members of society before all this stuff happened,” Gillis said. “No, I don’t think anything is affected. What? Just because Louis got caught… No, that’s changed nothing. He’s still the best.”
In another interview from 2016, Gillis spoke specifically about trying to “find the line” in comedy.
“You could make a fucking terrorist joke. ISIS joke. Anything else got laughs. But police brutality— the white people were like, ‘Don’t do that. Please don’t do that.’ That’s interesting,” he said. “You throw stuff out there and you get to see them react to things, like yea or nay, what’s funny and what’s not.”
“You can be racist to Asians. That’s what we’re finding out,” Gillis added. “It’s just blatant hypocrisy though.”
Now, the question remains, will Lorne Michaels and SNL stand by their decision to cast Gillis? Or will they take Twitter’s suggestion and cancel him?
UPDATE: Hours after the initial controversy erupted, Gillis posted the statement below to his Twitter account. The comedian did not apologize for his past statements, but rather offered an apology to “anyone who’s actually offended” by anything he’s said.