Every fall, the long-running satirical show Saturday Night Live introduces new cast members. It is considered a huge boost to the career of young comedians to get a slot on this show because many have gone onto highly successful careers later. But this year, the introduction of three new members ran into trouble when it was discovered that one of them, Shane Gillis, had made racist, homophobic, and misogynist jokes.
But in a statement on Monday, a spokesperson for SNL’s producer, Lorne Michaels, said: “After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining SNL.
“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 … We were not aware of his prior remarks.
“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 standard.”
I am not sure that I buy the idea that SNL were totally unaware of his past. So many comedians have stirred controversy for saying offensive things that I cannot imagine that a huge operation like SNL did not thoroughly vet him before they hired him. Maybe they thought it was not so bad and were taken aback by the uproar and this was a face-saving reason. After all, other comedy outlets had dropped Gillis because of his brand of humor and this news would have been on the comedy grapevine.
We, like many, were very quickly disgusted by Shane Gillis' overt racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia – expressed both on and off stage – upon working with him years ago. We've deliberately chosen not to work with him in the years since.
— Good Good Comedy Theatre (@goodgoodcomedy) September 13, 2019
Gillis defended the comments on Twitter saying he is a comedian “who pushes boundaries”. He continued: “My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”
Gillis really thinks that racist, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynist humor will make him the best comedian he can be? Where exactly is the risk in targeting marginalized groups? How can you possibly think that you will not be hurting people? It is the old story. People who are in dominant groups can laugh at humor aimed at their group because they are still the dominant group and suffer no repercussions. They think that all groups should feel the same way, not appreciating that context and history very much determines whether something is hurtful or not.
The rule that one should punch up and not punch down applies to comedians as much as anyone. Comedy does not give you a pass to say things that others would not. Doing so is cheap humor, taking the low road, trying to be the worst you can be.