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Robin Abcarian: What exactly did 'SNL' prove by inviting Shane Gillis back as host?

Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Of course I tuned in to "Saturday Night Live."

Who could resist the idea that comedian Shane Gillis, who was hired, then fired by the show in 2019 before ever getting a chance to appear on it, had been invited back in the plum role of host? Had he done something to redeem himself?

You may remember the story of his brief rise and fall at "SNL." Shortly after he was announced as a new cast member, YouTube videos surfaced of Gillis making racist, sexist and homophobic jokes. One was a clip from a 2018 episode of "Matt and Shane's Secret Podcast," in which Gillis and his partner Matt McCusker trashed Chinese food, Chinese restaurants and Chinatowns in general, and used phony accents to discuss food like "nooders" (noodles). It was stupid, racist and painfully unfunny.

"SNL" creator and producer Lorne Michaels said he'd been unaware of the remarks and found them "offensive, hurtful and unacceptable." Ironically, the story broke the same day that "SNL" announced it had hired its first openly gay Asian American comedian, the incredibly entertaining and versatile Bowen Yang. (The spectacular mimic Chloe Fineman was also a member of that year's freshman class.)

Anyway, far from Gillis' being "canceled," the 2019 tempest seems to have been an excellent, if unbidden, career move for the relatively unknown comic. Since then, he has repeatedly appeared on "The Joe Rogan Experience." Last year, his Netflix stand-up special, "Beautiful Dogs," was an unqualified success. He and McCusker have the No. 1 podcast on the subscription service Patreon. And on Monday, Netflix announced it had acquired his six-episode scripted comedy series, "Tires."

What we have here is perfect entertainment industry logic: "SNL" fires Gillis, which raises his profile, which leads to greater success, which leads to Gillis being invited back to "SNL" as host. It's a win-win.

 

By hosting "SNL," Gillis gets to show that he's not such a bad guy after all. And "SNL" can demonstrate that it's not totally beholden to the left-wing sensibility that dominates the show. Was inviting Gillis back the comedy equivalent of adding viewpoint diversity? Or perhaps a way to stir up interest in a show with generally declining ratings?

Whatever motivated Michaels to bring Gillis back, my interest was piqued.

"Most of you probably have no idea who I am," Gillis began. "If you don't know who I am, please don't Google that."

He not only seemed humble for a podcast bro, he seemed incredibly ill at ease for a veteran of stand-up comedy. And he confessed as much. He was, he said, "just the most nervous I've ever been."

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