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

Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

So what did he riff about? His family, mostly. Seems tame, right? What could he possibly step in?

"My niece has Down syndrome," he said, answering my question. The live audience was silent. "And I thought that would get a bigger laugh," he said, as the crowd chuckled at his discomfort. "I thought we were allowed to have fun here."

One of the minor joys of watching the "SNL" monologue is checking out the expressions of band members sitting behind the host. As Gillis spoke, they were stone-faced.

The rest of his bit about his family felt like the comedy equivalent of the white person's defensive lament, "Some of my best friends are Black."

Before his niece was born, said Gillis, his sister — who, he said, "didn't know she could get pregnant" — fostered, then adopted "three Black kids." Her husband — "an Arab guy" — is from Egypt.

"You go to the house, it's like getting into the craziest Uber pool you've been in," Gillis said. "It's crazy. Like, 'How did you guys meet?'"


What was supposed to be the high point of his monologue was an imaginary scenario in which his niece is called "retarded" by a white kid on the playground. "Then three Black kids come flying out of nowhere, start whaling on that cracker."

"I'm not saying it's something I'm looking forward to," he said, "but I think it will be a nice thing for the whole country."

Some people found the bit funny, but if you deconstruct it, what you have is a comedian using a slur to explain why using a slur is bad, and then playing on white fears of young Black men as a punchline and wrapping it all up in another slur. "Yeah," admitted Gillis, "I said 'cracker.'"

Listen, policing comedy leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And offensiveness, like humor, is in the eye of the beholder. But punching down while pretending to punch up just isn't that funny.


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