Comedian Shane Gillis' "Saturday Night Live" journey from firing to hosting, explained (2024)

EXPLAINER

In the comedian's first time hosting SNL, he said “Please, don’t Google that,” about his 2019 firing

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published February 27, 2024 6:40AM (EST)

Comedian Shane Gillis' "Saturday Night Live" journey from firing to hosting, explained (1)

Host Shane Gillis during the Monologue on the Saturday, February 24, 2024 episode of "Saturday Night Live"(Will Heath/NBC)

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Five years ago, comedian Shane Gillis was fired from "Saturday Night Live" before he even stepped on the esteemed stage at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. But this past Saturday, he made his way back on the stage, not as a cast member but as a host.

The comedian's career first launched when he was kicked off the starting lineup of new cast members in 2019 for his resurfaced podcast clips that were deemed both racist and hom*ophobic, using language that SNL called“offensive, hurtful and unacceptable.” Since this hiring and immediate firing, Gillis has created a successful comedy career with the Netflix comedy special "Shane Gillis: Beautiful Dogs" and a YouTube sketch comedy channel called "Gilly and Keeves" that has nearly a million subscribers and millions of views. Also, Netflix just recently acquired the comedian's independently produced sitcom "Tires."

Needless to say, even after Gillis' very public ousting at "SNL," his career has flourished enough that he was even invited back to host the show. So how did a cancelled comedian become the controversial celebrity comedian to host the respected late-night sketch comedy show?

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Here's a timeline of the events from Gillis' firing to hosting:

September 11, 2019: Gillis is hired at "SNL"

When Gillis was hired at the show five years ago, he was joined with now current cast members Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman. The sketch comedy show has a wide array of talent from diverse backgrounds but the show was lauded for casting its first openly gay Asian American comedy, Yang being the first Chinese American cast member in its 50-year history.

A whole 24 hours after Yang's historic casting, a 2018 video of Gillis made its rounds online from his podcast"Matt and Shane's Secret Podcast" in which he called Asians by a racial slur. The video was reportedly removed after it was posted online. But NBC News said that the podcast host Matt McCusker and Gillis were talking about the origins of Chinatown. Gillis said that when the area was built people said"Let the f*****g c****k live there." Not only did Gillis drop a slur, he also mocked Chinese people'scuisine, accents and English-speaking abilities.

Not only did Gillis drop a slur, he also mocked Chinese people'scuisine, accents and English-speaking abilities.

In another podcast clip, the hosts complain about comedians like Judd Apatow and call them “white f****t comics” and “f*****g gayer than ISIS.” He continued to generalize comedians by race, gender and sexuality by saying, “Black chicks are very funny, especially when they’re sassy . . . White chicks are literally the bottom.Ali Wongis making it so Asian chicks are funnier than white chicks.”

Almost immediately, Gillis took to Twitter (now known as X) to address the controversy. In a now-deleted tweet, he said "I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss. If you go through my 10 years of comedy, most of it bad, you’re going to find a lot of bad misses."

He continued, "I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said. My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can and sometimes that requires risks.”

Yang and other cast members stayed silent about the firing. In 2020, the comedian said to the New York Times,"The reason I didn’t comment on it was because there was a sense of opposition being created between the two of us, right? But a lot of it was invented because it wasn’t like he was making any comments about me specifically.”

September 16, 2019: SNL fires Gillis for "offensive" and "hurtful" language

Five days after the comedian was hired, a spokesperson for long-time "SNL" executive producer Lorne Michaels said that they would not be going forward with Gillis during season 45. The statement also apologized to its viewers because it flagged that Gillis's casting decision and vetting process "was not up to our standard," NBC News reported.

"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 comedian and his impressive audition for SNL," the statement said. "We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days. The language he used is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable."

After the statement and the firing, Gillis took to Twitter again to say that he was "a comedian that was funny enough to get SNL. That can't be taken away. Of course I wanted an opportunity to prove myself on SNL, but I understand it would be too much of a distraction. I respect the decision they made."

2021-2023: Gillis releases his Netflix special "Beautiful Dogs" and his career takes off

After the firing, Gillis went on podcasts like "The Joe Rogan Experience," openly embraced by conservatives, and said that he told "SNL" about the tone of comedy and podcast. Gillis said that Michaels asked him about his work,Gillis said he had a podcast in which, “I say like gay and retard a lot.” According to Gillis, “They were like, ‘Ah, that’s fine, don’t worry about it.’”

His career did not slow down post-"SNL" firing either — it only ramped up. At the center of culture wars and the anti-cancel culture brigade, Gillis' standup was widely received on Netflix. His controversial standup special, "Beautiful Dogs" had alengthy run on the streamer’s Top 10 in five countries and spent two weeksUS Top 10 list.

The special is said to be walking the line between satirizing conservatives and playing to them, the New York Times reported. Gillis' YouTube,"Gilly and Keeves," where he is seen dressed up as former president Donald Trump in a seemingly mocking way has nearly a million subscribers and a couple million hits per video.

February 4, 2024: Gillis is announced as a host for "SNL"

However, a couple of weeks ago "SNL" announced its Feb. 23 host was Gillis, which came as a surprise to some people. Comments under the Instagram post show varied responses around his return with many angered that Gillis was allowed back, especially during Black History Month.

An actor Jeff Locker said in the comments, "So SNL invites a transphobe up to the stage last week, a presidential candidate who espouses anti-LGBTQ hate on tonight, and next week a guy who got fired from SNL for making racist Asian jokes. This while you have one of the biggest breakout stars in years in Bowen Yang. I've loved SNL my whole life, but JFC Lorne, WTF are you doing? This is not f'ing ok."

Another said, "Bout to be the highest SNL views in a long time 😂"

February 23: Gillis makes his "SNL" debut

Despite all the blowback and praise that Gillis finally got his shot on the "SNL" stage, Gillis had an interesting night as a host. In his dicey open monologue, he addressed his firing and made jokes about his Black niece, Down syndrome and being the gay best friend to his mother. Some critics think Gillis bombed terriblyand others think it was a thoughtful redemption.

Out the gate, Gillis began, “Yeah, I’m here. Most of you probably have no idea who I am. I was actually — I was fired from this show a while ago. But if, you know, don’t look that up, please, if you don’t know who I am. Please, don’t Google that. It’s fine. Don’t even worry about it.”

He continued frankly, "probably shouldn’t be up here, honestly." He thentalked about how members of his family have Down syndrome, “It almost got me,” he said “I dodged it, but it nicked me. It nicked me.” The studio audience's reaction was delayed and awkward,“Look, I don’t have any material that can be on TV, all right? I’m trying my best. Also, this place is extremely well-lit. I can see everyone not enjoying it. This is the most nervous I’ve ever been.”

Gillis said that talking about Down syndrome can make people uncomfortable, but his family members are “doing better than everybody I know — they’re the only ones having a good time, pretty consistently. They’re not worried about the election. They’re having a good time.”

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He added, “I thought that was going to get a bigger laugh. I thought we were allowed to have fun here.”

Gillis joked about his sister, who he said had adopted three Black children and has a daughter with Down syndrome. He joked that if his niece is older and bullied by a white student,“And then three Black kids coming flying out of nowhere, start whaling on that cracker."

Later on in the episode, Yang who was missing during most skits, played an HR manager with Fineman, the rest of the cast and Gillis.

The episode was met with mixed reactions from fans and critics, with people online raving that"the magical thing about Shane Gillis is that his liberal fans think he’s a leftist using shock humor to deliver progressive messages and his conservative fans think he’s a rebellious edgelord who’s triggering the libs when in reality he’s just a dude bein a guy."

Another saying, "Well, Shane Gillis is still racist and unfunny. Big shock.@nbcsnlreally dropped the ball. One of the worst opening monologues ever."

Read more

about Shane Gillis

  • New "SNL" cast member Shane Gillis counters backlash to racist, hom*ophobic comments with non-apology
  • Shane Gillis fired from "Saturday Night Live," robbing world of racist, hom*ophobic originality
  • Even without Shane Gillis, "SNL" has always been a conservative show

By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

MORE FROM Nardos Haile

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Comedian Shane Gillis' "Saturday Night Live" journey from firing to hosting, explained (2024)

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