SNL names Shane Gillis as host, years after dropping him over racist joke (2024)

“Saturday Night Live” announced comedian Shane Gillis as the host of its upcoming episode, less than five years after hiring and then almost immediately dropping him as a cast member over previous jokes that many viewed as offensive.

Gillis will host SNL on Feb. 24, with rapper 21 Savage as musical host, the show announced.

SNL said it was adding Gillis to its cast in September 2019, when he was still a relatively unknown comedian. Shortly after the announcement, a 2018 podcast clip surfaced of Gillis using racial slurs against Chinese people and making racist references to Chinatown. In separate clips, Gillis also used hom*ophobic and sexist language.

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Within days, SNL creator and producer Lorne Michaels said in a statement that the language Gillis used was “offensive, hurtful and unacceptable” and that the show was “not aware of his prior remarks.” “After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining ‘S.N.L.,’” the statement said.

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Gillis initially responded by tweeting: “I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss.” He added: “I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually been offended by anything I’ve said. My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”

He later said in a statement, according to Variety: “Of course I wanted an opportunity to prove myself at ‘SNL,’ but I understand it would be too much of a distraction. I respect the decision they made.”

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It was one of the first high-profile incidents of what critics coined “cancel culture.” At the time, it set off a debate about the sometimes blurry line between cultural satire and mockery and raised the questions: Should there be limits to comedy? And who should benefit from a platform as influential as SNL?

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Now, Gillis will take the SNL stage at 30 Rockefeller Plaza as host, in a move that is already causing some head-scratching among the late-night show’s following.

Gillis reposted the SNL host announcement on Instagram and X on Saturday but did not add any further information. His representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Sunday.

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The comedian has had a series of recent successes that have raised his profile since SNL parted ways with him. In 2021, he released a self-funded stand-up comedy special called “Live in Austin” on YouTube, where it has been viewed over 23 million times. His second stand-up special, “Beautiful Dogs,” was released last year on Netflix. And this year, he is doing a 14-city tour across the United States.

The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh profiled Gillis in 2022, describing him as an “unpredictable” comedian who delights in the strong reactions of his audience but is at times uncomfortable with the support that his removal from SNL and style of humor have garnered him among conservatives and “audience members who prized offensive speech for its own sake.”

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Sanneh pointed out that other comedians who have faced backlash or lost jobs or opportunities because of past remarks have pivoted to making jokes about their situation and casting themselves as defenders of free speech. But Gillis did not: According to Sanneh, Gillis told the podcast host Joe Rogan in 2021, “I don’t want to be a victim — I want to be a comedian.” He said he did not want his comedy to be about how he was treated. “I understand why I was treated that way,” he told the New Yorker, adding that he intended to keep making “wild” statements.

Lorne Michaels still lives for Saturday night

On social media, the announcement of Gillis as host sparked mixed reactions, with fans of the comedian praising his return and others criticizing SNL producers for bringing him back.

Some social media users argued it was an ill-timed move to elevate a comedian accused of racial insensitivity during Black History Month. Some also criticized the show for bringing on Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley on Feb. 3 for a skit in which she said she “probably should have said” that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War — a reference to her failure to mention it during a town hall with voters on the campaign trail last year.

Abby Ohlheiser and Elahe Izadi contributed to this report.

SNL names Shane Gillis as host, years after dropping him over racist joke (2024)

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