New SNL Cast Member Fired Over Racial Slurs

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Long-running NBC show also hires Asian American comic.

NEW YORK — Just days after announcing three new cast members of “Saturday Night Live,” NBC has fired one of them for his use of racial and homophobic slurs.

“After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining SNL,” a spokesperson for SNL creator Lorne Michaels said. “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 for SNL.

Shane Gillis and Bowen Yang

“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. We are sorry that we did not see these clips earlier, and that our vetting process was not up to our standard.”

Initial media attention focused on the fact that Bowen Yang will be the first Chinese American cast member, and the third openly gay cast member, on SNL, which is entering its 45th season. Among former cast members, Rob Schneider is one-fourth Filipino and Fred Armisen is one-fourth Korean (he originally believed one of his grandparents was Japanese), but neither appeared to identify as Asian or was perceived as Asian.

However, freelance comedy reporter Seth Simons tweeted clips from “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast,” hosted by Gillis and Matt McCusker. In 2018, the two mocked Asian accents and Gillis referred to people in Chinatown as “chinks.”

Variety also reported that Gillis made anti-gay comments and stereotyped Muslims on his show.

The Good Good Comedy Theatre in Philadelphia tweeted on Sept. 12, “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.”

On Sept. 12, Gillis responded, “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 misses.”

“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 be and sometimes that requires risks.”

Among those calling out Gillis for his non-apology was film critic Emily Yoshida, who tweeted, “Ah yes, ‘chink’ — the word so edgy my septuagenarian social studies teacher felt totally comfortable using it in class 20 years ago. Spicy stuff, Grampa.”

APA Media Coalition’s Statement

The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition issued a statement praising the hiring of Yang and the firing of Gillis: “The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition celebrates the groundbreaking promotion of Bowen Yang to the cast of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ The hilarious and multi-talented Yang becomes the first full-Asian cast member in SNL’s 44-year history. The coalition and many of its member organization have urged NBC for many years to include Asian Americans on the show as hosts, writers, and cast members.

“The past three years have seen a number of Asian American or Pacific Islander hosts, including Aziz Ansari, Dwayne Johnson, Kumail Nanjiani, Awkwafina, Jason Mamoa, and Sandra Oh. Last year, Yang was hired on the SNL writing staff and appeared in a skit. And now that the nation’s fastest-growing racial or ethnic group is finally represented in its cast, we predict the show’s comedy will be fresher and more authentic.

“The coalition also thanks the network for taking decisive action to cut ties with Shane Gillis after the revelations of his recent history of casually using racist and homophobic slurs, mocking Chinese culture and accents, and denigrating women, LGBTQ Americans, and the mentally challenged.

“This is not a minor matter of hurt feelings. As our letter to the co-chairs of the network last week pointed out, dismissing an ethnic group with the slur ‘f*cking ch*nks’ is precisely what hate-crime perpetrators do before engaging in physical violence against Asians or Asian Americans.

“Gillis’ non-apology ‘apology’ only underscored his lack of understanding that relying on ethnic stereotypes and mockery of differences among Americans is tired and boring, not a mark of ‘taking risks’ for the sake of comedy. We applaud NBC for recognizing that associating the network and SNL with someone who believed that anti-Asian racism is ‘nice racism, good racism’ must be avoided.

“The coalition is grateful for its partnership with NBC and its responsiveness to the Asian American community’s expressed concerns. We look forward to an exciting new season of SNL.”

The Japanese American Citizens League said in a statement, “JACL is grateful for NBC’s decision to withdraw Shane Gillis from the cast of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ JACL and other community organizations, including the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (of which JACL is a member), have communicated with NBC executives that comedians absolutely must not resort to racism, sexism, or heterosexism for laughs, and in fact, the reliance on such tropes is hurtful and anything but funny.

“Given the depth and breadth of offensive material coming to light and lack of sincere contrition for his past work, Mr. Gillis’ presence on the cast was unacceptable. We appreciate their accountability to communities of color and hope that Mr. Gillis will take this opportunity to re-craft his repertoire.

“JACL looks forward to the upcoming 45th season of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ where comedian Bowen Yang will make his debut as a regular cast member. Yang has served as a writer for the show for a year, but this will be a much more prominent and important role for him, bringing an Asian face to a program that has been making strides in expanding the diversity of its cast to better reflect who we are as a country.

“Monday night also saw the premiere of ‘A Little Late with Lilly Singh.’ JACL welcomes the addition of a little melanin in our late night and are encouraged by the many positive messages in the opening musical piece. Ms. Singh showed how ethnicity and race can be a powerful positive element in comedy.

“We applaud NBC for affirming the importance of diversity in its late-night programming with its elevation of Mr. Yang and Ms. Singh and recognizing and rejecting the racism underlying significant elements of the past work of Mr. Gillis.”

Oh tweeted, “Glad 2 see @nbcsnl decision NOT legitimize/give platform 2 purveyors of racist homophobic content. Risks? LAZY ASS UNORIGINAL.

“A tad late/vetting ? But glad to see. Looking forward to watching @chloe-fineman [the third new cast member who was announced]and my man @bowenyang! Congrats!”

Andrew Yang Weighs In

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, despite being one of Gillis’ targets — the comedian referred to him as a “Jew chink” in a podcast in May — did not support the firing.

Andrew Yang

“For the record, I do not think he should lose his job,” Yang said before the firing was announced. “We would benefit from being more forgiving rather than punitive. We are all human.”

While acknowledging, based on personal experience, that racial slurs are “extraordinarily hurtful,” Yang said he listened to Gillis’ work and does not see him as “malignant or evil.”

“He strikes me as a still-forming comedian from central Pennsylvania who made some terrible and insensitive jokes and comments,” said Yang, who offered to sit down with Gillis and discuss the matter.

Schneider, who was a regular on SNL from 1990 to 1994, tweeted his support for Gillis: “As a former SNL cast member, I am sorry that you had the misfortune of being a cast member during this era of cultural unforgiveness where comedic misfires are subject to the intolerable inquisition of those who never risked bombing on stage themselves.”

Schneider has himself been taken to task for stereotypical portrayals in movies, including an East Asian man in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” a Hawaiian man in “50 First Dates,” and a Palestinian in “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.”

Comedian Jim Jefferies, appearing on “Lights Out with David Space,” said that Gillis shouldn’t have been fired: “Are we going to get rid of every sketch that SNL has done that involves race? I remember John Belushi dressing as an Asian man with a samurai sword. That was the whole sketch.”

On the same show, comedian Bill Burr commented, “Do they go back and also try to look at good things that the person might have done, or are they just looking for the bad stuff? … We’re not running for office! When is this gonna f***ing end?”

About Bowen Yang

Born to Chinese immigrant parents in 1990 — when SNL had already been on the air for 15 years — Yang was raised in Denver and graduated from New York University with a degree in chemistry.

Yang, who was named to Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30: Hollywood & Entertainment 2019” list, has appeared in shows such as “Broad City” and “High Maintenance” and co-hosts a comedy podcast, “Las Culturistas,” with Matt Rogers. The show is about gay topics and popular culture.

Yang posted videos to Twitter lip-syncing well-known moments in popular culture, such as a monologue by Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada,” Tyra Banks yelling at contestant Tiffany Richardson on “America’s Next Top Model,” and a viral video of Cardi B talking about the 2019 government shutdown.

He was also cast in an upcoming Comedy Central series, “Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens,” a scripted comedy based loosely on the actor’s life. Awkwafina, whose real name is Nora Lum, will be joined by BD Wong as her dad, Lori Tan Chinn as her grandma, and Yang as her cousin.

In 2018, Yang was hired as a staff writer on SNL. He also made a cameo appearance as North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un while host Oh played his interpreter. As a student, Yang was inspired to major in chemistry by watching Oh’s character, Dr. Cristina Yang, on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“I was the kid who at 12 years old went to NBC studio tours, and I would just answer all these trivia questions on the tour that the pages would ask about SNL. I was that kid,” Yang said in an interview. “The show was just this incredible fixture in my life that I had to know everything about.”

At the time, he never dreamed that he would appear on the show, given the lack of Asian representation.

SNL is scheduled to return on Sept. 28.

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