Shane Gillis

Anyone who thought comic Shane Gillis would emerge confident and defiant, hosting Saturday Night Live nearly five years after he was fired from the cast amid a backlash over racist and transphobic jokes, had to be a little disappointed with his monologue last night.

Gillis didn’t dwell much on the past or his career rise since then. In fact, he humorously advised the audience not to look him up, saying, “Don’t look that up” and suggested not Googling if they didn’t know him.

Rather than gloating or making in-your-face jokes, Shane Gillis swiftly moved on. His opening monologue was a bit uneasy, marked by subtle attempts at being naughty. For instance, he made a joke about every little boy being their mom’s gay best friend and shared a bit about how people with Down syndrome, including his relatives, are some of the happiest people he knows.

As the monologue wore on, Gillis seemed increasingly uncomfortable – even for a comic whose onstage persona is a slightly awkward, sorta doofus. More than once, he quipped that he expected a joke to get a bigger laugh, noting at one point, “This place is extremely well-lit. I can see everyone not enjoying it.” (laughter in the room where SNL broadcasts from sometimes sounds louder to viewers at home than to the performers onstage.)

Now, here’s the thing – Gillis tried to be clever in responding to all the fuss around him hosting Saturday Night Live. For those who knew about the criticism but didn’t dive into the podcasts where he made some not-so-great comments, his monologue might’ve seemed like no big deal.

He’s maybe trying a tricky move in a world where everything you say ends up recorded somewhere. Gillis talks one way to his core audience – pushing some buttons and being more explicit – and then does a different, more general kind of comedy for a bigger crowd, like his Netflix special or SNL.

But here’s where it got a bit awkward for me. I listened to some of that podcast stuff before the SNL episode. So when he cracked jokes about his sister adopting three Black kids and marrying an Egyptian man, or how his family started a coffee shop where people with Down syndrome can work, it felt a bit off. Even the joke about his niece with Down syndrome and a group of Black kids beating up a white kid – that just seemed unnecessary.

It felt like Gillis was trying to play it safe, steering clear of anything that could bring back the backlash. But since he didn’t really explain or tackle the controversy around him being on SNL, it felt like he missed a chance to do something meaningful. Or maybe he was just avoiding the topic altogether.

My skepticism continued with the other sketches on the show. They often felt like they took cues from the kind of scattered jokes you’d find on his podcasts. There was this skit where he played the head of a white family visiting a Black church in Jamaica – and yes, he did a pretty cringe-worthy Jamaican accent for a few laughs. Then there was this game show where he acted like a white guy afraid to say the names of Martin Luther King Jr. and Oprah on TV. One of his opponents was a Black woman who didn’t recognize the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s statue of David – that one stung a bit more.

By Jammy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *