Gillis’ racial slurs came back to haunt him immediately after he was announced as a new cast member for the upcoming season of New Saturday Night Live, alongside writer and comedian Bowen Yang, the show’s first fully East Asian cast member.
Aside from saying a racial slur against Chinese people, Gillis threw insults against waiters at Chinese restaurants. He eventually proclaimed what was obvious: “nice racism, good racism. I love to be f—ing racist.” When the clip emerged, “SNL” and NBC also came under fire for the now-controversial casting.
Gillis has since issued a statement via Twitter, justifying his comments by saying he’s a “comedian who pushes boundaries.” He also apologized to “anyone who’s actually offended” by what he said.
“I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss,” wrote Gillis. “If you go through my 10 years of comedy, most of it bad, you’re going to find a lot of bad misses. I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve ever 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.”
It has become a popular opinion on social media that there was nothing remotely funny in the controversial exchange and racism is not a comedic risk.
Commenting on Gillis’ tweet, “Wu Assassins” star Lewis Tan explained how his statements can only be considered a risk if he said them near the actor.
Calling people chinks and saying it’s annoying when they try to learn English isn’t a risk, its racist. My family damn near died to be here. You were racist. It’s only a risk if you talk this way around me, then it is a risk as my intention will be different than yours.
Many in the Asian American community have responded to the controversy:
It took 45 years for @SNL to get an East Asian cast member and in that same year he’ll be joined by someone who would have no problem calling him a “fuckin’ chink.”
Gotta be a joke in there somewhere. https://t.co/BB8C4lQU4X
If you’re a comic & you think calling Chinese ppl chinks is funny, you’re a hack AND a racist. Oh, & you’re going to make fun of Chinese accents by replacing Ls w/ Rs? For every untalented Shane Gillis there are hundreds of talented Bowen Yangs who have had to fight tooth & nail https://t.co/ptiqm9eboG
According to Vulture, Gillis has a reputation for including both racial and homophobic remarks in his stand-up comedy sets. Good Good Comedy Theatre co-owner Kate Banford expressed surprise when SNL’s casting news emerged.
“Good Good Comedy Theatre stopped working with him within the past few years because of racist, homophobic, and sexist things he’s said on and offstage,” Banford was quoted as saying.
In another video still posted to the “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast” YouTube channel as of this writing, Gillis and his co-host McCusker rank comedians by race, gender, and sexual orientation, saying “white chicks are literally at the bottom,” after the 2:20 mark.
“Ali Wong is making it so Asian chicks are funnier than white chicks.” The two co-hosts continue to disparage Ali Wong’s comedy.
Near the 12:00 mark, Gillis and McCusker mock Judd Apatow and Chris Gethard using homophobic slurs, calling them “white f*ggot comics” and saying they are “fucking gayer than ISIS.”
“Saturday Night Live” and NBC have yet to issue a statement regarding the controversy of their newest cast member.