Before the 45th season of Saturday Night Live begins later this month, with Woody Harrelson hosting the season premiere, the late night sketch comedy series has added three new featured players to the cast in the wake of Leslie Jones leaving the show. One is woman with a whole new array of impressions and characters, another is the first full-time East Asian cast member, and one of them is already in trouble for racist and homophobic material. Neat!
Saturday Night Live announced the three new featured players today all over social media:
We’ve looked around on the web for some examples of their work so you can get a better impression of who these comedians are. And as we said, one of them has already been vetted by the web, and it didn’t take long before something questionable from their work was found. But we’ll get to that later.
First up, we have Chloe Finneman, who was named a New Face at the 2018 Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, a coveted honor for comedians. She’s also been a regular performer with the famous improvisational and sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings, which is where other SNL cast members like Will Ferrell, Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and many more cut their teeth.
If you watch the video above, it’s obvious why Finneman is a great fit for SNL. She brings a fantastic array of original characters with her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her New York acting school teacher persona pop up on the show sometime this season. More than likely she’s also a skilled impressionist, and I can see her fitting in with the cast much in the same way that Heidi Gardner has in recent years.
It’s about time Saturday Night Live hired a full-time Asian cast member who wasn’t just a quarter Japanese like Fred Armisen or a quarter Filipino like Rob Schneider. Now the show can finally start tapping into new arenas for comedy since they have someone who can actually play Asian characters without being inherently racist about it.
Yang has actually been at Saturday Night Live for a whole season already as a staff writer, so he’s already well-versed in the world of the show. In fact, he actually already made his debut on SNL when he played Kim Jong-un during a sketch earlier this spring. Aside from that, as you can see above, he too has a penchant for character work in sketch comedy, and again at the very least, he’ll allow for a more diverse influence on the cultural topics that SNL can cover.
Unfortunately for Bowen Yang, his hiring also comes at a time when SNL has also hired Shane Gillis. Though Gillis has put in years of work as a comedian and and was recently recognized as a New Face at the 2019 Just for Laughs Festival (his stand-up clip above is all right but not great), he’s already in hot water for making racist and homophobic jokes. And we’re not talking about the usual jokes that are dug up from years and years ago. The material that has everyone in an uproar was from September last year. Here’s the clip in question:
today SNL announced the hiring of its first cast member of East Asian descent, and also this guy pic.twitter.com/0FAGJZJUkK
— Seth Simons (@sasimons) September 12, 2019
If you can’t listen for fear of co-workers or something hearing some racist comments, Gillis uses the slur “chinks” during this episode of Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast, which Gillis co-hosts with comedian Matt McCusker and probably should have been an actual secret. They also make some broad, sweeping stereotypical generalizations about their culture and partake in doing racist and hacky Asian voices. Not only is it lazy, bad comedy, but it’s inherently racist without even a hint of satire.
Another episode of the podcast has Gillis and McCusker talking about confessional style stand-up comedy, and they refer to the likes of Judd Apatow and Chris Gethard by calling them “white faggot comics” and “fucking gayer than ISIS.” This is in the same episode where they inexplicably choose to rank how funny comedians are by their race, gender and sexual orientation, starting off with the gut-busting observation, “White chicks are literally the bottom.” Hilarious, guys.
You’d think that maybe Shane Gillis would be smart enough to try to paint this podcast as being hosted by “characters” instead of the comedians themselves, that way he might be able to get away with satirizing the ignorant and racist remarks made by people out in society. Instead, this is how Gillis addressed the issue in an “apology” on Twitter:
— Shane Gillis (@Shanemgillis) September 13, 2019
Look, Shane, as someone who has countless friends who work in comedy professionally, not to mention dabbling on stage and studying the art of comedy itself for years, this is not pushing boundaries. And it would be one thing if people had to dig through your long history of stand-up to find something like this and you maybe learned some lessons since then, but the clip in question is from a podcast where the racial “material” you’re attempting doesn’t even remotely approach the concept of pushing boundaries. It’s lazy, hacky, uninspired and flat out racist. There’s no risk here. You’re just a racist guy.
Aside from this clip, Gillis is said to have a long history of making racist and homophobic slurs. Vulture learned that Good Good Comedy Theatre in Philadelphia stopped working with him within the past few years because of racist, homophobic, and sexist things he’s said on and offstage. Other sources who work in the Philly comedy scene were surprised of his hiring for the exact same reasons, and that includes comedians of other races and sexual orientations who found his language to be questionable at the very least.
It’s just a shame that Gillis is now overshadowing what should be a great step forward for SNL. No one from Saturday Night Live, including Lorne Michaels, has commented on the situation. It’ll be interesting to see if he ends up holding on to the job or if gets cut loose.
Saturday Night Live returns to NBC on September 28.
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