An American politician connects the Saturday Night Live Shane Gillis controversy to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. But what are the implication moving forward? Oddly enough, stand-up comedy could be on political agendas throughout the next year.
On September 12, SNL announced Gillis as one of three new cast members. Reports surfaced the same day about the American comedian’s history of making racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks. The controversy overshadowed SNL's hiring of Bowen Yang, the second cast member of East Asian descent, and sparked even more discussions about the craft of stand up comedy. Various comedians have since defended Gillis, and it’s also been reported that he was initially hired by SNL to appeal to a conservative audience. In recent years, SNL has steadily increased the amount of political comedy geared towards liberals, thus alienating the conservative crowd and lowering their viewership numbers. Gillis released a statement via Twitter on September 12. He described himself as “a comedian who pushes boundaries,” and stated that he’s willing to apologize to “anyone who’s actually offended.”
In response to Gillis' statement, presidential candidate Andrew Yang - whose parents are Taiwanese immigrants - tweeted “Shane - I prefer comedy that makes people think and doesn’t take cheap shots. But I’m happy to sit down and talk with you if you’d like.” Gillis had previously referred to Yang as a "Jew c***k." Over the next two days, Yang posted several more tweets about the SNL controversy and acknowledged that he didn’t want Gillis to lose his job. After listening to the comedian’s work, Yang tweeted that “He [Gillis] does not strike me as malignant or evil. He strikes me as a still-forming comedian from central Pennsylvania who made some terrible and insensitive jokes and comments.” On September 16, SNL fired Gillis. The same day, Yang confirmed that Gillis had indeed reached out.
Shane Gillis reached out. Looks like we will be sitting down together soon.— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) September 16, 2019
For Gillis, the controversy didn’t push him out of the spotlight. After being fired, he joked on Twitter that he “was always a mad tv guy ayway” - a reference to the popular sketch comedy series which originally aired from 1995 to 2009. On September 18, Gillis performed at The Stand NYC and reportedly joked about U.S. President Donald Trump getting assassinated, which could either be viewed as “on brand” for the comic or perhaps a way to double down on the SNL controversy. Either way, Gillis hasn’t backed down or disappeared since being fired, which means that his political commentaries could very well gain even more attention.
SNL will undoubtedly stick to their usual format moving forward, as the entirety of season 45 will parallel election events through next May. Yang could be the focus of political parodies during the coming months (along with other politicians), and the NBC series may even find a way to subtly reference Gillis, or will perhaps blatantly parody him as well. Whatever the case, sketch comedy and stand up comedy will be a vital part of American pop culture during the U.S. presidential election process, and partisan politics may lead to an ever greater divide within the country. Or maybe Yang will indeed emerge as the voice of reason when it's all said and done. Somehow, it seems that Shane Gillis and other comics won’t stray too far off brand as the 2020 U.S. election process intensifies.