Appearing on stage at comedy club the Stand in New York City, Gillis performed an 11-minute set that pulled no punches when it came to his recent career turn. “Everybody’s been like, you can’t say sh–t and not expect consequences,” he said, wearing a “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast” hoodie. “I’m fine with the consequences. I’m not arguing. F–ck it. But I do want everyone to know that I’ve been reading every one of my death threats in an Asian accent.”
Social media and “cancel culture” were the major focus of Gillis’ set, during which he spoke about the backlash he’s received over the last week. “It’s been weird. Twitter has been f–cking nuts. You try to stay off it when the whole f–cking country hates you. That’s not a fun feeling as a human. Especially when you never get to say your side at all.”
The New York audience gave him a warm greeting, clapping loudly when he arrived on stage, with several people shouting his name emphatically from the back row multiple times throughout the performance.
Gillis was well aware of the newly focused scrutiny, at one time calling it “stressful,” but both addressing and playing to it where he could throughout the set. At one point, he jokingly applauded an audience member whom he initially thought was recording him. “You were taking an artistic chance and I appreciate that. Sometimes you take risks. Where do you work, though? You should probably be fired.”
He went on to speak about how differently he believes people in his hometown of Philadelphia address politics and race when compared to his new friends in New York: “I don’t know if you can tell, I’m white trash,” he said. “I’m from a sh–t hole and then I moved to the city and now all my friends are woke. They’re from Brooklyn. But I still have uncles. They have the internet, so I’ll get online and the first status will be someone from back home like, ‘F–cking Colin Kaepernick better stand up. Like this status if you love the troops and God. Share it if you’re not gay.’ Next status is one of my new woke friends like, ‘I’m not racist.’
“It’s funny to hear so many people these days be like, ‘I’m not racist,’ ” he continued. “Are you sure? Being racist isn’t a yes or no thing. It’s not like you have it or you don’t have it. Being racist is like being hungry. You’re not right now but a cheeseburger could cut you off in traffic and you could get hungry real quick. You didn’t even know you were hungry for that type of cheeseburger. The cheeseburger’s not Asian in that joke.”
It was announced last Thursday that Gillis would join NBC sketch-comedy series “SNL” alongside fellow comedians Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman. But after his disparaging comments about Asians, women, LGBTQ people and Muslims—made on his joint podcast with fellow comedian Matt McCusker—were picked apart on Twitter, the network responded by cutting ties with the comedian just four days after his casting announcement.
“After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining ‘SNL,’ ” read a statement made on behalf of “SNL” exec producer Lorne Michaels by an NBC spokesperson Monday. “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 comedian and his impressive audition for SNL. 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.”
The comic responded to the decision via Twitter on Monday: “It feels ridiculous for comedians to be making serious public statements but here we are. I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. That can’t be taken away. Of course I wanted an opportunity to prove myself at SNL, but I understand it would be too much of a distraction. I respect the decision they made. I’m honestly grateful for the opportunity. I was always a mad tv guy anyway.”
The tweet elicited support from fellow comics and “SNL” vets including Rob Schneider and Norm Macdonald.
“It’s uncomfortable to talk about all this stuff about race. But like, I feel like I’m the right guy to do the job,” Gillis joked Wednesday. “I think I look the part.”