Editorial: Racism has no place in comedy

Nikhil Sriram, Editor-in-Chief

After being announced as the newest cast member of Saturday Night Live for its 45th season, comedian Shane Gillis was dismissed from the show in September before ever making an appearance on the show. The comedian was accused of making racist remarks as part of his podcast called Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast, which he co-hosts with comedian Matt McCusker. 

Gillis is accused of using a racist slur and insulting Chinese accents as part of a bit on Chinatown. Videos also surfaced of Gillis using homosexual slurs to characterize comedians he does not think are funny. 

In a statement discussing the firing of Gillis, SNL apologized for their lack of diligence in investigating his prior remarks. 

“We want SNL to have a variety of voices and points of view within the show … 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.”

While SNL should have been more thorough in their vetting of Gillis, their swift action later on should stand as an example for other shows on how these types of decisions should be made. 

In response to his dismissal, Gillis took to Twitter.

“I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get on SNL. That can’t be taken away,” Gillis said. “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.”

Gillis’s apology was not formal, nor was it truly apologetic. In his eyes, being the “best comedian” he can be “requires risks.” Nowhere in his statement did he say that he was truly sorry for what he did, nor did he learn from his mistakes. 

Gillis, however, is simply the latest casualty in a battle against racism and prejudice in the entertainment industry. Other notable firings include the ousting of Paramount TV president Amy Powell as well as the cancellation of the show Roseanne on ABC after the lead actress Roseanne Barr published numerous racist tweets. 

While comedy is meant to poke fun at society, comedians must tread lightly when dealing with issues of race and sexuality. Specific words and phrases can trigger painful memories for some groups of people. Thus, we must prevent such unnecessary offensive language from being used in the public sphere. As a society, we must continue to punish those who use such language to promote feelings of bigotry and discrimination. Shane Gillis may have lost a significant opportunity, but the course of action taken by SNL was necessary and appropriate.