SNL faux pas illustrates continued issues with privilege

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Comedian Shane Gillis was fired from Saturday Night Live after footage of him making offensive remarks began to circulate, just four days after being offered the job. 

Gillis displayed racist behavior towards Chinese people on his podcast, going as far as to use racial slurs on air and mocked Chinese accents.  These comments were made as recently as August of this year.

“I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve 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,” said Gillis in a statement he posted on Twitter. 

Gillis’ actions highlight a major issue in the entertainment industry: white privilege allows entertainers to get away with harmful behavior— except in this instance.

This “risk” of his led SNL to fire him; he will not be joining new contributors Chloe Fineman and Bown Yang, the show’s first Asian member, for its 45th season.

Gillis has received immense backlash for these comments from Asian comedians and actors in the industry.

“I do want everyone to know that I’ve been reading every one of my death threats in an Asian accent,” Gillis said in his first standup routine since being fired.

It’s obvious he hasn’t learned his lesson after being fired. 

White privilege allows entertainers like Gillis to make the same “mistake” over and over again without consequence. While there was an obvious consequence in this instance, there are still people who believe he should be forgiven and even get his job back.

One such person is presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who was a target of one of Gillis’ offensive comments in a May podcast recording.

Yang replied to Gillis’ statement on Twitter, saying “For the record, I do not think he should lose his job. We would benefit from being more forgiving rather than punitive. We are all human.” Yang went on to say he would be happy to “sit down and talk” with him.

Aside from Yang, whose statements have also received backlash online, other comedians are defending Gillis and believe “cancel culture” is ruining comedy.

“I am sorry that you had the misfortune of being a cast member during this era of cultural unforgiveness where comedic misfires are subject to intolerable inquisition of those who never risked bombing on stage themselves,” said Rob Schneider, comedian and former member of SNL.

Even when these entertainers do face consequences, these offensive actions will be defended by others.

White people can maintain a career regardless of their actions while people of color don’t get a chance to launch a career in the first place.

People like Schnieder can say Gillis is being silenced by intolerant people, but the real intolerance is experienced by comedians of color who aren’t afforded the same opportunities as their white colleagues — the same colleagues making jokes at their expense.

The controversy surrounding Gillis’ words have raised questions on the quality of the vetting process on SNL.

On The Gist Comedy Week podcast, Khalid Rahmaan stated he didn’t think any vetting really happened in show business. Comedian Hari Kondabolu responded by saying, “I mean, there is some vetting. Historically, they vet people of color out.”

Gillis will continue to book gigs at comedy clubs — assuming he doesn’t continue to get banned, like he has from many clubs before according to Rolling Stone magazine — while comedians of color don’t get a chance on stage themselves.

Although Gillis has lost his job, this will not be the last time a white entertainer messes up. It probably won’t be the last time they’re forgiven either.