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New ‘Saturday Night Live’ Actor Shane Gillis Under Fire for Racist Remarks

September 13, 2019

When Saturday Night Live announced the addition of three new cast members on Thursday, fans cheered the inclusion of Bowen Yang, who is now the sketch show’s first Asian-American cast member. The celebration of the long-running sketch show’s move to increase its onscreen diversity was short-lived, though, when it came to light that one of the other hirees, standup comedian Shane Gillis, made several racist comments about Chinese people in the not-so-distant past.

Freelance comedy reporter Seth Simons tweeted a clip from Gillis’s podcast, Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast, in which the comic asks “Why do the fucking ch-nks live there?” when discussing Chinatown and mocked the accents of Chinese people. The podcast episode was recorded in September 2018. In another clip found by Vulture, Gillis and co-host Matt McCusker mock other comics with homophobic slurs and rank white female comedians as the least funny group in the business.

On Thursday night, Gillis responded to the controversy on Twitter, writing in an iPhone note, “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.” He also said he’s a “comedian who pushes boundaries” and that his 10-year career is full of “bad misses.” 

Within hours of the 2018 comments going viral, Vulture also reported that people from the comedy scene in Philadelphia, where Gillis performed for many years, were mystified by his hiring on the venerable show. The owner co-owner of the city’s Good Good Comedy Theatre said they had stopped booking Gillis in recent years “because of racist, homophobic, and sexist things he’s said on and offstage.” Simons noted earlier in the day that most of the episodes of Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast were removed from YouTube at some point prior to this all coming to wider attention, though they’re still available on the show’s website.

This isn’t the first time a current SNL cast member has come under fire for past material and social media use. "Weekend Update" co-anchor Michael Che and repertory player Melissa Villaseñor have both faced criticism for comments on Instagram and Twitter seen by some as sexist and racist, though neither of them faced any public disciplinary action from the show. Unlike Gillis, the uproar over Che and Villaseñor’s actions did not happen on the day their hirings were announced. 

Saturday Night Live and NBC have yet to comment on the situation or take any action regarding Gillis’s employment. The show did not respond immediately to requests for comment from Fortune.

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