Monday was the day the clown cried. Saturday Night Live announced it was firing comedian Shane Gillis, only days after adding his name to the cast list for the new season.
I was excited when I heard that Shane had been hired. I’m familiar with his work, and his brand of comedy is right up my alley. He’s a regular guest on two of my favorite podcasts, The Real Ass Podcast and Legion of Skanks, the latter of which bills itself as “the most offensive podcast on Earth.” And like me, he’s from central Pennsylvania, so we both share similar cultural affinities.
It only took a few hours before the pitchforks were out in force. Cultural arsonists began spreading their fires around social media, sharing clips of Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast and the aforementioned shows. The bits that caused the most outrage were Shane’s impersonation of an Asian accent, his use of the terms “chink” and “faggot,” and his calling politically correct comics “gayer than ISIS.”
Shane issued the standard apology, but after several days of deliberation, SNL fired him. “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,” read part of NBC’s statement.
“I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. That can’t be taken away,” Shane responded on Monday. “I was always a Mad TV guy anyway.”
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who was the target of one of Gillis’ jokes, said he was all about forgiveness and not punishment and didn’t think the comedian should have been fired. “We are all human,” he said in a statement. Gillis reportedly took up Yang’s offer to sit down and talk.
Far from a new phenomenon, Shane’s firing isn’t even the first incident of “cancel culture” this month. Three weeks ago, Netflix released Dave Chappelle’s newest special, Sticks and Stones. Chappelle’s jokes about Michael Jackson, the LGBTQ+ lobby, and the Jussie Smollett hate crime hoax garnered a wave of negative reviews. But they’re the minority: critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes is 31 percent, while audience consensus stands at 99 percent fresh.
Dave Chappelle is one of the greatest comics of all time, and it’ll take more than an edgy special to get him canceled. Unfortunately, Shane Gillis was a much easier scalp to collect.
In all honesty, the people going after “racist” and “hateful” jokes are causing more division than a couple of words ever could. Mutually shared humor is one of the best ways for differing people to bond. Putting hazard tape around a topic or a group of people only draws attention, encourages separation, and builds resentment.
“The line has to be drawn. Do we have the freedom to express ourselves, and the freedom to create, or don’t we? Where is the line? Who gets to dictate where the line is?” asked comedian Luis J. Gomez earlier this year. Luis, known by his sobriquet the Puerto Rican Rattlesnake, is the co-founder of Gas Digital Network, a podcast platform that currently hosts both RAP and LOS.
And for the many people who don’t want to watch that type of programming, that’s fine. It’s not their cup of tea. Just like I don’t want to watch Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah give lectures on virtue that garner more applause than laughs, they don’t have to tune in to comedy that pushes the bounds of so-called decency.
Except the left isn’t amenable to that kind of cultural truce.
“Progressive regimes demand that persons who express themselves in public (even in private) affirm any and all things that pertain to the regime’s identity lest they lose access to jobs or privileges, and be exposed to the shunning or ire of regime supporters—if not treated as criminals,” writes Angelo Codevilla.
Political correctness is not based on love and acceptance. It’s based on fear.
Some comics see a light at the end of the tunnel. “The people that watch and enjoy SNL are the lowest form of comedy fan. No good comedians watch it, no one respects it in the business,” tweeted Tony Hinchcliffe. He believes people like Shane will go on too much greener pastures as older industry models die out.
“Listen I know this is all very annoying but just imagine all these people when Trump wins again,” suggested Tim Dillon, predicting another reverberation from the heartland.
Luis, however, isn’t as confident that offensive comedy has a future. “They’re going to eventually say, ‘Well listen. You can’t put something on YouTube, or you can’t put something on Twitter, you can’t say these words, because that’s going to incite violence.’ And as we start going down that path, its going to be more words, more restrictions, more things…the internet will look like television in 10 years,” he predicts.
In this dystopia, algorithms search through videos and audio clips, scanning for “inappropriate” words and automatically removing content from sharable platforms.
“It’s going to be [expletive] China dude. I’m telling you right now,” says Luis. “Where we are going right now, we are going to [expletive] have so many limitations on what we can do and say online, what we can see online, the words we can say online. And it’s going to wrapped in this whole idea of it’s for the greater good.”
American satirist and acerbic wit H.L. Mencken described puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” (Mencken had his own cancel attempt last year). And that’s what these people are. They’re puritanical monsters who seek to create a joyless world of inclusion seminars and a weak society of criers sitting in hug rooms.
If you want to stop that from happening, and still be laughing in 10 years, consider making a financial contribution to your favorite comic’s Patreon. Comedians who don’t back down need all the support they can get right now. And just to be safe, maybe download a few of your favorite podcast clips before it’s too late.
Hunter DeRensis is a reporter for The National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.