3 reasons Shane Gillis’ return to ‘SNL’ was worth it

In recent years, stand-up comedian Shane Gillis has amassed tremendous fame upon the 2023 release of his Netflix special “Beautiful Dogs,” and the surging listenership of his podcast with Matt McCusker, “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast.”

However, like many comics in today’s society, Gillis has had his bouts of dishonorable controversies and public apologies. One of his most notorious scandals being his dismissal from “Saturday Night Live” back in 2019.

Briefly after “SNL” had announced Gillis as a new cast member, podcast clips surfaced of him and his co-host, Matt McCusker, bashing Chinese culture among other racist, sexist and homophobic remarks. This ultimately led to his termination, with “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels condemning the behavior as “offensive, hurtful and unacceptable.”

In response to the backlash on social media, Gillis wrote, “I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries, I sometimes miss.”

Although his reputation is far from squeaky clean, it’s safe to say that Gillis has transcended the fiery hell of cancel culture for now. Nearly half a decade later, “SNL” has invited Gillis back to host the show. Here are a couple of things that made the wait worthwhile:

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1) The opening monologue was refreshingly real.

The more you watch Shane Gillis, the more you realize what you see is what you get.

He opens with a touch of imposter syndrome, remarking that, “I probably shouldn’t be up here. I should be home. I should be a high school football coach.”

Gillis then shifts the focus to his diverse family, mentioning his sister’s daughter with Down syndrome, her three adopted Black children and Egyptian husband.

“Going to their house is like entering the craziest Uber pool you’ve ever been in,” he said.

In today’s climate, people often shy away from acknowledging diversity due to the fear of being labeled as insensitive. However, Gillis takes a different approach by unapologetically drawing attention to it. In my opinion, this adds to layers to his authenticity, revealing a comedian who stands by his content despite potential backlash.

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2) His Trump impression was spot-on, as per usual.

Gillis has truly mastered the persona of a chubby, off-putting redneck— perhaps because it hits a little close to home.

The “Trump Sneakers” skit stood out to me in particular because it was so real, both in its concept and execution. The bit poked fun at the ex-president’s elite gaslighting skills, providing Gillis with a platform to showcase, what I consider his greatest talent— the Trump impression.

Sporting a straw-yellow wig and shiny gold sneakers, Gillis misses a shot on the basketball court. “I didn’t miss, it went in,” Gillis said in Trump’s voice, mocking his signature hand gestures and facial expressions.

Later, someone asks Gillis if the shoes are what makes him good at the sport.

“They gave me the power to say I’m good at basketball, then double down on that until people actually start to believe it,” Gillis replied.

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3) The episode proves cancel culture is a waste of time.

My final critique is not a nod to Gillis’ comedic talent, but rather his resilience in the face of public criticism, and the success he derived from it.

In 2019, Gillis’ offensive remarks cost him one of the most coveted jobs in comedy. Yet today, the same podcast that once sentenced him to digital exile now stands as a foundation for his skyrocketing fame.

This shift suggests a trend where people are finally distancing themselves from the rigidity of cancel culture. Perhaps, because it’s becoming more and more obvious that many companies cut ties to avoid PR crises rather than to fulfill moral obligations.

Even in “SNL’s” case, it’s unclear whether they truly believed in the reasons they fired Gillis to begin with. Although the comic used regrettable language, the question arises whether it would have warranted the downfall of his career. After all, his persistence in the comedy world still led him to back to the very stage that let him go in the first place.

Shane Gillis’ comeback to “SNL” suggests that social media isn’t the ultimate determinant of success, and blindly adhering to cancel culture is a useless pursuit.