Shane Gillis’ giant miss as host of ‘Saturday Night Live’ - Poynter (2024)

I’m a fan of “Saturday Night Live.” I’ve always been a fan, going all the way back to the early days of Chevy Chase and John Belushi and Gilda Radner and the original “Not Ready for Prime Time Players.”

Even during the so-called “down” years of the early 1980s, I never stopped watching. Yes, I’ll admit there have been subpar seasons and a couple of so-so eras, but I’ve never joined the crowd that constantly says, “‘Saturday Night Live’ hasn’t been good in years,” even though many of those people haven’t actually watched the show in years. I’m not sure when it happened, but it became fashionable to say the show wasn’t what it used to be.

We can all acknowledge that no show can reach the audience and have the groundbreaking relevance that “SNL” did in the 1970s. Television was different back then, a more shared experience with much fewer TV options. But it eventually became oh so easy — to the point of being a bad cliché — to pile on “SNL” and dismiss it without really consuming it.

“That show hasn’t been funny in forever,” became the chorus from those who ignored how the show has produced the likes of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kate McKinnon, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Kenan Thompson, Jason Sudeikis, Maya Rudolph and so many other comedic stars.

I bring all this up to go over what happened Saturday night when comedian Shane Gillis hosted the show. If you don’t know the story, Gillis was hired to be a cast member in 2019, but was fired almost immediately (and without ever appearing on the show) when his past racist remarks were uncovered.

At the time, Gillis said he “respected” SNL’s decision, but he has never really apologized for anything other than saying, “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.”

In other words, it sounds like he’s saying that to be funny, he sometimes says offensive things and if you have a problem with that, that’s on you.

Because he never really took accountability, I’m still confused about why “SNL” would welcome him back to host. No one associated with the show has given an explanation.

Those who like Gillis fill that void by saying things such as comedy is supposed to be edgy, and that we can’t cancel everyone for just trying to be funny, or that “SNL” is trying to be relevant again by welcoming in what passes as a controversial comedian.

In a thoughtful piece for Vox, Aja Romano wrote, “Gillis’s fans, including more liberal comedians like Jerrod Carmichael, seem to believe that rather than being actually racist, Gillis is consciously cultivating his offensiveness purely for the purposes of his comedy work. This view is as old as comedy itself, but in the current cultural era, it’s evolved into what NPR’s Eric Deggans has called ‘bigotry denial syndrome.’ The thinking goes that a comedic project has a certain level of importance and purpose, the level of which should both justify the offensive material and completely negate any suspicion that the comedian truly believes what they’re platforming, let alone that they deserve consequences for the offensive material. In Gillis’s case, it seems more accurate to say that he’s not performing ironic racism at all — he’s coasting on other people’s good faith belief that he must be acting totally in jest.”

Saturday’s opening monologue would have been a perfect opportunity for Gillis to address — and even make light of, or dare I say apologize for or explain — his past comments. Instead, all he said was “Yeah, I’m here. Most of you probably have no idea who I am. I was actually — I was fired from this show a while ago. But if, you know, don’t look that up, please, if you don’t know who I am. Please, don’t Google that. It’s fine. Don’t even worry about it.”

I settled in for a monologue that could have been one of the most memorable in the show’s 49 seasons. But it never happened. When it came to Gillis’ firing and what led to it, there were no jokes, no apology, not even doubling down and making fun of “SNL.” The self-proclaimed risk-taking comedian wasn’t risky or interesting at all. Instead, Gillis went on to essentially bomb in front of the live audience, giving a cringeworthy monologue that included jokes about gay people and Down syndrome.

The Daily Beast’s Michael Boyle wrote, “Most of the humor is exactly what Gillis fans have come to expect, and most of his jokes — especially the bit about how happy people with Down syndrome tend to be — is a lot more empathetic than his reputation might suggest. But unfortunately for Gillis, it seems like the comedy his regular audience enjoys just doesn’t work quite as well at 30 Rock.”

Gillis said at one point, “Look, I don’t have any material that can be on TV, all right? I’m trying my best. Also, this place is extremely well-lit. I can see everyone not enjoying it. This is the most nervous I’ve ever been.”

When another joke fell flat, Gillis said, “I thought that was going to get a bigger laugh. I thought we were allowed to have fun here.”

The problem had nothing to do with being allowed to have fun; Gillis just wasn’t funny.

Deggans, NPR’s TV critic, called it an “uneasy opening monologue punctuated with slight stabs at being naughty.”

Deggans added, “Much of it felt like Gillis’ attempt to insulate himself from criticism and avoid any jokes that could revive the backlash. But since he also didn’t really explain or explore the controversy swirling around his appearance, it all took on the feel of an opportunity missed. Or a subject ducked.”

Yet, judging by social media, Gillis’ fans loved everything about his turn as host, from the monologue to the various sketches. They praised his hosting, calling it a victory for the “anti-woke” crowd and saying that he stuck it to “cancel culture.” They, predictably, talked about how he breathed life into a show they say hasn’t been funny in years.

Boyle wrote, “As for Gillis’ fans, the news of his hosting gig was received as much-needed vindication, as an admission by SNL that it was wrong to fire him in the first place.”

But I saw Gillis’ monologue as an opportunity badly missed. In what might be his only turn ever as host, Gillis could have smartly addressed his past controversy, as well as his style of comedy. He could’ve explained his point of view. He could have given his critics something to consider instead of letting them assume his comedy goes to the lowest common denominator. If Gillis is talented enough to actually have once been hired as an “SNL” cast member and funny enough to still end up being a host after being fired, shouldn’t he be clever enough to come up with a monologue that weaves together his comedy and commentary about his comedy?

Instead, his brief mention came off as lazy and left viewers wanting more before moving on to jokes that weren’t really edgy or, frankly, funny. It could have been the relevant moment that “SNL” critics — and fans of Gillis — constantly say the show lacks. Instead, Gillis actually took the safe way out and delivered a moment that had no real impact.

I’ve always defended “Saturday Night Live.” But this time, I can’t. For one night anyway, I said, “Hmm, ‘Saturday Night Live’ isn’t as good as it used to be.”

The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz is out with a must-read new piece: “How Libs of TikTok became a powerful presence in Oklahoma schools.”

And check out Lorenz’s video interview with the far-right activist Chaya Raichik, who operates the social media account Libs of TikTok. The account on X, Lorenz writes, “has amassed an audience of millions … largely by targeting LGBTQ+ people.”

Lorenz notes in her story that Raichik splits her time between California, where she is registered to vote, and Florida. But Raichik has a big impact in Oklahoma — a state she has only visited once.

Lorenz writes, “Last month, Raichik was appointed to the Oklahoma Library Media Advisory Committee by Republican schools superintendent Ryan Walters, a former history teacher who has been called ‘the state’s top culture warrior’ for his opposition to teachers unions and other conservative targets, including LGBTQ+ students’ rights. Since her appointment, Raichik has sought to pull books depicting gay and transgender people, as well as sex education, from public school libraries, saying she has found ‘p*rn’ in various districts.”

Lorenz does a superb job in her 53-minute interview with Raichik, who clearly had trouble keeping up with Lorenz’s questions, which were direct without being confrontational. Despite Raichik’s answers, which often came off as those you might hear from a petulant teenager, Lorenz pressed forward and was always ready with the next follow-up.

The Daily Beast’s Brooke Leigh Howard called it a “painful, agonizing interview” in which “Raichik seemingly expressed a belief in the Great Replacement Theory and blasted ‘wokeness,’ said that transgenderism is ‘based on lies and nonsense,’ and gave her take on removing books from public school libraries — a move that she vehemently claimed is not a book ban.”

I spoke with Lorenz on Sunday about her interview.

Lorenz often interviews social media influencers, but she had never before interviewed Raichik. Initially, Raichik said she would do the interview in person and give Lorenz five minutes. It turned into nearly an hour.

Lorenz told me, “The reason that (these influencers) gained a massive following is because they have this kind of star quality or charisma or they are usually interesting — highly dynamic people. And I found her to be the complete opposite. I was actually surprised at how she wasn’t that.”

Lorenz was ready for Raichik to follow a common playbook: try to turn the tables on the interviewer by bringing up media controversies, or the controversies involving the specific person interviewing them.

“One thing about a lot of them is they are there to get content,” Lorenz said. “There is an intentionality behind it. I assumed that she would show up, try to record me.”

Lorenz was prepared for that.

“The way to react to that is always be completely polite and completely calm,” Lorenz said. “Because all they want to do is have you freaking out or yelling at them. … But I was just shocked. At the end, I was like … wow, she is not going to have an ounce of footage to work with.”

Interestingly, the video footage of the interview, which is on YouTube, was actually shot by Raichik’s social media person. Raichik then willingly shared the video with Lorenz. Twice. Lorenz, who assumed she was only getting Raichik for a quick comment for her story, only recorded audio and a brief video. The somewhat professional-looking footage was provided by Raichik.

“Say what you want about some of these other conservative influencers, there’s no way in hell they would give a journalist the footage that they just shot of the interview,” Lorenz said.

That’s especially true after an interview in which the influencer did not come off well.

Lorenz said most conservative influencers won’t even sit down with a journalist, or someone who they might see as adversarial, because typically, Lorenz said, “It doesn’t go well for them.”

When they do, the purpose is to get a journalist to lose his or her cool, and to troll their interviewer. Raichik attempted to do that, showing up in a T-shirt with a photo of Lorenz crying.

“I was like, ‘Uh, OK, that’s funny,” Lorenz said, laughing.

But the joke was on Raichik, who didn’t show any of the charisma that influencers typically have.

Podcaster, writer and activist Jordan Uhl tweeted, “If you’re going to show up to an interview wearing a shirt with the reporter’s face on it to try & troll them, you should at least be prepared to answer relatively straightforward questions about a set of ideas you’ve built your entire online persona around. Incredible faceplant.”

Lorenz credited Washington Post editor Mark Seibel (Lorenz called Seibel “the best editor on the entire planet, in the whole world”) for helping her prepare for the interview.

In the end, it was a masterful interview by a skilled and prepared journalist.

Shane Gillis’ giant miss as host of ‘Saturday Night Live’ - Poynter (1)

Fans of Wake Forest University storm the court after their school upset Duke on Saturday. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Court-storming — when college students rush the court immediately after their basketball team upsets a favored opponent — has become a problem. Iowa women’s star Caitlin Clark collided with a fan who rushed the court at Ohio State last month. Then on Saturday, Duke men’s star Kyle Filipowski suffered an apparent knee injury after bumping into several fans following a loss at Wake Forest.

It used to be that fans stormed the court on rare occasions, such as an upset of, say, the undefeated No. 1 team in the country. But it has become more common. Duke, for example, was ranked eighth and Saturday’s loss was their sixth of the season.

Now Wake Forest is being blasted by commentators for what happened Saturday. And it was good to see a strong media reaction to Saturday’s events.

ESPN basketball analyst Seth Greenberg had the strongest reaction of all, saying on air, “Wake Forest administration dropped the ball. You have to have a plan in place. If you’re playing this game and expecting to win, you’ve got to hire extra security and have a plan in place to make sure these players get off the court safely. Wake Forest and their administration, shame on you, because you should have had something in place to make sure, the most important thing, the security of the visiting team.”

Some have suggested fining schools if fans storm the court.

CBS analyst Seth Davis said, “First, you have to make the decision, are we going to ban court storms, or are we going to manage them? I’ve never liked court storms. The court is for people … who have earned the right to be there, players and coaches. Fans have not earned the right to be there. … We could see this type of thing coming. If we made the decision collectively in the sport to get rid of court storms, it could be done, people just don’t frankly have the gumption to do that, and I wish they would.”

If this is going to happen, if we’re going to end court-storming, strong media voices are going to have to lead the way.

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Shane Gillis’ giant miss as host of ‘Saturday Night Live’ - Poynter (2024)
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