Shane Gillis Brings Awkwardly Funny White Guy Energy To An Uneven Saturday Night Live


All right, you’ve already pretty much gotten an idea of how Shane Gillis turned out as a host. Though Gillis was once hired as an “Saturday Night Live” featured player, we’ve seen plenty of comedians get hired into the same position only to find out that they don’t exactly vibe with the fast-paced, high pressure environment that “SNL” is known for. Plenty of stellar stand-up comics and even sketch comedians have come to “SNL” but end up not being able to function efficiently on-camera in front of a live audience, and Gillis seems like he would have been one of those players.

Right at the top, Gillis is clearly nervous. It’s actually rather endearing, and what I appreciate about this set is that it’s pure stand-up comedy. This feels like exactly the kind of set you could see him do at a comedy club where some of his material doesn’t go over particularly well. Now, that’s not exactly what you want out of someone who was has an opportunity to host a show like “Saturday Night Live,” which is still one of the rarest opportunities in show business, despite being on the air for nearly 50 years. But ya gotta give credit to Gillis for being self-aware enough to make fun of himself, point out when things aren’t going well, but still land some great bits. It just feels rough when he’s on stage for eight minutes and one too many jokes don’t go over well with the audience. 

In particular, I think people had a hard time connecting with the bits about his relatives with Down syndrome, perhaps being unsure if this was something they should be laughing at. That’s understandable, especially at the time when irreverent comedy comes at the risk of being “canceled.” But in this case, Gillis has a firm foot to stand on, because he’s not mocking Down syndrome or the people with it, but talking about the naturally funny practicalities of people who do have it, even acknowledging that people with Down syndrome aren’t nearly as different from us as certain people might think. The same can be said for his bit about every young boy being gay for their mother. It’s not a joke at the expense of gay people, but it equates a young boy’s behavior to that of gay man. That’s just good observational comedy. It’s still a shame that Gillis couldn’t find any firm footing in his monologue to get comfortable enough to make the rest of the night go a little better. 

On a separate note, Gillis seems to be in a position where he’s not reviled by his fellow comedians, even those that you might think would be immediately put off after his “Saturday Night Live” controversy. Take Bowen Yang, for example, who was hired the same year as Gillis and became the show’s first Chinese-American cast member and only its third gay cast member. Yang hasn’t been shy about certain “SNL” guests and incidents that have rubbed him the wrong way, such as Dave Chappelle and Nikki Haley making an appearance, but he doesn’t seem to take umbrage with Gillis hosting the show, despite the fact that he was under fire for both homophobic and racist remarks about Asian people. There seems to be an established kinship between them, likely from running the same comedy circuits for years together. They even hugged during the goodbyes at the end of the show. So maybe Gillis isn’t quite the villain that he’s been painted as, even if his some of the fan following in the wake of his “SNL” firing is still a little questionable. It doesn’t change the fact that he wasn’t great on “SNL,” but maybe his comedic presence overall deserves some kind of reassessment. 

By the way, almost all of his bumper photos that show up when “SNL” returns from a commercial break had him doing a thumbs up, which was a pretty funny gag in itself. 

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