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The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Sparking SNL Controversy: Shane Gillis

Guest columnist Lakota Lackey discusses SNL host Shane Gillis past controversy and the recent lackluster skits like The Floor and Fugliana.
Guest columnist Lakota Lackey discusses SNL host Shane Gillis’ past controversy and the recent lackluster skits like “The Floor” and “Fugliana.”

In the ever-evolving landscape of television comedy, few shows hold as much cultural significance and influence as Saturday Night Live. For decades, SNL has served as a launching pad for cast members, propelling performers such as Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, and Tina Fey, among many others. Hosting SNL has long been regarded as a milestone for celebrities, a signal of truly “making it” in the entertainment industry. SNL’s status as an institution in the world of comedy remains unshakeable. It is more than just a television show; it’s a time capsule reflecting the spirit of each era it inhabits.

Despite its storied history and undeniable impact, SNL is faced with all-time low ratings and a reputation of not being funny anymore by the majority of its viewers. The network does appear to be making an effort to right the ship, however, by endeavoring to recapture the essence of its early days, when hosts were most prominently comedians beloved by the masses. Today, in its forty-ninth season, SNL has welcomed comedian hosts for nearly half of its episodes, including Pete Davidson, Nate Bargatze, Kate McKinnon, Ayo Edebiri, and, the topic of this review, Shane Gillis. So who is this guy?

Shane Gillis is an American stand-up comedian, actor, sketch-comedy writer of “Gilly and Keeves”, and podcaster. He shot to stardom in 2023 with the release of his Netflix comedy special, “Beautiful Dogs,” and numerous appearances on the popular Spotify podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience” (“Protect Our Parks”). With all of his success at making people laugh and his familiarity with sketch-comedy, you would think asking Gillis to host Saturday Night Live would be a no-brainer, but it’s not as simple as it may appear.

In 2019, Shane Gillis was a little-known stand-up comic, but displayed promise. Catching the interest of Saturday Night Live, Gillis auditioned and was hired as a cast member for the show’s forty-fifth season. Within hours of the announcement, clips from his podcast resurfaced in which he made jokes using racial slurs about Asians as well as homophobic slurs, leading to the decision that Gillis would not be joining SNL. In the eyes of the public, Shane Gillis was canceled. Yet despite the adversity he faced in the following years and the burned relationship between the two, Shane Gillis hosted Saturday Night Live last weekend, nearly four years after he was humiliatingly fired. 

At this point, you may be wondering, “If they wouldn’t hire him because of his racist and homophobic comments then, why would they let him host now?” It’s certainly sparked controversy over the last few weeks, but what I think SNL hopes to accomplish by Shane Gillis hosting is to clear up their perception and to invite a new audience. Shane Gillis fits into a camp of comedians I like to call the “bro comics,” including names like Theo Von, Andrew Schultz, Bert Kreischer, and many others. These comics have a large fan base consisting of a very large demographic: “The bros,” a demographic that has not only been ignored by SNL, but one that actively badmouths the show. Shane Gillis hosting gives SNL the opportunity to appeal to “the bros,” which during a time of declining viewership and ratings might be exactly what the show needs. There is a stipulation to this, however: the episode has to be good.

I have been watching this season of Saturday Night Live regularly, and this episode, like most this season, has its ups and downs.  Standout sketches include “White Men Can Trump,” in which Shane Gillis’s character is terrible at basketball until he gets a pair of Trump shoes, a real product being sold by the former president. The shoes Gillis wears don’t make him great at basketball, but rather give him Trump-style confidence, which allows him to convince people of anything he says; that he is excellent at basketball. Anyone who is a fan of Gillis knows he can do a spot-on impression of Trump, and in this sketch we got to see not only Gillis play Trump, but also James Austin Johnson, the cast member who plays Trump across other episodes of this season, interacting as Trump with Gillis’s portrayal of Trump. It was a hilarious sketch, and terrific to see the two playing Trump alongside each other. Another standout sketch was “Rock Bottom Kings,” a spoof of Fan Duel commercials. The premise of this sketch being that Rock Bottom Kings users can place bets on their gambling-addicted friends succumbing to the despair of gambling addiction. It definitely resonated most with people who are familiar with sports betting, but was still a hilarious “what if” scenario.

There were a few sketches that definitely missed the mark for me. It really came down to the execution of the ideas. For instance, “The Floor” sketch was about game show contestants being afraid to answer questions for fear of being deemed racist or out-of-touch by their answers. It was funny, but once you got the joke, it was just repetitive. Another lame one for me was the sketch “Fugliana,” which showed average-looking men talking about how they were happy to have an unattractive looking sex doll, “Fugliana,” that they could believe was “in their league” if it were a real woman. It’s a bit of an outlandish premise that featured the female cast members acting like robotic sex dolls and overall just wasn’t funny. It seemed like the cast was having more fun performing the sketch than the audience had watching it, so good for them, but I didn’t care for it.

Let’s talk about the monologue, because I believe that was truly the part of the episode that had the most potential, and yet left me feeling utterly disappointed. As discussed, Gillis has a history with SNL that’s unique, having been fired from SNL and came back later to host, but he’s not the only one who’s been in this situation. Sarah Silverman and Norm Macdonald were both fired cast members who came back to host, and in their respective monologues, addressed their firing, though both very differently. Gillis, on the other hand, hardly made mention of being fired, which is what made the episode disappointing for me. In the weeks leading up to the episode, Shane Gillis fans on social media were raving about how Gillis would let SNL have it in his opening monologue.Instead, in talking about being fired, he simply said, “Please don’t google that. It’s fine. Don’t even worry about it.” But not addressing the firing wasn’t the only thing that made the monologue so lackluster. He used a joke that he’d already done in his stand up special. He did have some funny moments in the monologue which made me laugh, but it was difficult to appreciate those jokes because of how he glossed over the elephant in the room. We could all see it, but he ignored it.. 

Overall, I would describe this episode as alright and underwhelming. A redeeming factor would be that Gillis didn’t compromise his humor for television, but the jokes didn’t make any lasting impression. I am hopeful that the Gillis hosting made an impression on “the bros” demographic and that we’ll see more “bro comics” in the future, but I’m not holding my breath. 

What did you think of the episode? Let us know in the comments!

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