Shane Gillis Headlines a Mostly Standard SNL

Well, that happened: Shane Gillis hosted Saturday Night Live.

Maybe he would have won the gig solely on his emergence as a hot club stand-up and podcaster, but, especially in comedy, mixing a little infamy in with the fame often enhances the appeal of the talent cocktail.

Outside of his strong “bro” following, and insider admiration from other comics, Gillis is perhaps best known for being fired from SNL in 2019—for ethnic and homophobic slurs he uttered in various podcasts–before he ever enjoyed a second of airtime.

Saturday night he got plenty of airtime. And nothing much occurred to re-orient his career trajectory. He’s still a popular stand-up who is best known for being fired from SNL—and now having hosted once.

Overall it was mostly standard SNL: a few high points, a few strikeouts, a faux game show, some impressions (good and bad) of politicians, a couple of big music production numbers. Neither a highlight nor lowlight of this season–or any of the previous 48.

Mainly it was about Shane Gillis, who arrived with that one ringing distinction. And he didn’t run from it. He acknowledged in the opening lines of his host monologue: “Yep, I’m here. Most of you probably have no idea who I am. I was fired from the show a while ago. Don’t look that up please!”

After everyone at home instantly looked that up, they should have learned that he used a crude slur about Asian people in that podcast, and dropped other mal mots here and there about people like Judd Apatow and Andrew Yang, while building a reputation as a favorite with the “anti-woke” crowd.

A little further research might have provided more nuance, including that he was recruited to play football at Ivy League universities and briefly attended the US Military Academy, proving his “oaf” comedy (as it has sometimes been described ) is likely a misimpression of a bright, innovative comic who is an equal-opportunity skewerer of the woke and anti-woke.

All of that was beside the point Saturday night because the audience was, as he himself noted, widely unfamiliar with Shane Gillis. He came to SNL as an almost entirely blank slate.

But being a blank slate does not mean some impressive chalk markings are not expected to be added. Any accomplished stand-up selected to host brings along one major expectation: the monologue—often a strained part of the show in the hands of the average actor or singer—should be a high point.

Gillis did not truly score with his seven minutes or so of opening comedy. He looked nervous, which he conceded he was. He seemed to be calibrating how far he could, or should go. His choice of material ranged from mediocre to mutedly edgy—making fun of his own appearance (“I should be a high school football coach”) his Dad’s job as a volunteer girls’ basketball coach; his change from being his Mom’s “gay best friend” (that is, a sweet little boy), which involved his introduction to masturbation (edgy, maybe, but not a big scoring joke); and then his family’s familiarity with Down’s Syndrome, which led to an awkward joke about how he looks a lot like his niece with the syndrome.

The quality of the jokes was one disappointment (given this opportunity shouldn’t he have had seven minutes of rock-solid, can’t miss, worked-out-til-it-rippled-like-six-pack-abs material?) Gillis compounded it by basically telling the TV audience he was flopping in the studio.

Three or four times he dropped in asides saying he had expected jokes to do better. “I’m trying my best. Also this place is extremely well-lit. I can see everyone is not enjoying it.” Well, whose fault is that?

And so the sketches:

The cold open may or may not have been designed to balance Gillis’s presumed image as a “conservative” comic, but it was a direct hit on Republican hypocrisy in kowtowing to Trump—though perhaps a bit obscure for non-news junkies to follow. The gang of four Republicans being impersonated included James Risch of Idaho, who could be in the witness protection program for how little he is known. But he did reveal that his office was totally trashed by 1/6 rioters, which he has refused to acknowledge in public. (Fact check: true!) So I learned something there.

Gillis appeared in a good number of sketches, which always establishes that the staff believes a host is up to it. Some had glancing racial angles—a white family in a Jamaican church, a spoof of the game show “The Floor” where Gillis proved unable or afraid to name famous black people. The best for me was a pre-taped fake movie promo with Gillis as a sad-sack type suddenly gifted with $400 Trump gold sneakers and continuing to be a sad sack except one able to BS and bully his way into people believing the opposite. Gillis made use of a pretty fair Trump impression.

“Weekend Update” had two cast showcases, Bowen Yang as Truman Capote hating on women, and Marcello Hernandez as a human embryo from an Alabama lab, both sharp performances. The Alabama embryo news also generated the best individual “Update” joke: “The Alabama Supreme Court ruled the embryos are children—and that black embryos can be tried as adults.”

The music act, rapper 21 Savage, delivered the usual two numbers, with supporting dancers and singers, the first of which featured likely the first “SNL” appearance of singing in Portuguese.

But the show was all about Shane Gillis finally getting his chance to shine in Studio 8H. As he noted, what happens in there is highly visible, though not everyone enjoys bright lights.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *