Look who came crawling back.
Five years after comedian Shane Gillis was infamously hired and promptly fired from “Saturday Night Live” before ever making an appearance, he’s been tapped to host the struggling comedy show on February 24.
Oh, what a difference half a decade of being told how to think by ultra-sensitive cultural arbiters makes.
Gillis was booted in 2019 after clips of him using “homophobic” language and dropping an Asian slur in a bit about Chinatown on a podcast surfaced. That was thanks to a writer and professional killjoy named Seth Simons who, according to his Substack bio, covers “labor, inequality and extremism in comedy.”
Yes, the guy’s sole beat is policing comedy wearing a DEI badge. And, for a time, his enforcement was heeded by people in charge.
When Gillis was shown the exit at “SNL,” a rep for the show said the “language he used is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable.” They wished they had done a better job of vetting him.
So how did Gillis get back into Lorne Michaels’ good graces and find a road to network redemption? Did he take a hiatus from the stage and devote his life to feeding orphans? Volunteer at an LGBT center? Humble himself by becoming a dishwasher in an Asian restaurant?
Nope. There was no cultural-immersion apology tour.
Instead, the Pennsylvania native leaned into his everyman, beer-drinking, occasionally offensive bro persona. After all, it’s comedy — not the human resources department.
Gillis, who made jokes about his firing, kept going just as hard in his act, his podcasts appearances and his YouTube sketch show.
Then, in September, his Netflix special “Shane Gillis: Beautiful Dogs” reached No. 1 on the streaming platform
In it, he is edgy and unapologetic — both mocking and appealing to the oft-ignored red-state crowd. He is also disarmingly sweet in bits on Down syndrome.
The comedian proved what Michaels saw in him originally: There’s more to him than a few-boundary pushing moments. (Though isn’t the boundary-pushing the point of comedy?)
Another inconvenient truth for “SNL”? Gillis became too big and too powerful in a landscape where traditional gatekeepers have lost their grip on the controls.
You could argue that Gillis simply out-hustled cancel culture.
He also exposed its noble executioners — like Michaels — as spineless frauds: People who abandoned principles to placate the pitchfork-wielding loud minority of the professionally aggrieved.
But in Gillis’ triumph, we see the mask has shifted. The days of demanding purity and adherence to ever-changing progressive doctrine are waning.
There were notable earlier exceptions. In 2021, Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos backed Dave Chapppelle after the comedian’s jokes about the trans community sparked a small staff revolt. Spotify did the same for Joe Rogan in 2022.
Even Sunday’s Grammys provided proof that we’re moving past this silliness.
There had been much handwringing over Luke Combs’ “Fast Car” cover last year, calling it problematic because a straight white male had sent a song written by a black queer woman climbing to the top of the country charts. The Washington Post said Chapman would have “zero chance of that achievement” herself. Wah.
Meanwhile their Grammys duet — Chapman’s first live performance in decades — was spine-tingling, magical and a celebration of her enduring genius.
Serious people don’t care about the nonsense of seeing everything as an offense or through an identity lens. They don’t want inclusivity for inclusivity’s sake. They don’t want sanitized, paint-by-numbers art.
People just love good stuff, whether its offensive, hilarious or harmonious.
And that’s why “SNL” now needs Gillis. It hasn’t been inducing laughs for a long time and could use a lifeline from someone with guts.
And the almighty ratings potentials are too seductive not to eat crow. After all, they likely never believed in their reasons for firing him from the start.