Shane Gillis

Recapping Shane Gillis’ “Saturday Night Live” Hosting Stint

Shane Gillis on SNL.
Shane Gillis on Saturday Night Live. Courtesy of NBC. Photo credit: Will Heath.

This past Saturday, Shane Gillis made his Saturday Night Live debut. This debut comes nearly five years after it was announced that he would join the cast. That never wound up happening, of course, because within hours of the announcement, clips started circulating around the internet of Gillis using homophobic and racist slurs on a podcast. The decision was quickly made that Gillis would not join the cast after all.

This origin story would’ve derailed most careers. For Gillis, it basically made his. The extra attention allowed him to hone his stand-up act. Within two years, he’d release his first special on YouTube. Two years after that, Gillis released his next hour on Netflix. By now, he’s become one of the most talked about names in comedy. This led to the surprising decision to have him host the same show that let him go five years earlier

Watch Shane Gillis' monologue on Saturday Night Live.

When it was time for him to deliver his monologue, most of us were expecting something not unlike what Norm MacDonald had done after the show fired him and then invited him back to host. Onstage, MacDonald told the crowd that he hadn’t gotten funnier, but the show had gotten “really bad.” It was the perfect instance of MacDonald roasting his old employer, in a way that was all in good fun.

That’s not what we got on Saturday, however. Gillis gently touched upon the controversy, but didn’t want to focus too much on it. He told the audience that if they didn’t know what happened not to Google it. He briefly mentioned being fired, before segueing into his act. It felt very much like taking the safer approach in a moment where he had more eyeballs on him than ever before. This was based on advice Louis C.K. had given him, not to debut new material.

It was a letdown, as so many of his fans were on the edge of their seats to see how he’d address the elephant in the room. Instead, he talked about his parents - whom were in the crowd - and talked about having a family member with down syndrome. (Some of the language he used in the monologue inevitably became fodder for the internet, such as a common slur for those with mental disabilities). Gillis made note of how nervous he was, clearly uncomfortable by seeing everyone’s brightly lit faces. This was new territory for him, and it really wound up showing. He did try to overcome it, though. 

As far as his work in sketches, it allowed us a bit of insight into what could’ve been. Gillis has done some sketches on his YouTube channel, but they are all pre-taped. There’s clearly an adjustment period in doing live sketches, especially on a playing field like SNL. Perhaps that’s why Gillis seemed most in his element with the pre-taped sketches.

The most memorable pre-tape sketch was a Like Mike-type parody where he gets a pair of Donald Trump inspired sneakers. The sneakers don’t make you better at basketball, but instead allows you to convince everyone that you’re really, really good at basketball. It gave Gillis a chance to show off his Donald Trump impression, and go head-to-head with James Austin Johnson’s Trump. This was the clear standout in terms of sketches go.

There were some other stand-out moments, such as the HR sketch, which Gillis did really well in, and got multiple chances to show off his comedic chops. Gillis definitely seemed to be having a good time overall, and it shows. While it’s not the best episode we’ve seen this season, it still is nowhere near the worst or most unmemorable, either. 

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