Since Saturday Night Live premiered in 1975, there have been cast members who’ve resonated with conservative audiences like Dennis Miller, Colin Quinn, Jay Mohr, and Norm Macdonald. So it should come as no big surprise that in light of years of Alec Baldwin lampooning Donald Trump, producers at SNL allegedly purposefully hired Shane Gillis — a podcaster and comic prone to racist, sexist, and homophobic rants — to attempt to appeal to conservative audiences. But the move blew up when Gillis’s hateful brand of comedy surfaced on social media.
Creator Lorne Michaels and the powers that be at SNL actively searched for a figure who could draw in conservative viewers to “counteract the appearance of liberal bias,” according to Variety. At the time of Gillis’s firing, producers said they were unaware of the full nature of his “comedy.”
The announcement last Thursday that Gillis had been hired for the new season was made along with news that the sketch show had hired Chloe Fineman (known for her impressions) along with the groundbreaking news that SNL had hired its first gay Asian cast member, Bowen Yang.
It wasn’t long before clips from Gillis’s podcast Matt and Shane's Secret Podcast with cohost Matt McCusker that were riddled with anti-Asian rhetoric, misogyny and homophobia, surfaced online. Among his greatest hits that surfaced were anti-Asian slurs, calling white women the least funny group of people (gay men the second unfunniest), using "gay" as a pejorative, uttering antigay slurs, continually denigrating women, and sexualizing transgender people, who they mockingly called "ladyboys."
“After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining SNL,” a show spokesperson said in a statement on behalf of creator Lorne Michaels. “We want SNL to have a variety of voices and points of view within the show, and we hired Shane on the strength of his talent as [a] comedian and his impressive audition for SNL. We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days. The language he used is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable. We are sorry that we did not see these clips earlier, and that our vetting process was not up to our standard.”
As a story in Salon from Mary Elizabeth Williams points out, SNL has always had conservative leanings, with women including original Not Ready for Primetime Player Jane Curtin along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus having called out the rampant sexism that began in the '70s.
“There were a few people who out and out believed that women should not be there and believed that women were not funny,” Curtin told Andy Cohen in 2018.
She has also said, "You’d go to a table read, and if a woman writer had written a piece for John [Belushi], he would not read it in his full voice. He felt as though it was his duty to sabotage pieces written by women.”
Multiple Emmy winner Louis-Dreyfus called SNL’s culture “very sexist."
Over the years, the show has had conservative hosts including Andrew Dice Clay and Steven Seagal (whom Portia de Rossi accused of having sexually harassed her). A few years ago, Donald Trump hosted the show. Last year, Trump supporter Kanye West opened the season wearing a MAGA hat.
The Advocate contacted a spokesperson for SNL to check the veracity of sources’ claims that producers were looking for a conservative to balance out the cast, but they offered no further comment.