Hooray. NBC and Saturday Night Live did something right for a change.
Surely, there are bigger fish to fry than the firing of the wayward racist Shane Gillis, right?
Of course, there are. And I will mention a big one in a sec.
But for now take a moment to pat yourself on the back if you went on social media, spoke out, or simply passed along my column on the Gillis/SNL affair last week.
After Gillis’ racist humor online was exposed in media reports last week, the Asian American community went amok and let NBC and SNL know that making fun of Asians was so 19th century.
We were reacting to such a strange dissonant moment in America.
We know what a diverse nation feels, looks, and sounds like. And it doesn’t sound like a white male comedian complaining about ordering food from a Chinese-accented waiter at an Asian restaurant.
It’s definitely not a viable source of humor.
And to think SNL and NBC had just made a big announcement that new cast members were being added. We were overjoyed to hear Bowen Yang named to the cast, one of the few Asian Americans ever named to the show’s talent lineup.
But when the media and anyone who googled Gillis found his anti-Chinese, sexist, and homophobic rants, well, this was a rich unintended irony.
What a self-cancelling move: Yang the Asian cast member with Gillis the anti-Asian ranter.
A transgression that cried out for activism.
In the past, I’ve railed at SNL for insensitivity to Asians in casting and in its on-air sketches. But it’s easy to ignore one voice.
Not so when a mass of people let it be known, either directly or through social media, that Gillis’ selection not OK.
Corporate America is not dumb. It’s in it for the money, with the goal of attracting the largest possible audience, period. And that includes Asian Americans.
Laudably, NBC took just the weekend to think about what had happened and then released a statement on Monday.
“After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining SNL. 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.”
Then came the excuse.
“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.”
Vetting problem? Should have caught the racist at the start. It’s tough these days when everyone’s gone hoodless.
GILLIS RESPONSE AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Gillis, who gave a weak apology last week when he was first exposed, had this to say this week.
“It feels ridiculous for comedians to be making serious public statements, but here we are,” Gillis said in a statement reported in various media.
What? Clowns will be clowns? Forgive and forget? Gillis should know statements have consequences.
For comedians, it doesn’t end with, “Did they laugh? If “yes,” good; If “no,” bad. End of story.
Comedians, or any public speaker for that matter, are involved in a debate.
I’m a First Amendment purist. You can say anything you want. Just be prepared to handle the public response.
In this case, Gillis didn’t think it was an issue.
But Asian Americans did.
We got in their faces, and the debate was on.
NBC chose to throw in its cards. That vetting process, right?
Gillis went on in his statement. “I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. That can’t be taken away.”
Yeah, but he was racist enough to lose the gig.
Gillis wasn’t contrite at all in a new statement this week. “Of course,” he said in reports, “I wanted an opportunity to prove myself at SNL, but I understand it would be too much of a distraction.”
Racism is always a distraction for shows on public airways, I’d say.
Gillis continued: “I respect the decision they made. I’m honestly grateful for the opportunity. I was always a mad TV guy anyway.”
Well, maybe some sympathetic producer with like racist-leanings looking to cast a white incel-type at another show will revive Gillis’ career.
The fact is Gillis had no defense.
Only presidential candidate Andrew Yang was willing to throw Gillis a lifeline.
YANG FOR THE DEFENSE?
Yang, who has an enormous amount of right-wing white male support composed of guys just like Gillis, was probably just trying to appeal to his strange base. A Trump-kind of move, on top of the $1,000 in Yang bucks, his way of saying democracy believes in angel funding.
Funny, most Asian Americans I know haven’t been attracted to Yang’s rap like the white men in his base.
Instead, Asian Americans point to Yang riding that Model Minority myth to the promise land.
We’re hard working. We love math. We are successful.
Yang’s a stereotype you can vote for!
Fortunately, the corporates weren’t swayed that a Yang endorsement of forgiveness for Gillis would make a difference.
And they didn’t want to debate a crowd of angry Asian Americans. Who was Gillis anyway? There was no late minute display of White pride at NBC. Cutting Gillis was easy.
It raises the question for the future. Can mass Asian American reaction to an SNL transgression bring down a bigger name than Shane Gillis?
A NEW DAY IF WE LEARN OUR LESSON
A friend of mine who follows race relations asked me if it took a big gun Asian American (Is there one? An Asian American Sharpton type?), or if it was simply the reaction of a community 20 million strong that keyed the victory to get NBC and SNL to back down and fire Gillis.
Frankly, I think it was simply a wave of activity on regular media and social media. The fact is, our voices today cannot be ignored so easily.
Speaking out makes a difference. We joined the debate. And NBC backed down. It didn’t want the debate. Gillis may still want to have his say, but no one cares about him now that he’s a castoff.
So we celebrate this little victory, to remind us there are battles ahead over bigger transgressions, like the Trump effort to change immigration law with the “Public Charge” rule.
On Tuesday, Sen. Mazie Hirono announced the Protect American Values Act, which would stop the Trump Administration from using federal funding to implement the so called “public charge rule.”
This is the rule, set to go into effect on Oct. 15, would prevent immigrants from either coming to or staying in the U.S. based on their wealth, age, family size, skills, level of education, or ability to speak English.
Likely to be a “public charge,” i.e., go on welfare, public assistance? The Trump administration wants to keep you out. But it’s an unfair discriminatory practice targeting not just the Asian American community but all people of color.
That’s the battle in front of us now.
Let the Gillis fight be a small reminder of the bigger fights to come.
When we stand together and speak out, we win.