Emil Guillermo: Who decides appropriate penance for comedian Shane Gillis?

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Comedian Shane Gillis was announced as the host more than a week ago for the Feb. 24th episode of Saturday Night Live.

Activists rev your engines? Or not?

Boycott the show? Or hope Bowen Yang and Shane Gillis mudwrestle on national TV?

If you’ll recall five years ago, Gillis was hired as a cast member and then fired after some of his anti-Asian jokes were exposed.

That was 2019. Now SNL wants him back to host?

Maybe SNL announced its plans early to warn us, but also to see if there’d be any blowback.

Frankly, I haven’t seen much anti-Gillis buzz.

We’re busy. It’s cold outside. There’s a lunatic with 91 felony counts who could be president again. It’s not a beautiful thing.

Or maybe bringing Gillis back is an acknowledgment of the Trump effect. We’ve become inured to all the micro and macro aggressions, and perhaps the fear of assaults, verbal or physical, has been normalized.

Has it? The era of #StopAAPIHate peaked during the pandemic, but the hate lingers. Thousands of instances of pain have come our way since 2019. Asian America remains scarred and traumatized.

Is it really time to forgive?

Let’s see, I think Gillis is Catholic. There are 27 million Asian Americans in the U.S.

His penance should have been 27 million Our Fathers, and 27 million Hail Marys.

I think that means he’s still got some time on his knees.

Or maybe SNL is setting the standard for bigoted jokery at however many Our Fathers or Hail Marys you can say in five years.

Shouldn’t it be up to those he offended?

If you don’t recall exactly what Gillis said to make him week-old takeout, here’s a summary.

Gillis routinely dissed gays and disabled people withwords like “retard” and “faggot.” He disparaged women by calling them “flat chested bitches.”

Other examples of Gillis’ humor were more specifically Asian. On a bit about Chinese restaurants from a Sept. 2018 podcast, Gillis talked about Chinatown, saying “Why do the fucking chinks live there?”

A simple "Why do the Chinese live in Chinatown?" would have sufficed.

In another instance, he comments on the video game “Clash of Clans” and mockingly uses a fake Chinese accent to call it “Crash of Crans.”

Uh, an "r" sound for an "l" sound isn't ethnically accurate and just broadly pan-Asian racist.

Back in 2019, I didn’t call for Gillis to be fired. I merely said we should let SNL know that kind of humor “doesn’t work if it’s interested in the largest possible audience in a diverse America.”

This isn’t about social justice. It’s about what’s genuinely funny to the most people in a modern America.

Gillis is every bit as bad as the standard morning deejay “ah-so” BS. It’s the attitude of Trump’s white base.

Even his response back then was clueless. “Happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve ever said,” he said.

Let’s see. If you’re “actually” hurt, I apologize; for the rest of you, let’s party? That’s no apology.

Gillis added that his intention was “never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”

Lazy racist comedy is risky?

How about taking the risk of actually being funny without denigrating people based on race, color, creed or sexual orientation? Or just keeping the target on yourself?

Self-denigration is always funny.

When SNL fired him, frankly I was surprised and said as much. We let them know what we thought.

Our voices were heard.

But I want to be fair too in 2024.

I don’t believe in cancellation.

As a First Amendment absolutist, I want Gillis to feel free to say what he wants.

We should all know that racist jokes don’t demand censorship, they demand debate. You match racist speech with more speech, not less.

A lot has changed since 2019. Gillis has actually become a better comedian. He targets himself now more than he goes after Asians. And he's funny making fun of dumb white people.

Also in five years, the business climate is different. The trend now is for corporates to loosen up or abandon Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) standards. So, of course, SNL wants to tap the banished Gillis, who has become the hot comic.

There are also a lot more prominent Asian American comedians out there. Even on SNL, there’s Bowen Yang. Asian American comedians represent and talk back for us. There are Asian comic voices like Ali Wong. We don’t have to be hurt by what other non-Asian comedians say. We can just not patronize them.

Besides, activists have bigger fish to fry.

Immigration and DACA policies remain unresolved. Trump wants to be dictator for a day and says immigrants poison the blood supply of America.No one is moving fast enough on Gaza. AI is making us doubt what’s real, what’s fake.

Nothing Gillis says can hurt us as bad as any of that. He’s just the entertainment. The clown with the rubber knife. When he hosts SNL, we can always watch Netflix. Or, if we choose, we can monitor, and if he upsets us, we can exercise our First Amendment rights. We can debate. Not cancel. More speech not less. That’s the American way.

I too have changed since 2019. I’ve performed my solo fringe festival show “Emil Amok” around the country. This weekend, I’m doing a short stand-up bit at the Hollywood Improv on Melrose at 4pm on Feb. 18.

Getting laughs is not easy. So I empathize with Gillis.

I’ve also seen a couple of his specials in the last five years. I can say this: He’s funnier when he’s not racist.

But has he spent enough time on his knees?

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NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on