Shane Gillis’s Fall and Rise
September 19, 2022 11:23 AM   Subscribe

For a provocative comic, losing the job of a lifetime was the beginning of a second act. [The New Yorker]
A different sort of person in Gillis’s situation might have argued against censoriousness, casting himself as a defender of “freedom of artistic expression.” That is precisely what Dave Chappelle did, in his most recent Netflix special, which was less a standup routine than a lecture in which he addressed his many critics. But Gillis pointedly declined to plead his own case. “I don’t want to be a victim—I want to be a comedian,” he told Joe Rogan, the comic and podcast host, last year. “So I don’t want to come on and do stuff where I’m, like, ‘Yeah, it was unfair how I was treated.’ It’s like, no, I get it—I understand why I was treated that way. I said wild shit. I’m going to keep saying wild shit.”
posted by riruro (60 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Gillis is in some sense a purist: he cares more about standup than about anything else. That means he would rather be funny than correct.

This is a very nice way to say, "Gillis cares more about getting reactions than who he hurts while trying to do so".

I'm baffled by the author's fascination for this guy. The portrait he paints is of someone who knows (from his own interactions with them!) that his fans primarily love him because he normalizes their own racism/sexism/homophobia, but who is in deep denial about it because he's too busy pretending that actually it's about pushing boundaries.

This is not exactly a novel situation in the world of stand-up comedy, so I don't get why we're supposed to think in this case it's notable or worth investigating.
posted by a faithful sock at 11:59 AM on September 19 [46 favorites]


“I don’t want to be a victim—I want to be a comedian,” he told Joe Rogan. . .

Article paywalled. Do I need more than this?
posted by The Bellman at 12:05 PM on September 19 [30 favorites]


"I'm not a racist, I just say racist things" is not quite the defense that Gillis thinks it is.
posted by meowzilla at 12:15 PM on September 19 [37 favorites]


>>I'm baffled by the author's fascination for this guy.

I also picked up on some odd linguistic choices in the article, for example:
But, like most great comedians, Gillis has found a way to be thoroughly and recognizably himself onstage: he makes audiences feel that he’s not pretending to be any better or worse than he actually is.
There's got to be some rhetorical writing term for when an author uses an adjective like "great" as if this wasn't up for debate.

Anyhoo, having never heard of Gillis, I did a quick search on YouTube, clicked randomly in the middle of a clip. He used word "dude" about 20 times in a minute during a series of "jokes" where he was comparing autistic children to cats. (Not even linking because it was brutally unfunny and doesn't deserve the clicks.)

The bar to greatness must be pitifully low these days.
posted by jeremias at 12:23 PM on September 19 [11 favorites]


There's got to be some rhetorical writing term for when an author uses an adjective like "great" as if this wasn't up for debate.

It's the word "like" that's doing most of the heavy lifting here, I think.

"Like most great comedians, Gillis is a mammal."
"Like most great comedians, Gillis has two legs."
"Like most great comedians, Gillis eats food for sustenance."

See how easy it is?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:28 PM on September 19 [26 favorites]


"I'm not a racist, I just say racist things" is not quite the defense that Gillis thinks it is.

The problem is that in the world of comedy, it is considered a defense, because comedy continues to defend bigotry.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:33 PM on September 19 [11 favorites]


Great comedian? Never heard of him until today.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 12:36 PM on September 19 [15 favorites]


I didn’t remember his name, but I had heard of him — for losing out a spot on SNL for being racist (I’ll be honest, I might have thought homophobic). I read about half the article waiting for the second act, but I didn’t really see one.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:50 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


I have enjoyed what Shane Gillis stand-up I have seen. I think he's pretty funny, I think his heart is mostly in the right place, and I appreciate that his response to people being upset by his jokes is to go "fair enough" without being all that pissy about it.

I don't think that that makes him any less of a white bro from Pennsylvania whose idea of what's funny or appropriate doesn't extend any deeper than what things people laugh at during his set. There is a lot you can criticize about his comedy, or about how much space he takes up in a relatively small room. Somebody much better informed than I am might also have an idea on whether or not people uncomfortable with what he does find comedy as a whole to be a less welcoming space for them; I wouldn't be surprised if some folks felt that way, at least.

I dunno. Do we really need jokes where a guy pretends to be a more racist guy who looks exactly like him and says some racism? It feels unnecessary. Gillis's standup special has other politically-loaded jokes that I thought were quite funny, even when they were making fun of people like me. (His bit about Fox News dads versus MSNBC dads made me laugh a lot.) It's possible to make jokes about politics without endorsing one side or another and without ironically replicating bigotry, and I'm not sure that the ironically bigoted parts are funnier than the other parts anyway—even within the somewhat questionable premise that you can divorce political meaning from that language enough to "objectively" assess its humor.

It's nice that he's not whiny, though. I don't mean to stereotype, but these sorts are typically so, so whiny. Maybe he can serve as a role model to them.
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 12:55 PM on September 19 [15 favorites]


Really disappointed I read through all that. Maybe if I had a face or comedy bit to the name but reading in the abstract about some guy who just... kinda doesn't really grow? Nothing in this made me remotely interested in looking up any bits or appearances of his and on some level, the fact I don't really know him even after reading all this, and didn't know him before, assures me I'm not missing anything at all.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:57 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


If this guy wants to say "dude" a lot and drink beer and be relatable, and then have the guts to make jokes about who he honestly is and what it is you're relating to, I as a white guy could find that painfully funny. The article suggests maybe he's got the ability. But he doesn't seem to be playing that game.

Stage 1 of reading/skimming this: hey I like the analogy and this bit here. And he's not unaware of U.S. reality.
“Being racist isn’t, like, a yes-or-no thing,” he said. “It’s like being hungry.” He paused for two awkward seconds; the audience didn’t know whether this analogy would lead to a conclusion they could endorse. “It’s like, yeah, you’re not hungry right now. But a cheeseburger could cut you off on the highway. And you get hungry.” Now people were laughing, comfortable for a moment. Gillis took a swig of beer, tucked his chin, and dropped his voice. “The cheeseburger’s Jewish, in that joke,” he said. “No, no, I’m kidding,” he added, with a reassuring smile. “The cheeseburger is whatever type of cheeseburger you thought it was. In your racist heart.”

Stage 2: but it's not ?insane?, it's literally the political program. Now he's playing dumb about reality and it doesn't feel deadpan, it just feels... dumb.
Gillis remembers the shock of performing on November 8, 2016, as it became clear that Trump had been elected President. “People were, like, crying onstage,” he says. “So I went on and I was, like, ‘We’re back, dudes! White dudes are back—let’s go!’ Like, obviously an insane thing. But people were mad. Which, I guess, is why it’s funny.”

Stage 3: oh Shane Gillis no
It was during this period that a friend put him in touch with Louis C.K. ... Gillis and C.K. are now close

Coda: again, he's not unaware, but it's not an ethical or artistic priority to look which way he's punching. At least by the author's account he's "he is less interested in right and wrong" vs. laugh maximization. Maybe he'll get there.
Von tried a different tack. “In the future,” he said, “everybody’s going to be beige, and it’s going to be ridiculous we were ever even arguing about race stuff.”

Again, Gillis demurred: “It’s funny for white people to say that, though. To be the purveyors of racism for the longest time, and then towards the end be, like, ‘What are we even fighting about?’ ” He laughed, and added, “It’s good for the honkies, trying to hit the Eject button.”
posted by away for regrooving at 1:01 PM on September 19 [8 favorites]


I want to give him only the slightest bit of credit for not going down the hack route of complaining about your critics like Chappelle and Louis CK have done. On the flip side, he managed to score a piece in the New Yorker doing just that, so credit revoked.
posted by explosion at 1:06 PM on September 19 [8 favorites]


Having watched a whole set of his once, I can see why people would think he has talent. Stand-up these days tends to be a mix of things that are genuinely funny and jokes that are just wrong and/or tedious and annoying, and you pick the people who serve it up in a tolerable proportion. (And yes, some single jokes are dealbreakers, I think that's fair.) He is definitely sloppy and reckless, but he seemed to hit that tolerable proportion for a whole set. If I hadn't eventually realized he was the dude who had just gotten fired for a truly unfunny improv about NY Chinatown I probably would have gone back for more, but for the time being he's not on my list of people to watch. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Didn't hate what I saw, though. Unlike, say, Mark Normand, who is like nails on the chalkboard of my soul.
posted by anhedonic at 1:13 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


@PallaviGunalan:
comedians will be like “it’s our job to say things that make people uncomfortable” and then can’t even tell their racist friend to shut the fuck up
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:16 PM on September 19 [53 favorites]


There were things in this article I could relate to, and some things I found funny. The "cheeseburger cuts you off on the freeway" bit was funny. I liked the way he whipsawed from one POV to another in that one. No wonder he seems "edgy," if his audience can't reliably know whether he's going to come down on a punchline they're comfortable with.

(Content in next few paragraphs describes some racist attitudes among white people claiming Native identity, as part of talking about my own experience as a white storyteller.)

I also related to his frustration at the publicity about his past routines, and getting fired from SNL before he got to be part of it, drawing in people who want something that he's not, who think he's going to be someone they can say context-free racial slurs at, or that he wants to be mean to individuals (the fan who wanted him to make a video taunting a friend for not being at the show).

I used to be a storyteller. My milieu was the women's coffeehouse/music festival scene of the 90s. I used to get frustrated at the way people mis-heard my stories, sometimes reversing their meaning entirely. I did one story about our (white, midwestern) family myth that one of our ancestors was a Cherokee who had been a forced participant in the death march that was the Trail of Tears. The story was explicitly about us, the living generations of the family, being in no way at all anything but white, even if the family story was true (in the family story, an ancestor made a deliberate decision to leave the Cherokee nation, marry a white man, live as much as possible as a white woman, and raise her children to be white, specifically to protect them. Like so many white American family native ancestry legends, it's almost certainly not true).

The point is: the story was about being white, and having this family legend to contend with.

White women would come up to me after shows, and gush, "I loved that story! I'm Native American, too." And I would want to punch them.

It was a good story, but I retired it sooner than I would have otherwise, because somehow it was feeding this tendency among white lesbians to claim Native identity based on things like going to a historical site and having a feeling and deciding that feeling meant they were Native in a past life, rather than doing what I wanted it to do, which was to challenge and deny that kind of facile appropriation.

That said, I take the critiques here seriously. Why are we being treated to a long article about this white cis male comic? As we continue to reckon with legacies of racism, sexism, and homophobia, and stand-up comedy in particular becomes a cultural site where we wrestle with that, why are the stories focusing on white comics who are accused of/perceived to be/totally are racist, sexist, and homophobic? (Or David Chappelle, who is not white but otherwise occupies something like the same space.)

And this:

Coda: again, he's not unaware, but it's not an ethical or artistic priority to look which way he's punching. At least by the author's account he's "he is less interested in right and wrong" vs. laugh maximization. Maybe he'll get there.
posted by Well I never at 1:36 PM on September 19 [18 favorites]


So he's that brofriend who's always "Bro, don't wanna sound racist, bro" then vomits out the most racist shit possible and finishes with "Not racist, bro." Like we need more of that in this wonderful world. Already pals with Rogan and CK, great move there Skippy. In two years he'll be doing Trump rallies anyway, might as well get in on the ground floor of wishing him to kindly and completely fuck off.
posted by hangashore at 1:39 PM on September 19 [11 favorites]


There's an added twist here that feels worth commenting on, with his cozying up to Louis C.K..

Back in the early '00s, I was a very avid follower of stand-up, and one way that manifested was listening to quite a lot of comedy on XM Radio. This was years before XM was merged with Sirius, and at the time the comedy channel was pretty low key and low budget. Mostly it was hosted by ... I don't even remember the guy's name, but just like, a industry guy who knew lots of comedians, and he'd play their sets and sometimes interview them or talk about other comedians.

This was how I first heard about Louis C.K.. At the time, he was relatively unknown, and he was always described by various guests as a "comedian's comedian" -- very highly regarded, but never had a big break. Nothing but great things to say about how good he was, how much comedians loved his work, etc. How they thought it was crazy he wasn't bigger, and that he should be a household name, etc.

And we all know how that turned out in the long run.

Which is a long way of saying, seeing all these comedians fawning over Gillis does not do a lot to dissuade my general feelings that comedy insiders have a fucking terrible track record of assessing the character of those working in their field.
posted by a faithful sock at 1:53 PM on September 19 [15 favorites]


As a fan of Gillis but not Rogan it was amazing watching him mock Rogan for the entirety of their podcast together without Rogan apparently ever catching on
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 2:09 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


Gillis is 34, with a comedy career that "began in earnest less than a decade ago": He is, even now, the kind of straight guy who sometimes uses “gay” as a mild pejorative. [...] “I definitely don’t say the F-word onstage—I really try not to,” he said, referring not to the common expletive but to the anti-gay slur. During a recent episode of Rogan’s podcast, Gillis did an impression of an obnoxious drunken tourist in Hawaii, slurring, “You’re from a fuckin’ island, f*****,” and then caught himself. “Delete that—my bad,” he said.

By the end of the article, Gillis is diligently at work on a bit about "the sexual orientations of people with Down syndrome." It's like the dude's angling for the All In The Family reboot where Archie's an "MSNBC dad" and Meathead's in a militia. (Rob Reiner cameos as the labor organizer who raised Archie right, and James Cromwell plays granddad's partner.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:13 PM on September 19 [4 favorites]


Gillis tries never to inspire “clapter”—the sound of an audience broadcasting approval, rather than enjoyment.

Ah, that's good. I know just what they mean, and I hate it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:15 PM on September 19 [4 favorites]


comedy insiders have a fucking terrible track record of assessing the character of those working in their field

Mostly white cis hetero men don't see the problem with racism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny shocker. "Well, he's not being shitty to me", basically. And "I'm not being serious! Jeez, can't you take a joke? Lighten up a little!" is generally the first line of defence of bullies who get called out. Bullying and name-calling based on deviance from the norm, whether that takes the form of non-whiteness, transness, queerness, or femininity, seems to be most of this guy's "comedy". Louis CK defending him says pretty much all you need to know (and if Louis CK had jacked off in front of unwilling and non-consenting men and not women, he wouldn't have been allowed to make a comeback.)
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 2:16 PM on September 19 [11 favorites]


Gillis remembers the shock of performing on November 8, 2016, as it became clear that Trump had been elected President. “People were, like, crying onstage,” he says. “So I went on and I was, like, ‘We’re back, dudes! White dudes are back—let’s go!’ Like, obviously an insane thing. But people were mad. Which, I guess, is why it’s funny.”

I have seen so many white, male comedians that fall, jump or straight up swan dive down this rabbit hole. I guess it's the same instinct as people who find videos of other people getting hurt or caught in embarrassing situations as funny. A lack of or limited capacity for empathy is not required for comedy.

“I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I said.”

I'm not sure he understands what apologies actually are.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 2:16 PM on September 19 [9 favorites]


And people say jazz is dead…
posted by aiq at 2:19 PM on September 19


a faithful sock: Back in the early '00s, I was a very avid follower of stand-up, and one way that manifested was listening to quite a lot of comedy on XM Radio. This was years before XM was merged with Sirius, and at the time the comedy channel was pretty low key and low budget. Mostly it was hosted by ... I don't even remember the guy's name, but just like, a industry guy who knew lots of comedians,

Sounds like the late Sonny Fox, who continued the show past the XM merger and would do it out of a camper on the road with his wife Janet.
posted by dr_dank at 2:29 PM on September 19


Gillis tries never to inspire “clapter”—the sound of an audience broadcasting approval, rather than enjoyment.

Oh. Bull. SHIT. In a line of work where getting a huge positive audience reaction is not only a professional goal but desperately needed personal validation (I've always dreamed of doing standup! What will I do with my life if I'm not doing standup?) "clapter" has to be as addictive as heroin.
posted by hangashore at 2:30 PM on September 19


An apology where you explicitly say, "I'll do it again if I get some laughs!" is a pretty hollow apology.
posted by meowzilla at 2:35 PM on September 19 [8 favorites]


Gillis is in some sense a purist: he cares more about standup than about anything else. That means he would rather be funny than correct.

"We as comedians are philosophers. Comedy is an art form. It's one of the only art form that is not... gay." - Bo Burnham
posted by lewedswiver at 3:37 PM on September 19 [4 favorites]


I'm baffled by the author's fascination for this guy.

Every generation has its own Dice Clay.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:44 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


I appreciated the Jenny Nicholson cameo. Didn’t finish the article.
posted by badbobbycase at 3:53 PM on September 19




So there is this infastructure that is bigger and pays as well or better than traditional media, why bother with traditional media at all?
posted by PinkMoose at 4:30 PM on September 19


The second some fan comes up to you and makes an explicitly racist comment to you, thinking you're gonna go along, thinking you'll think they're with you, you might consider questioning how you're coming across and whether your commentary is hurting people. Really. That's not hard.

It is admirable to grok the way that comedy works and get better at it. It's a tool, though, not an end. Comedy used for good is a damn miracle. Comedy used for dumb bullshit excuses for bad beliefs and bad behavior is the norm. Other comics are so much better. I hope less crappy comics can pick apart how Gilliss makes people laugh and use it for good. "Pushing boundaries" is not an end, especially if the boundaries are hard-won over decades/centuries/millennia and drawn for real good reasons.
posted by lauranesson at 5:39 PM on September 19 [12 favorites]


"I'm not a pigfucker, I just have sexual intercourse with pigs, for reasons"
posted by acb at 2:14 AM on September 20 [4 favorites]


The "cheeseburger cuts you off on the freeway" bit was funny.

The joke is "I'm not racist until Jews do something to cause me to be racist against them." (I went with his first choice, but as he points out, it works with any group.)

This is literally what racists use to justify their racism: oh they're not racist because they're hateful and ignorant, no they have reasons. Because, uh, you know, uh, if you think about it, uh, it's marginalized people's fault rather than the fault of the racist, who isn't really racist, you know, if you think about it. It's not "racist humor," it's, uh, "wild humor."

He uses a funny word like "cheeseburger" to give people the slightest out and people take it. Anything that lets them enjoy a racist joke guilt free. Meanwhile my old neighborhood Jewish deli has bars over the window to keep people from breaking in and chickenwire behind the bars because bars won't keep rocks from breaking the glass.
posted by AlSweigart at 6:24 AM on September 20 [6 favorites]


AlSweigart, I think that's missing the joke? Or at least, it seems incredibly obvious to me that the joke is "you think you're not racist, and I just proved that you are, a bit."
posted by sagc at 7:27 AM on September 20 [6 favorites]


So, the idea is that, if someone Jewish cut me off, I'd say something antisemitic? Uh... no?

I just watched a couple of minutes of his stuff and didn't find anything funny. This bit from the article may give a clue: His father, who sold food-packaging equipment, had some George Carlin CDs, but Gillis was more drawn to high-energy comics like Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook, who were ascendant in the early two-thousands.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:09 AM on September 20 [3 favorites]


it seems incredibly obvious to me that the joke is "you think you're not racist, and I just proved that you are, a bit."

"And that's OK" is the part you're leaving out.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:11 AM on September 20 [9 favorites]


I saw him on the lineup at the Comedy Cellar a few years ago. A lot of his jokes made me cringe because they were offensive. The crowd seemed to like it, though. The guy next to me told his girlfriend at the end of the show that Gillis was the best comedian of the night.
posted by little onion at 9:45 AM on September 20


Remember when Michael Richards (Kramer from Seinfeld) had an onstage meltdown because a Black audience member heckled him, and Richards started screaming the n-word at him? He was angry at the audience member, and the audience member was Black, so for maximum insult Richards resorted to racial slurs.

Is this the kind of behavior we're supposed to find relatable? A "cheeseburger" cuts you off and makes you angry, therefore you are allowed to be racist because, hey, we all do it? That's what we want to normalize?

You can argue that Richards wasn't racially motivated, he just wanted to offend. But that's also the exact excuse racists give while anti-racists explicitly say that doesn't excuse using slurs. So you do the math.
posted by AlSweigart at 10:03 AM on September 20 [8 favorites]


> "And that's OK" is the part you're leaving out.

I think that's actually the part you're adding in, that's not the implication of the joke whatsoever. Not sure if you've watched the special but you'd have to go out of your way to walk away with that take.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 11:17 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


Jenny Nicholson nailed it three years ago, as quoted in the article:

“Was SNL hurting for ‘guy in your boyfriend’s friend group who always says inappropriate things but your boyfriend insists he’s known him forever and he’s a really nice guy’ energy.”
posted by AlSweigart at 11:25 AM on September 20 [4 favorites]


I think that's actually the part you're adding in, that's not the implication of the joke whatsoever. Not sure if you've watched the special but you'd have to go out of your way to walk away with that take.

It's not? Isn't the point "we're all a bit racist, so let's not be so harsh when someone is racist"?

It's like this rhetorical jujitsu, where we need to be more open-minded about close-minded behavior.
posted by ishmael at 11:31 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]


No, that's not the point. The point is that white people will often say they're not racist as if it's a binary, but many people can be cajoled into it by circumstances that impact their personal convenience. This is both a commonplace observation and easily replicated phenomenon. He isn't saying in any way - implicitly or explicitly - that we as a culture need to tolerate this.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 11:45 AM on September 20 [6 favorites]


To anyone who thinks that comedians ought to prioritize non-stigmatizing language, or to be reliable allies for marginalized groups, Gillis might seem strikingly unreformed. He is, even now, the kind of straight guy who sometimes uses “gay” as a mild pejorative. But he excels at winning over skeptical audiences. When a joke gets a muted reception, he likes to look around the room and spread his hands slightly, in a “Ta-da!” gesture; the point is to acknowledge—and thereby shrink—the gap between what he thinks is funny and what the crowd thinks is funny.

This is a textbook definition of Schrodinger's asshole.
posted by AlSweigart at 1:10 PM on September 20 [4 favorites]


No, that's not the point. The point is that white people will often say they're not racist as if it's a binary, but many people can be cajoled into it by circumstances that impact their personal convenience. This is both a commonplace observation and easily replicated phenomenon.

Right. The point is to empathize with how people could come to racist positions, that being racist is an understandable, commonplace situation.

So it is a version of "let he who is without sin cast the first stone"?
posted by ishmael at 1:33 PM on September 20


He isn't saying in any way - implicitly or explicitly - that we as a culture need to tolerate this.

He very much is when he can't show actual contrition for his own racist comments,when he clearly sees no problem in using slurs beyond the personal impact on his reputation (as shown with his use of homophobic slurs with Joe Rogan.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:04 PM on September 20 [3 favorites]


Relevant to this is Maggie Maefish's video The Schneidecker Paradox, about Tim Heidecker's comedy making fun of middle-aged comedians complaining about political correctness (or "wokeness" as it's now called) and Rob Schneider who is a middled-comedian complaining about political correctness. Like Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report and Bill O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor, Heidecker and Schneider are essentially the same character, but one is a critique of right-wing tropes and the other, well, is that thing. And the framing makes it obvious which is which, even though ostensibly they're identical.

Same case here: it's obvious that Gillis is not lampooning racism and homophobia. He's just being racist and homophobic.

But Gillis’s brush with fame brought new followers, not all of whom seemed to understand what he was doing. One afternoon, in his apartment in Astoria, Queens, he recalled that after his firing he sometimes had to contend with audience members who prized offensive speech for its own sake: “Dudes would come up and be, like, ‘Chi-i-i-ink!’ I’d be, like, ‘No. That’s not it.’ ”

Just like it's not a big mystery why Trump is beloved by David Duke and white supremacists, it's not a mystery why so many racists love Gillis's comedy.

Chris Rock had a similar audience response to his N***** vs Black People routine, and he retired that joke:

In a 2005 60 Minutes interview, Rock said: "By the way, I've never done that joke again, ever, and I probably never will. 'Cos some people that were racist thought they had license to say n****, so, I'm done with that routine."

Gillis seems more than happy to continue making racist and homophobic "jokes."

ADDITIONAL: Mefi's comment system disabled my ability to post the original title of Chris Rock's routine until I took out the slur. If I used this to go on an extended rant about my free speech rights and wokeness-gone-mad (all prefaced by "I'm not racist but") then it'd be pretty obvious that I'm just a racist who wants to say racist things, albeit with the thinnest of veils.
posted by AlSweigart at 2:25 PM on September 20 [5 favorites]


Tim Heidecker was just on Howie Mandel's podcast, and he had a pretty great, off-the-cuff insight:

Howie wants to go off on a tangent about how comedy isn't allowed anymore because of political correctness, and Tim cut in with the point that we were immersed with a kind of right-wing comedy in the 70s and 80s.

We were constantly given the message, in movies like Stripes, Ghostbusters, etc. , that being an asshole and "pushing boundaries" should be rewarded, that such behavior is charming.

I agree. We're still very much unaware of the water we are swimming in, which is infused with the legacy of a culture that aspires to offend. We're encouraged to spit in someone else's eye, never apologize, claim our space. It's seen as a virtue, because perhaps it's challenging social norms in a broader sense.
posted by ishmael at 3:26 PM on September 20 [7 favorites]


Gillis is just not that good

I try to be a good person, and I don't like hateful comedy, but I love comedy and stand-up and I **want** to laugh.. I am not even that hard to please, roll out the Mitch Hedberg observational stoner stuff and I'm there. I never even heard of Gillis and I could not last 5 minutes of the one clip.. I mean, there was a time I listened to MacLean & MacLean and laughed so hard I peed but then I turned 16. Gillis is not good.

edit: okay, still laughing at this
posted by elkevelvet at 3:33 PM on September 20


I feel like if Gillis ended a Star Wars joke with the punchline "and then the princess sucks them all off" (after also mentioning that she gets "fucked by the robot"..?) most people here would be pretty skeeved. I personally listened to that clip absolutely stone-faced and I am nothing if not susceptible to some childish humour. If anything that MacLean & MacLean sketch just shows that there's no accounting for comedic taste.

I also want to point out that the entire point of TFA above is that Gillis doesn't go on rants about "how comedy isn't allowed anymore because of political correctness." Many, many times he has shown contrition for the comments that got him fired from SNL, said he completely understands why he got fired, and that he would have fired himself in that case.

I don't know where people are getting things like "so many racists love Gillis' comedy" -- except the anecdote about someone approaching him and quoting his use of racial slurs, which is an anecdote that he himself shares to indicate how he knew how badly he had fucked up. Sure, his comedy might not be for you, but you guys are portraying him like some sort of white supremacist ideologue when in fact a large portion of his comedy is mocking people like that, and mocking the attitudes and opinions that they hold.

Well whatever, there's lots of good stuff out there for everybody! On another note it's interesting that this NYT author's role seems to be "cancellation doctor" -- another of his recent pieces is rehabing Morgan Wallen, the country music star who was famously videoed using the n-word by his friends (this controversy eventually propelled his record to become 2021's best selling album...). He has another about Pinegrove, a band who took a hiatus after sexual impropriety allegations emerged around the singer. A lot of money going into these manicure pieces it seems.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 3:58 PM on September 20 [4 favorites]


It's interesting to think about the NYT's role in public image rehabilitation in cases like this, because as Wallen's album sales and Gillis' Patreon subscribers indicate, there seems to be almost literally zero financial consequence to "getting cancelled." The only thing they really lose is mainstream approval. I would reasonably guess that Gillis makes more money than probably everybody else who was hired the same year for SNL as he was combined, for example, and if Wallen was the best selling artist of 2021 then I can only imagine what his touring and merch income looks like (lord knows he doesn't seem like the kind of guy to take time off due to covid). I wonder what the PR pitches to get them back into the good graces of high society look like.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 4:08 PM on September 20 [1 favorite]


Many, many times he has shown contrition for the comments that got him fired from SNL, said he completely understands why he got fired, and that he would have fired himself in that case.

Last time I checked, part of contrition was stopping the behavior in question. Not to mention that saying that you'll apologize to anyone who was "actually offended" isn't an apology.

It's interesting to think about the NYT's role in public image rehabilitation in cases like this, because as Wallen's album sales and Gillis' Patreon subscribers indicate, there seems to be almost literally zero financial consequence to "getting cancelled."

Or it points out how those two particular fields (stand up, country music) tolerate this sort of behavior because of their community norms.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:56 PM on September 20 [3 favorites]


We're still very much unaware of the water we are swimming in, which is infused with the legacy of a culture that aspires to offend. We're encouraged to spit in someone else's eye, never apologize, claim our space. It's seen as a virtue, because perhaps it's challenging social norms in a broader sense.

I've spent a lot of time (maybe more than is healthy) thinking about my college experience in the early-to-mid eighties, and how much of it was influenced by Animal House and how that movie subsequently shaped college campus culture. All of the Deltas go on to have great lives and careers, despite being expelled from college (and the movie in general has very little interest in the school's academics), even though the movie's writers all graduated from really good colleges, and National Lampoon itself was founded by three guys who met while working for the Harvard Lampoon. It was really surreal to live and deal with people who looked at Bluto--whose actor had notoriously just died of an overdose--and said, yeah, that's who I want to emulate.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:03 PM on September 20 [1 favorite]


> Last time I checked, part of contrition was stopping the behavior in question. Not to mention that saying that you'll apologize to anyone who was "actually offended" isn't an apology.

Well, not to nitpick, but in the article, both the author and Gillis say that he stopped the behaviour in question (the aforementioned "fan repeats it back to him" incident) and that he apologized for the apology, saying he knew it was a shitty non-apology.

> Or it points out how those two particular fields (stand up, country music) tolerate this sort of behavior because of their community norms.

Yeah, and the NYT actively aids and abets this kind of behaviour to people outside of those communities by providing this type of "he's actually alright, guys!" endorsement once the person in question has reached a certain level of lovable-scampiness. I would not be surprised at all if we got one of these about Louis CK in 2 to 3 years.

Those aren't the only fields either; I'm certain there are dozens of other examples of people who were "cancelled" who went on to even greater financial success. Chris Brown immediately comes to mind (still one of the most astonishing examples to me). Didn't Louis CK just win a Grammy? What about Mark Walhberg? Joe Rogan had his whole "planet of the apes" debacle recently and I'm sure is making just as much money as ever. Two of those guys are comedians, so maybe bad examples, but I'm certain there are many, many more.

It's this interesting thing where people act like "getting cancelled" is the worst thing that can possibly happen, comedians like Howie upthread are saying that it has "ruined comedy;" but in numerous cases, all it really does is glue people's eyeballs to the offender in question; introduce them to a segment of the population who thinks "hey, that's really not too bad, this person is pretty talented, I like their product actually;" and then lead them to a glowing NYT profile a couple years out. It only seems to punish people who are interested in playing the game. To my mind the only mega celebrities who have been really properly dealt justice after a "cancellation" (basically a public outcry about their behaviour) are Weinstein, R Kelly, and Bill Cosby. I suppose one big difference is that those men all committed heinous crimes, whereas a lot of what people get cancelled basically amounts to poor taste. Which is another question of mine; why are comedians so scared of getting accused of having poor taste? Didn't that used to be the name of the game?

Regardless, I'm definitely not trying to force Gillis down anyone's throat, I totally understand he's not everyone's cup of tea and has gone far beyond the pale for the taste of lots of people. Totally fine. I just think there's an interesting conversation to be had here about this kind of weaponized victimization that we often see [male, conservative-leaning] celebrities deploy about being cancelled when in actual fact it seems like a dream development for many people's careers. And if that's the case, how does the audience more effectively signal their disproval, or more preferably, signal boost people who don't incur that kind of reaction? It seems tough to do when legacy media will kind of wink-wink-nudge-nudge roll back their condemnations if enough PR muscle is thrown at them.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 5:18 PM on September 20


the NYT actively aids and abets this kind of behaviour
This article is in the New Yorker, not the Times.
posted by neroli at 12:16 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]


Yes, but the NYT opinion page is quite friendly with anti-"woke" screeds, blatant transphobia, and is just generally awful outside of Bouie and Krugman (on his good days).
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 12:29 PM on September 21


We were constantly given the message, in movies like Stripes, Ghostbusters, etc. , that being an asshole and "pushing boundaries" should be rewarded, that such behavior is charming.

I agree. We're still very much unaware of the water we are swimming in, which is infused with the legacy of a culture that aspires to offend. We're encouraged to spit in someone else's eye, never apologize, claim our space. It's seen as a virtue, because perhaps it's challenging social norms in a broader sense.
This goes hand-in-hand with the 80s' message of individuality: norms and social regulations were just, like, ways of keeping you suppressed! If people were upset by something about you, that was their problem, man! It's the John Hughes paradox in a nutshell: look at it one way and it's invigorating and even empathetic, but look at it another way and it's callous and cruel. Just like, y'know, Ronald Reagan.

I don't think you can actually blame the 80s on Ayn Rand, but I think it's unsurprising that Rand becomes popular whenever the "individualist" right is ascendant. One of the less-discussed things about Rand (because Rand is either blindly loved or totally scorned) is that a lot of her fiction is highly empathetic, but always in a way that's oriented towards an in-group. Which is to say, you get a lot of homoerotic tender and compassionate connections between Our Heroes, and the Wretched Villains can be empathized with to the extent that we see how insecure they are about not being one of the cool kids. And the more you scale out that way of thinking, the more you inevitably wind up with hordes of evil oppressive brainless assholes who only hate Our Heroes because of their freedom. Because, well, the other option is to keep extending empathy outwards, at which point you start thinking about those other people, and Our Heroes risk feeling a modicum of shame or discomfort.

But this isn't just a right-wing behavior. It's cathartic to act selfishly and feel justified in doing so. And it's cathartic, on some levels, to know that someone's upset by your doing it, so long as you can tell yourself that it's okay how upset they are. Every left-leaning group that I know—feminists and the queer community and the Marxists and the neoliberal centrists—contain circles of people who feel utterly justified in either joking derogatorily about other groups of people, or in treating individuals like they don't deserve protection or respect or basic humanity. That's not a new phenomenon: Jo Freeman wrote about feminists acting like this in the mid-70s. And of course the point isn't that "all leftists" are like this—it's that people are like this, because casting off the anxieties and bureaucratic inertia of caring about other people will always feel liberating for certain values of "liberating," just as belonging to an in-group always feels nice.

What's unique about our day and age is that there really isn't a singular "in-group" right now. Instead, there are two very strong cultures, each of which feels threatened and oppressed by the other. One of those sides has considerably more material power—the alt-right/"free thinker" camp is obviously terrifying—but I do think it's responding to a lot of perceived power on the left-hand side, because various cultural movements have generated a lot of light even if they haven't been backed up by a lot of heat. Jerry Seinfeld might not be canceled, but he does receive a historically unusual (and steady) amount of hate; Louis CK is clearly still capable of having a career, but he was impacted by the blowback against him in a somewhat material way, at least for a (brief) while.

Travel up the ladder, and you get Dave Chappelle, whose ratio of canceled-to-lauded-for-"cancellation" is disgustingly high and gets used to justify transphobic screeds that are only nominally funny, but I don't think it's a coincidence that Chappelle seems to get particularly mad at Hannah Gadsby, whose shows similarly pivot towards TED Talk territory. (And it's really noticeable with Gadsby, because she's a terrifically good comedian when she's aiming sheerly for comedy.) Hannah Gadsby is by no means as successful as Dave Chappelle—by, like, orders of magnitude—and her "targeted" comedy is a lot kinder and less sadistic than Chappelle's is. But the reason why she is successful is that there's a cultural movement backing her, and it's one that threatens people over in the other camp. We've got a bit of an arms race going on, with neither side willing (or maybe able) to de-escalate.

Through that lens, Gillis is almost an innocent throwback by comparison. I don't mean "innocent" in the sense that his style of comedy is harmless and hurts nobody—I mean it in the sense that he seems to joke about what he jokes about purely because he thinks it's funny, and not as an attempt to position himself within the culture. It got him kicked off of SNL, which wah-wah boo-hoo but also was almost certainly devastating for him personally; it also has made him pretty successful, though.

And I think that maybe that's the point, and perhaps that's why Kelefa Sanneh—who isn't exactly a white bro!—found him interesting enough to write this magazine feature about: unlike Louis CK or Dave Chappelle, who might argue that they had to double down on their bigoted shit because there's just no room for them in society, Shane Gillis proves that if a bro-y white guy completely ignores all the criticism lobbed his way, it turns out he can more-or-less have exactly the career that he was gonna have anyway. The big bad bogeymen on the left barely exist, if they exist at all.

People laugh at his stuff for the same reason that people have always laughed at stuff like this; it's not exactly under heavy fire. If anything, the definition of what comedy can be is broadening, not narrowing. And while I hope that Gillis's sort of humor is steadily pushed out the Overton window, that'll happen less because a leftist mob shoves him out, and more people people gradually find this kind of thing less interesting, or find other sorts of humor that they enjoy more, and then one day fifty years from now we look back and go, "Huh, that sure was a time!" Just as whichever brilliant-but-problematic comedians we wind up lauding will serve as both cautionary tales and, to some, unironic legends in their own right.

(Seinfeld already is this; Dave Chappelle is pretty much destined to become this, no matter how awful he decides to get. I could see Louis CK going either way, which I hate.)
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 9:01 AM on September 22 [4 favorites]


This thread, and listening to Gillis for the first time because of it, got me thinking of a question. Say you were a comedian positioning yourself as a white working-class guy for a white working-class guy audience, and you wanted the point of your joke to be, "you guys say you're not racist, but you're lying to yourself because you actually are." The joke has to be well-targeted, right, because you don't want to lose the audience--you can't get up there and just accuse them or anything like that. How would you do it? And could you construct the joke in such a way that wouldn't end up sounding like a defense of racism if people outside your target audience heard it?

I don't think there's a way to do it. The minute you broaden the audience, you lose some of the relatability, the cultural commonalities that let a joke land in the way you intend, and you start to sound like part of the problem. The Fox Dad joke, for example. If you stood back far enough, you could say, "This guy's treating his racist dad too lightly." When actually he's painting a kind of horrifying picture--who goes to bed incoherently furious every single night, over news?
posted by mittens at 10:25 AM on September 22 [3 favorites]


Banger of a comment and username Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 4:07 PM on September 22


But this isn't just a right-wing behavior.

Too true. It's so frustrating when people start incorporating sadist vocabulary (of the "snowflake", "cuck" variety) unironically into their everyday speech when they present themselves as open-minded and liberal.

I didn't quite clock it right away, but that predatory way of speaking was one of the early tells that people like Greenwald, Taibbi or Gabbard were crypto-reactionaries masquerading as leftier-than-thou.

And of course the point isn't that "all leftists" are like this—it's that people are like this...

While I...agree on this point, it gives me pause, because it is an argument that right-wingers use to elide the fact that cruelty is an animating principle to their world-view.

And if you make a Venn diagram, a lot of current comedians came of age, so to speak, in a similar environment, where cruelty is seen as virtue, a tool that gains an outsized focus. If you're constantly sharpening your knives, after a while you're constantly looking for someone new to stab.
posted by ishmael at 8:21 AM on September 23


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