by Paul Moomjean
If you’ve been on Twitter recently, you would have seen that one of the top trending topics was the recent firing of comedian Shane Gillis from Saturday Night Live. The 31-year-old Pennsylvanian-born comic was hired along with two new cast mates for the 2019-2020 SNL season, and within four days of the announcement, he was let go due to a 2018 podcast he recorded, mocking Asians and the Chinatown community. While people get fired all the time in the country, the “cancel culture” that has intertwined itself into our celebrity and political culture has paved a new road with a large sign stating “Liberal Wokeness People Only.” This cancel culture prevented Kevin Hart from hosting the Oscars in 2019, removed former Minnesota Senator Al Franklin from office, and has now become the debate-topic-of-the-month over an unknown comic with no roadmap to recovery. In a country that cries “free speech,” it’s not the firing that bothers me, but instead the inconsistency of “free speech” over the years.
Refreshingly, beloved controversial comics Bill Burr, Jim Jefferies and Rob Schneider all came to the freshly fired comic’s side within hours. Schneider’s response is much appreciated because he has used Asian accents in films and TV, forcing him to not stay silent, lest they come after him next. But they don’t. That’s the issue. Schneider still gets work. Why? Because he’s already famous? Or because he’s already made Hollywood millions?
People forget that in 1993 multiple Emmy-award winner Ted Danson did a roast of then-girlfriend Whoopi Goldberg in blackface, repeating the N-word approximately 12 times. How does NBC justify the continuous employment of the Cheers and The Good Place star but fire Gillis? I don’t want Danson fired. I’m sure he regrets that horrific night, but at the time he took a risk and it flatlined completely. That’s the problem with comedy. Be risky, they say. Push the boundaries, they say. Then when you do, the culture wants you gone. Because no line has ever been created. It ebbs and flows at the whim of the temperament of the people.
I remember on April 1, 2010, the VCReporter published a satire I wrote called “A Modern Proposal” about Donald Trump buying Mexico. Who knew how bad that would look today? The cover of that edition claimed the Ventura Fairgrounds were sold. Readers went crazy. Letters poured in. My editor had to apologize and remove the articles. My point is that we took a risk, and it came off as bad taste. The intent was to make people laugh and think. While I’m sure many did enjoy the cheeky writing, others couldn’t handle it.
While Gillis’ podcast rantings were in poor taste, so are many of our conversations. Somehow, we went the last year of our lives not knowing about him, his podcast or his comments, and because one journalist went snooping, a man goes down. Should everything we’ve ever done be brought to light? Could any of us handle a thorough investigation of our lives? I’m pretty sure everyone has had a “racist” moment. A joke. A comment. But are we not more than the sum of our worst actions? How many of us would survive our current job if our boss heard things said behind his or her back?
In a community that has forgiven Ted Danson, Mel Gibson and filmmaker James Gunn for their sins, why does this kid become a sacrifice to the cancel culture gods? In a world where jokes about assassinating the current President of America are okay, a felony I might add, then how do we say a comedic-based racial voice act out is career ending? Wasn’t SNL the same place John Belushi played a samurai chef? Is executive producer Lorne Michaels going to fire himself?
A lot of people throwing stones feel safe now, but may I remind you of the Martin Niemöller poem “First they came…” chronicling how in the 1930s first they came for Socialists, then Trade Unionists, and then the Jews, and “then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” If we don’t watch out, all of us could be canceled soon.