Dear Shane Gillis: Stop making racist jokes


Graphic by Helena Yang

On a now infamous podcast, comedian Shane Gillis used racial slurs against Chinese people and their culture, eventually losing him his spot on the cast of SNL.

Delaney Crawley, Opinions Writer

It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. That universal statement applies to not only physical activities, but social situations as well. In September, Saturday Night Live (SNL) hired Shane Gillis, a stand-up comedian who has a history of using racist and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. After a video surfaced of Gillis using racial slurs against Chinese people and their culture, there was immediate backlash resulting in Gillis being rightfully fired from his position. The line between funny and offensive has become increasingly muddled as comedians take risks to create funny jokes.

At the time, Gillis was speaking strictly for comedic purposes; it was his job to make people laugh. What he clearly didn’t realize was that there is a point in which things go too far, and when morals and values begin to come into question. 

Despite the impressive racial diversity in Montgomery County, there are still undercurrents of racism which some students have suffered from. “When I was in kindergarten my friends at the time made a so-called ‘whites-only’ group and wouldn’t let me join,” freshman Helina Tamiru said, “I was really sad and didn’t understand because I was only five. I felt like I wasn’t good enough.”

Others have also admitted being a victim of a racial joke before. Junior John Turan said, “I’m a Muslim, so people were saying ‘Allahu Akbar’ and all that.”

In this climate, where terrorist attacks are an everyday fear since 9/11, those jokes are genuinely hurtful. “I feel bad because when Muslims are saying ‘Allahu Akbar’ [because] it is meant to cleanse people…Pretending to throw a bomb isn’t funny because I am not doing all that terrorist stuff,” Turan continued. It is depressing to see when people are perceived through a single, untrue stereotype. 

What some do not understand is that there are so many experiences people go through that you may not have yourself, so in regards racial comedy about other cultures, it is always wise to stay quiet. Hurtful comments are frequently disguised as humor, and it is important to always understand what some may consider funny may be derogatory to others. While some may argue that comedy censorship borders on suppressing freedom of speech, it is clear that insensitive racial comedy simply falls flat—Gillis’ jokes are shallow, unentertaining and uncomfortable to hear. 

Being constantly scrutinized, public figures like comedians need to watch what they say. When speaking out to thousands of people who watch their shows, all derogatory humor is unacceptable, including cultural appropriation. Various celebrities, like Kim Kardashian, who misused the word “Kimono” for her clothing brand, or President Trump, who reportedly used racial slurs on his reality television show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” have faced extreme backlash for their actions. So when Gillis speaks out on SNL, one of the most popular comedy programs worldwide, and is blatantly racist, naturally problems would start to occur.  

On the other hand, numerous comedians have been successful at making jokes about their own race, which comes off as genuinely funny and light-hearted. The restrictions are relaxed because those comedians typically understand the natural barriers between offensive and funny because they have personally experienced those differences. For instance, Kevin Hart, a popular African-American comedian, has sold out stadiums for his stand-up comedy and frequently pokes at his own race. At the same time, Joel Kim Booster, a gay Asian-American stand-up comedian, frequently discusses the struggles of overcoming stereotypes while balancing it with light-hearted jokes.

While the line is blurred when it comes to talking about your own race, it is undeniable that insensitive jokes about other cultures are simply hurtful and should be avoided at all costs. Shane Gillis should have understood these unspoken rules before going live on that infamous podcast.