Shane Gillis, Dave Chappelle, Kathy Griffin & The Myth That Liberal Cancel Culture Ends Careers Over One Mistake

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What Is Cancel Culture? How Comedians Like Shane Gillis & Dave Chapelle Use Political Correctness To Their Benefit
Entertainment And News, Self

When it was first announced that "Saturday Night Live" would welcome three new featured players for the 2019 season, most headlines focused on Bowen Yang, the first Chinese-American cast member and writer to be hired in the show’s 45-season history.

Attention quickly shifted, however, when it was revealed that Shane Gillis, the comedian hired alongside Yang and actress/Groundlings alum/celebrity impressionist Chloe Fineman, had a history of making racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments during appearances on his and others' podcasts.

Twitter lit up for the next several days before "SNL" took decisive action and fired Gillis, during which time Democratic presidential candidate, entrepreneur, lawyer and philanthropist Andrew Yang — a target of one of Gillis’s racist, anti-Semitic rants — weighed in, as did other celebrities, with his opinion that Gillis' actions and statements shouldn’t warrant him losing his new job.

Some critiques offered by comedians and political commentators, like Ben Shapiro, center around the belief that Gillis’s firing is an example of how “cancel culture” — part of the "political correctness" movement —​ has gone too far.

And Todd Phillips, director of the film Joker which recently broke box office records for the highest grossing opening weekend in October, grossing $93.5 million in the US and a total of $234 million, including worldwide — is the latest public figure to weigh in on cancel culture and comedy.

RELATED: Shane Gillis Fired From SNL For Racist Comments — Get The Details

Before Joker, Phillips was best known for directing low-brow comedies like Old School and The Hangover movies where straight, white male characters do things like call one another homophobic slurs, as Dave Holmes points out in Esquire.

Talking to Vanity Fair prior to the release of Joker, Phillips said that he could no longer direct the comedies he first found success with, blaming "woke culture" for tamping comedic creativity.

"Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture,” he told VF. “There were articles written about why comedies don’t work anymore—I’ll tell you why, because all the f—ing funny guys are like, ‘F— this s—, because I don’t want to offend you.’"

Phillips's comments left many people wondering what's so bad about not wanting to offend people who are already oppressed in our society, while others saw it as further evidence that cancel culture is out of control.

When it comes to the changing nature of comedy, many cite Dave Chappelle, Danny Baker, and Roseanne Barr among cancel culture's so-called casualties.

Comedians Bill Burr and Jim Jeffries joined the chorus of comedians publicly criticizing "SNL"’s decision when they were featured on the series Lights Out with David Spade.

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Jeffries believed that the move was a symptom of cancel culture stating, "The guy shouldn't have been fired. It's just a couple of things back in his history — are we going to to go through everyone's history? Or are we going to cut every sketch that SNL has done that involves race?”

Burr agreed and added, “You could do that to anybody. I don't get it. Millennials — you're a bunch of rats. None of them care; all they want to do is get people in trouble."

But are these guys right about cancel culture? Is what they're saying about being politically correct even true?

Though NBC claims, via their statement, that they were “not aware of his prior remarks,” many believe this is unlikely. At the New American Festival on September 15, stand-up comedian Jaboukie Young-White suggested that Gillis’s remarks may have actually been why he was hired, theorizing that Gillis was hired as an attempt to appeal to the more conservative side of the political spectrum. Young-White insists that Gillis’s comments were, after all, pretty easy to find.

Technically speaking, cancel culture, a form of call-out culture, “describes a form of boycott in which someone (usually a celebrity) has shared a questionable or unpopular opinion, or has had behavior that is perceived to be problematic called out on social media is ‘canceled’.”

In essence, being canceled results from a large number of people boycotting a person or medium they find problematic.

Personally, I believe the idea behind cancel culture is good.

It gives consumers the right to pull support away from artists or groups that don’t represent their values and to hold those individuals accountable for their actions.

However, there has been an increase recently in the number of people who view it as toxic, pointing out the fact that everybody makes mistakes, and, like Burr suggested, that if you look into the past you would find that everybody was just as deeply problematic.

Many people even think that political correctness is nothing but virtue-signaling.

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Former "SNL" cast member and writer, Bill Hader, however, weighed in on the side of compassion backstage at the Emmy's when he was asked about Gillis's firing:

“I feel like you shouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Especially in comedy, you do stuff six or seven years ago that wouldn’t be okay now for good reason so I only speak for myself but, like anybody, you have to grow ... I think it’s a good thing. I’m never interested in upsetting anybody.”

While I do agree with critics of cancel culture who say that everybody is flawed, I think it is improper to claim that, in this situation especially, these incidents were just “a couple of things back in his history”, as Jeffries said.

After the initial discovery of Gillis's racist comments, Vice shared additional audio from just May 2019 that encompasses many of the same slurs and racism as the original video.

It wasn't just one time. It wasn't just a few mistakes long ago, with Gillis.

Not to mention the fact that, in his now-deleted statement made via Twitter, Gillis seemed less than remorseful, claiming, “I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss … I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said. My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”

Thus implying his comedic ingenuity was merely taken the wrong way vs him being in the wrong.

RELATED: Meet Matt McCusker — Co-Host Of Shane Gillis' Podcast Who's Also Guilty Of Racist And Homophobic Remarks​

There are comedians who have had “just a few” things in their past who were called-out, apologized and continued on to have highly successful careers, such as Trevor Noah.

For others, cancel culture can be a form of free publicity that furthers their career and public profile.

For instance, Dave Chappelle recently released a Netflix comedy special, Sticks & Stones, centered around the idea that he was not afraid to say something he considered to be politically incorrect.

Following its release, there was a lot of talk in anticipation of his apparent upcoming career suicide. But it was a career death that never came.

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What happened instead was that his show trended on Twitter for many days, and, as of the writing of this article, has an audience score of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes following 36,278 user ratings.

This is why I believe comedians are currently manipulating this “fear” around cancel culture to boost their careers.

They have seen for themselves that being canceled for saying the things they claim “we are all thinking but afraid to say” can give their careers a little boost.

I believe Chappelle knew exactly what he was doing with the release of this comedy special. He knew his career was untouchable, yet framed the discussion as a defense of free speech, using this idea that his career would be over following his special — a move that no doubt increased the ratings of his special.

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Now, a fair share of comics are following suit, claiming that their craft is under attack, even though Netflix has a whole section dedicated to "politically incorrect stand-up comedy."

There is this idea that cancel culture is an unstoppable force that ruins the lives of those in the firing line — and that all the metaphorical guns being held in that situation are progressives or "leftists" — even though the evidence points to the contrary.

The reality is, most canceled people will suffer a little dent in their careers they will soon begin to work on erasing by keeping a low profile.

And at the very least, being canceled by progressives can arguably boost your career in the long run.

For example, Danny Baker — a presenter fired from the BBC after uploading a racist tweet about then day-old Prince Archie — got a standing ovation at his first show following the ordeal.

Just prior to that that, YouTuber James Charles was the latest on the chopping block, yet has since regained all three million of the Youtube subscribers that he lost following his public disagreement with Tati Westbrook and Jeffrey Starr.

Even Rosanne Barr is planning a comeback, partnering up with Andrew Dice Clay for the Mr. and Mrs. America Tour, which kicks off this fall.

RELATED: The Deeply Disturbing Side Of YouTuber James Charles's Bad Behavior (Almost) Everyone Is Still Ignoring

To counter the idea that the only people taking part in cancel culture are progressives, one only needs to look at the story of Kathy Griffin and her fateful 2017 photoshoot with artist, photographer and provacateur Tyler Shields, which featured her holding a fake severed and bloodied head meant to be President Donald Trump.

Griffin was, literally, canceled after the uproar primarily by conservatives.

Griffin had comedy tour dates canceled and lost her regular gig alongside Anderson Cooper hosting a popular New Year's Eve special.

To this day, Griffin has not been offered a Netflix special, despite having a highly recognizable persona and a long history in stand-up. In July, she told the Los Angeles Times, "I'm totally blacklisted."

She did, however, write and produce her own documentary, "Kathy Griffin: A Hell Of A Story", given a one-day-only showing in 700 theaters, which "follows the comedian on her 2017-18 tour to Asia, Australia, Europe and America, where her stand-up acts detailed how she was investigated by the federal government, turned into a pariah and thrown into the conservative social media 'wood chipper.'"

RELATED: 10 Of The Best Tweets & Memes In Response To Kathy Griffin's Anti-Donald Trump Photoshoot

Meanwhile, Shane Gillis continues doing stand-up sets at popular night clubs.

In his first appearance after his firing from "SNL", Gillis doubled down on the racist nature of his jokes:

"I’m fine with the consequences. I’m not arguing. F— it. But I do want everyone to know that I’ve been reading every one of my death threats in an Asian accent.”

For many of us, the news that NBC decided to fire Gillis is amazing.

In many ways, this is a win, especially for people who are Asian-American. It is meaningful that people are paying attention to these issues and taking them seriously.

However, the victory is certainly bittersweet, what with #BoycottSNL and similar hashtags making the rounds on Twitter.

Comedian Luis J. Gomez's tweet urging individuals to support Matt and Shane’s podcast and Patreon received nearly 2,500 likes.

And comedian Nick DiPaolo shared a similar sentiment, tweeting, “Hey @Shanemgillis f— @nbcsnl and everything they hold near and dear to their little pc hearts. It’s a sinking ship anyway. You’re gonna be just fine. Keep your chin (no pun intended) up!”

I believe he is right.

If Danny Baker is any indicator of the future to come, Shane Gillis will be fine and his podcast will most likely see its biggest numbers yet.

One sadly realistic prediction comes from New York Times Bestselling author Catherynne Valente, who tweeted, “Shane Gillis is gonna have a sold-out bro tour and a million-dollar payday Netflix special about how he is a brave truth teller silenced by cancel culture called Saturday Night Dead within the year, bet on it.”

We need to stop pretending that cancel culture is this omnipotent destructive entity when in reality, unless you kick a dog, like YouTuber Brooke Houts did, anything you do (including using racist, homophobic, misogynistic and anti-Semitic speech) can and will be excused.

What we are seeing right now are a bunch of people worried that comedy is getting harder due to the fact that the days in which bigotry passed as banter are coming to an end. They are scared that their old material will no longer work and we will all see that they were never actually funny.

But for the time being, if you're worried about so-called canceled comedians like Shane Gillis, just keep an eye on the numbers of listeners to his podcast.

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Zuva Seven is a writer who writes from a queer Black perspective. Her work has appeared on various sites including; Black Ballad, Huffington Post, ZORA and Human Parts. She is a part-time poet, editor of the online publication ‘An Injustice!’ and a “Bi-Con.” You can find her and her plots of world domination on Twitter.