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Shane Gillis returns to ‘SNL’ and addresses his firing in monologue

Shane Gillis holding a mic onstage.
Shane Gillis hosted “Saturday Night Live” and addressed his firing from the show in the monologue.
(Phil Provencio / Netflix)
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The stand-up comedian Shane Gillis — famously hired and fired from “Saturday Night Live” in 2019 when racist slurs he used on a podcast resurfaced — guest hosted the show, proving that longtime producer Lorne Michaels is still willing to court controversy if it means people will tune in to see potential fireworks.

But the fireworks were pretty muted and relegated only to the monologue that Gillis delivered, in which he acknowledged the firing sheepishly, but then proceeded to walk a comedic tightrope in the rest of his talk by using the term “retarded” and insisting that little boys who are close to their mothers are, at least temporarily, gay. Based on the hyperbolic reactions on social media, the monologue was either the worst in the show’s history or the best anti-woke comedy ever seen on the program.

The truth probably lay somewhere in the middle, with a clearly nervous Gillis leveraging his comedy skills to portray himself as a Nate Bargatze-like white-male comic with loving parents and a more diverse than you’d expect family. But it’s tough to say if the monologue drew more fans or just served to make Gillis even more polarizing than before the show, when more offensive comments from his past were reported.

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Shane Gillis is hosting “Saturday Night Live” after being fired in 2019, when his bigoted remarks surfaced. Has he evolved since or is he simply toning down his language?

Feb. 21, 2024

How did Gillis fare otherwise? He didn’t show much sketch-comedy range that stretched him beyond his stand-up persona, but the guest host got laughs as a religious dad from a white family that visits a Jamaican church while traveling; as a guy in an HR meeting asking the rules for dating co-workers; and as a contestant on the game show “The Floor” who is afraid to get any answers wrong about African Americans. He also appeared as an enthusiastic owner of Fugliana, a not-too-attractive sex doll for below-average men; a rival of Forrest Gump (Mikey Day) at a 20-year high school reunion; and a man whose spying digital device displays online ads for a Green Bay Packers-themed sex toy.

Musical guest 21 Savage performed “Redrum” with backup singers singing Portuguese, and “Should’ve Wore a Bonnet” featuring Brent Faiyaz and Summer Walker. There was no Please Don’t Destroy video sketch this week.

This week’s cold open was a muted political sketch about Republican Sens. Jim Risch (Day), Marco Rubio (Marcello Hernandez), Lindsey Graham (James Austin Jones) and Tim Scott (Devon Walker) where they all complain about how badly they’re treated by former President Trump — winner of South Carolina’s primary on Saturday — but also say how great they think he is. Graham reminds viewers that he was once doxxed by Trump, Rubio recounts being dubbed “Little Marco,” while Scott insists Trump doesn’t have a racist bone in his body despite saying that his criminal indictment makes him more appealing to Black voters. Scott insists he won’t compromise his integrity … “but I would if he made me vice president!”

The much-anticipated/much-dreaded monologue from Gillis began humbly. “Yeah, I’m here,” Gillis said. “I was fired from the show a while ago. Don’t look that up, please. Don’t Google that.” But rather than going into detail or explaining why he was fired, Gillis shifted into a bit about his resemblance to a high school coach, “slash ninth-grade sex education teacher.” Next followed a routine about how every little boy close to his mother “is just your mom’s gay best friend.” It was a roundabout way of talking about the bond that breaks between moms and young boys once puberty hits, and the routine didn’t lack for bluntness with this joke: “Mom asked when did we stop being best friends. It was the first time I whacked off.” His warm feelings for mom shifted to, “When’s that b— gonna leave the house?”

But the diciest bit may have been an extended riff about Down syndrome, beginning with Gillis saying that he is sometimes mistaken for having it based on his appearance. “I dodged it, but it nicked me,” he joked. He revealed that he has family members, including a niece, with Down syndrome. “I thought that would get a bigger laugh,” he deadpanned. If anything, Gillis seemed self-aware about how his comedy might be perceived while also being unwilling to forgo the spotlight that the show would give him. “I don’t have any material that can be on TV,” he said, while delivering material that, at least under the watch of producer Lorne Michaels, did make it onto TV.

Best sketch of the night: Trump’s magical gold sneakers

It seemed an odd choice not to have Johnson use his Trump impression in the cold open until it was revealed that character was being saved for this pre-taped sketch. The recent news about Trump’s $399 “Never Surrender” sneakers is turned into a Newsmax-produced movie trailer for “White Men Can Trump,” in which a pair of shoes imbues magical Trump-like powers of persuasion on an unlucky loser. Gillis and Johnson eventually face off on a basketball court as rival Trumps. A very loopy idea that gets a top-notch execution.

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Also good: Online gambling gets personal

“Saturday Night Live” hasn’t addressed the booming online betting industry much — until now. In this clever and dark sketch, an app allows friends to bet on when their “degenerate gambler” pals will hit their lowest life points due to wagering, whether it’s selling their PlayStation 5 or a kidney for gambling funds or losing their kid’s college fund on a coin toss.

‘Weekend Update’ winner: A frozen embryo warms our hearts

Truman Capote, portrayed by Bowen Yang, was highlighted in a segment, but it was Hernandez who stole “Update” this week as a pink, chilled embryo from Alabama, where IVF procedures have been put on hold due to a recent state Supreme Court decision. The wisecracking embryo, wearing earmuffs (because it’s frozen) joked that they look like the child of Sofía Vergara and an Oompa Loompa and that without a brain and with no heart, “I’m like Tom Sandoval,” the much-hated cheater from “Vanderpump Rules.”

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