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Shane Gillis Finally Appears on ‘Saturday Night Live’

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Finally given the opportunity to take the stage at NBC’s Studio 8H, the comedian Shane Gillis did not say much about how he’d been fired as a cast member from “Saturday Night Live” before appearing in a single episode.

Instead, Gillis, who has since gone on to become a popular standup and podcaster, delivered an opening monologue that perhaps suggested both he and “S.N.L.” were both better off for having followed separate trajectories.

Gillis, who has performed in standup specials like “Beautiful Dogs” on Netflix and is a co-host of “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast,” was announced to be an “S.N.L.” cast member in September 2019. Just days later, “S.N.L.” reversed course and dropped him from its lineup, following criticism of resurfaced podcast segments in which Gillis used a slur to describe Chinese people and performed a caricature accent, and used a homophobic slur to refer to the filmmaker Judd Apatow and the comedian Chris Gethard, as well as the presidential candidates Andrew Yang and Senator Bernie Sanders.

At the time, “S.N.L.” said in a statement that the language Gillis had used “is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable.” Gillis himself wrote in a social media post that he was “a comedian who pushes boundaries” adding that in comedy, “you’re going to find a lot of bad misses.”

Returning to “S.N.L.” nearly five years later as a guest host, Gillis did not take a scorched-earth approach in his monologue, like when Norm Macdonald appeared as a host in 1999 after he’d been fired from the show. (“I haven’t gotten funnier,” Macdonald said at the time. “The show has gotten really bad.”)

“Yeah, I’m here,” Gillis began. “Most of you probably have no idea who I am. I was actually — I was fired from this show a while ago. But if, you know, don’t look that up, please, if you don’t know who I am. Please, don’t Google that. It’s fine. Don’t even worry about it.”

Gillis joked that he “probably shouldn’t be up here, honestly,” adding that he was biologically designed to be “a high school football coach.” He also teased his father, who was shown in the studio audience, and whom Gillis said was a volunteer assistant girls’ high school basketball coach.

He also joked about his mother and a time in his life when he was closer to her. “I was gay for my mom,” Gillis said. “She would pick me up from school, I would hop in the van. I would be like, ‘Girl, tell me about your day.’”

Gillis then spoke about having family members with Down syndrome. “It almost got me,” he said, shifting from side to side. “I dodged it, but it nicked me. It nicked me.”

Playing off the bemused reaction of his studio audience, Gillis joked, “Look, I don’t have any material that can be on TV, all right? I’m trying my best. Also, this place is extremely well-lit. I can see everyone not enjoying it. This is the most nervous I’ve ever been.”

Gillis acknowledged that talking about Down syndrome can make people nervous. But he said the people he knows who have it are “doing better than everybody I know — they’re the only ones having a good time, pretty consistently. They’re not worried about the election. They’re having a good time.”

He added, “I thought that was going to get a bigger laugh. I thought we were allowed to have fun here.”

Gillis joked about his sister, who he said had adopted three Black children and has a daughter with Down syndrome. He imagined a day in the future when his niece is older and she is bullied by a white student.

“And then three Black kids coming flying out of nowhere, start whaling on that cracker,” he said. “It’s, like, a nice moment.”

Gillis also spoke about a coffee shop he said his family runs where they employ people with Down syndrome.

“There’s zero difference between us and them, especially at work,” he said. “You’re like, ‘What’s your problem, dude?’ They’re like, ‘I hate this job so much.’”

Even in an election year, “S.N.L.” recognizes that it cannot kick off every broadcast with Mikey Day impersonating President Biden and James Austin Johnson playing his likely Republican rival, former President Donald Trump. Some weeks you’re going to get Johnson as Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and Day as … Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho?

That is the setup for this week’s opening sketch, which finds Day and Johnson sitting around a table at a bar with Marcello Hernández (as Senator Marco Rubio) and Devon Walker (as Senator Tim Scott), commiserating about Trump while they continue to fall in line behind him. When Hernández teased Walker, saying that Trump had forced him to stand up and denounce Nikki Haley, Walker answered, “He didn’t make me say that I hate her. He said, ‘You must really hate her.’ But y’all saw what I did, right? I stepped right up to the mic and I said, ‘No, I just love you.’”

“You showed him,” Johnson replied.

In a brighter glimpse of what Gillis’s “S.N.L.” tenure might have looked like if he had stayed on as a cast member, the show parlayed his abilities as a Trump impressionist — along with some recent news about a limited-edition set of high-top sneakers that Trump has been promoting — into this cleverly satirical movie trailer.

In the segment, Gillis plays Gordon Dwyer, an office-bound doofus who is terrible at basketball and life in general — until he receives a magical pair of the Trump sneakers that bestow him with a familiar tousled hairdo and an aggressively confident attitude. “You’re saying these Trump shoes made you good at basketball?” Andrew Dismukes asks him skeptically. “No,” Gillis answers. “They give me the power to say I’m good at basketball, and then double down on that until people actually start to believe it.” Not to be outdone, Johnson appears as Trump as well, for a Donald-a-Donald showdown with Gillis at the trailer’s end.

Over at the Weekend Update desk, the anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che riffed on the 2024 presidential election and the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children.

Jost began:

Well, just hours ago, Donald Trump won the South Carolina primary, which means that Trump is now undefeated everywhere except court. Trump has basically locked up the nomination, and he’s clearly already pivoting to the general election with a more moderate, unifying tone. [The screen played a video of Trump saying, “Nov. 5 will be our new liberation day. But for the liars and cheaters and fraudsters and censors and impostors who have commandeered our government, it will be their judgment day.”] Now where did I hear that before? Oh, right. Bane.

Che continued:

Political experts say that Nikki Haley could have been helped by Black voters in South Carolina but they have long disliked her. This is mostly due to a phenomenon known as “Bitch too skinny.” Nikki Haley insisted that she’s not staying in the race to be Donald Trump’s running mate, saying, “I feel no need to kiss the ring.” While Tim Scott said he’ll suck that ring right off Trump’s finger.

Jost then resumed:

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos created through I.V.F. are children. And that Black embryos can be tried as adults. It’s crazy that they’re saying that embryos are the same as children. If you think an embryo is the same as a baby, try telling your wife, “Hey, honey, I left our baby in the freezer.”

In a welcome reprieve from politics, topicality and pretty much everything else that transpired on this week’s show, Bowen Yang appeared at the Weekend Update desk to impersonate Truman Capote — a performance that seemed intentionally modeled on the one delivered by Tom Hollander, who is playing the author in the FX and Hulu series “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans.”

Dressed in a fedora, glasses and a distinctive scarf, Yang reacted to Jost’s surprise that he would be talking about Women’s History Month. “Why? I love women,” Yang said. “They’re what dolls are based on.” Yang went onto sassily skewer historical figures like Amelia Earhart (“the great butch of the sky”) and Florence Nightingale (“the reason every nurse is a woman”). When Jost accused him of making up his stories and asked if he loved women at all, Yang answered, “No one loves women like a gay man. Who hates women.”

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