Many may know the name Shane Gillis from 2019’s Saturday Night Live controversy, when it was announced the stand-up comedian would be joining the cast for an upcoming season, only to be dropped days later following a viral article that exposed questionable old podcast bits from Gillis in which he used insensitive language towards Asian-Americans while doing a character.
Shane Gillis became a quick and big name in relation to the “Cancel Culture” discussion that wages online to this day. Though he didn’t join the SNL cast as initially announced, Gillis gained fans through the online chatter, as people sought out his stand-up and took a liking to his work. Just recently, Gillis went the route of many rising names in stand-up these days and released his first almost hour-length standup special “Live In Austin,” for free on his YouTube channel.
Any take on the 2019 controversy aside, Shane Gillis Live in Austin is straightforward, honest, and funny standup from an observant cynic and natural comic with fantastic conversational delivery and an old-school dude likeability.
Shane’s playing a dumbed down version of himself, from rural Central Pennsylvania where the people are dry, miserable, honest, stuck in the past, largely close-minded, and not without their textbook trashy family issues. He’s viewing the world as a guy from there – and long separated – who’s trying to do better; a well-meaning dude in the trendy politically-obsessed now who can’t help but make fun of everything he would have believed to be ridiculous back in ’90s Pennsylvania – or even now if you’re aware of reality and blunt enough to point out the outrageousness, which Gillis is in schoolyard cut-up fashion.
I’m right there with Shane, in being a millennial from rural PA who moved onto city life and hobbies/careers that involve dissecting every societal trend and aspect of emerging culture, while still partly seeing it through the purer, more fun lens of who we were in a different time and place. It’s dark and maddening, but what’s dark and maddening is also hysterical – If you allow yourself to discuss it honestly, of course, and find the humor. Shane does, casually and with an unmovable smirk, ripping apart his dad’s entry level right-wing politics and Fox news obsession, his progressive friends, and even his recovering addict sister. What should be brutal isn’t, because it’s being shared in a light frame with great jokes interwoven, delivered by a big wisecracking doof who doesn’t proposition himself as anything else.
Shane started standup in Harrisburg before moving to Philly. In 2016 he won Helium Comedy Club’s “Philly’s Phunniest Comedians” competition, and moved to Brooklyn shortly after. That same year he started “Matt & Shane’s Secret Podcast” with fellow comic Matt McCusker, a shoot the breeze sorta comedy podcast, littered with funny and crude riffs, which is going stronger than ever today. After finding a respected place in the NY standup scene, becoming a favorite guest across comedy podcasts, and appearing at numerous big name festivals, Gillis received the opportunity of a lifetime in 2019 when folks at Saturday Night Live reached out. In early September, SNL announced several new cast members for the upcoming season, including Gillis, who was then largely unknown to the public. Within hours he would become a trending name in pop culture, following a piece from a “comedy journalist” in which the writer exposes an old podcast bit from “Matt & Shane’s Secret Podcast,” where Gillis is impersonating a hick racist and using hateful language and racist slurs.
A Twitter rant and thought piece storm sounded, with every media outlet putting out something on the cast announcement-turned Shane’s past podcast bit controversy. According to Shane, Lorne Michaels gave him the opportunity to apologize sincerely to the public and stay on the show, but Shane instead chose to issue a half-hearted apology via Instagram in which he defends the comic process of trying stuff out to find a joke. He was ultimately dropped from Saturday Night Live, which would have been, at worst, huge exposure, a nice steady paycheck, and his name attached to one of the world’s greatest ever comedic institutions.
Comics and new fans rallied for Shane, though, and while he might not be appearing on NBC weekly, his podcast fanbase has grown immensely, his stand-up dates are steady, and hey – He just put out this damn good hour special for free on YouTube, which kept my partner and I engaged and laughing for the 48-minute duration.
I can hardly watch a stand-up clip longer than 6 minutes these days, but Shane hits heavy subject after heavy subject with a fun nonchalance and the sole intention to joke, so I was kept in enjoyment. “Live In Austin” opens right up with a crowd laughing as Shane jokes: “I was thinking about the day Congress had to come up with the age of consent. Like with the powdered wigs and stuff. That had to be a rough day for the fellas.” He follows with a couple yucks and then mumbles, “Just talkin’ sh*t.”
Shane would have us believe he’s “just talkin’ sh*t,” which is why we feel invited to laugh as he clowns on his sister’s heroin intervention, jokes at length about his dad’s alcoholism and uninformed politics, and rants openly about the Special Olympics, where Gillis volunteered as a basketball coach.
There’s no little, meaningless subject being tackled. In fact, most of the material appears grave on the surface – Disheartening family problems and taboo cultural points. But Gillis carves out the space to talk lightly on these matters by speaking only through his own experience, and never allowing himself to be serious or proud. He’s not taking a stance, he’s a clever idiot remarking “hey this is actually pretty funny,” then finding the funny.
In today’s strange comedy landscape, a guy plainly joking about dark subjects from his own experience seems “old school,” but that label carries with it the implication of other labels – dumb blanket words based on rash assumptions like toxic, straight white guy, racist, etc. Gillis is undeniably a straight white fella. He’s also a pure comic. He riffs on sore situations within the family others shy from speaking on. He speaks candidly and without shame about personal matters with his father. He takes jabs at every end of political extremity. He even tackles racism in a hilarious and agreeable way, saying:
“Racism isn’t a yes or no thing. It’s like being hungry. Like yeah you’re not racist…right now.”
Gillis is appearingly honest with himself and others about who he is, and evidently up front with audiences about the faults of others’ and society as a whole. He stands, speaks, and leads the crowd through his set with an ultra confidence, and he’s funny enough to make that work.
Shane has enough awareness to joke about his jokes, also. He declares that Fox News dads are “just trying to get a fact,” and riffs at great length about his father watching hours of news without being able to pick up a Republican talking point. When the bit continues without an end to sense, Gillis notes, “Alright I’ll move onto somethin’ else.”
Interestingly enough, he steers clear of SNL discussion and avoids railing against “Cancel Culture,” which surely would have been easy to do. Gillis became one of the bigger faces of the movement following his “cancellation” from Saturday Night Live. A rant against the thought police, or powers that be, or whatever force people believe to be against free speech was almost expected from Shane. It’s refreshing he opts out and instead just spins banter on family, politics, and the taboo. There’s enough internet personalities and wannabe comedians railing against cancel culture. Gillis is a skilled comic who doesn’t need to pander on hot button issues. He’s on stage to clown, make light, and serve up super funny shit about things we shouldn’t be laughing at.
In “Shane Gillis Live In Austin,” that’s what he’s there for and that’s what he’s doing. If stand-up is your bag, especially plain old dark funny stuff, check out Shane’s special here.