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“SNL” Makes Intersectional History, Then Erases It

NBC hires Bowen Yang, first gay Asian castmember, and a racist homophobe at the same time

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Out gay comedian Bowen Yang, who has appeared in past segments on “Saturday Night Live,” was added to the show’s full-time team on September 12, becoming the first Asian person and the first gay Asian person to join the show.

Yang is the fifth out LGBTQ cast member to join the show, following in the footsteps of cast members Danitra Vance, Kate McKinnon, Terry Sweeney, and John Milhiser.

The historic impact of Yang’s hiring, however, was simultaneously overshadowed by NBC’s decision to also hire comedian Shane Gillis, who has used homophobic and racist slurs as recently as May of this year.

Gillis’ true colors emerged during separate episodes of “Matt & Shane’s Secret Podcast.” On an episode published this spring, he said director Judd Apatow and comedian Chris Gethard are “white faggot comics” and are “gayer than ISIS.” Journalist Seth Simons highlighted a clip showing Gillis spewing racist language in an episode of the same show last year during which he used racial slurs in referring to Asian people, conveyed false stereotypes about food culture in Asian communities, and mocked the accents of Asian people. Among other disturbing sentiments, he posed disparaging questions about Chinatown, though he did not specify which Chinatown he was referring to.

“Why do the fucking ch*nks live there?” he asked. “Get those ducks out of that window.”

Outrage on social media in the wake of Gillis’ hiring prompted the comedian to issue a public non-apology, saying he is “happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said.”

Yang, meanwhile, is no stranger to the show; he has made appearances on air and has served on the team as a staff writer since last year. He most recently drew attention on the show for his portrayal of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

As the news of Yang’s hiring surfaced on social media, many in the LGBTQ community expressed excitement. Out writer, comedian, and actor Benjamin Siemon believes that Yang’s hiring will have a positive impact on queer youth.

“How many queer kids will be able to look up to an openly gay man being on SNL again?” Siemon asked in a tweet. “And how many Asian kids will finally be able to see themselves represented on a TV institution? Couldn’t be more excited for someone I’ve never met, congrats @bowenyang.”

Olympic skater Adam Rippon also tweeted, saying “YAY @Bowenyan,” while out bisexual writer Roxane Gay added, “Wow. Congrats to @bowenyang on joining the cast of SNL. That’s really exciting.”

Yang and Gillis were two of the three new talents added to the late-night live television show, along with Chloe Fineman.

Updated 5:53 pm, September 13, 2019
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