How 'Saturday Night Live' Addressed Shane Gillis Firing in Season 45 Premiere

Shane Gillis
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Clusterfest

The biggest news story of their season hiatus was the elephant in the room when 'SNL' returned on Saturday.

Saturday Night Live made headlines during its off-season hiatus when they fired stand-up comic Shane Gillis days after announcing he'd joined the cast, due to a slew of racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments the comedian made during several different podcast appearances over the last two years.

On Saturday, SNL returned for its season 45 premiere, and many viewers were waiting to see how the show addressed the elephant in the room.

However, the show never appeared to directly reference the firing at all. The closest the show came to addressing the controversy came during host Woody Harrelson's monologue, when he made some jokes about immigration that walked the line of being possibly offensive, and seemingly poked fun at being "politically correct" and "cancel culture" in general.

However, outside of Harrelson's jokes -- which only generally touched on the broad themes of the cultural conversation generated by Gillis' firing -- the termination was mostly ignored in favor of taking numerous swipes at Donald Trump's latest scandals and possible impeachment.

Following news that Gillis would be joining newcomers Chloe Fineman and Bowen Yang -- the show's first Chinese-American castmember and third openly gay male castmember -- multiple clips surfaced of some of Gillis' old podcast episodes. In a since-deleted video from 2018, which was shared on Twitter by writer Seth Simons, Gillis made racist jokes about Chinese people and made offensive racial slurs.

After a public apology from Gillis that many felt was half-hearted, Saturday Night Live decided to cut ties with him.

"After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining SNL," a spokesperson for the show told ET on behalf of Lorne Michaels. "We want SNL to have a variety of voices and points of view within the show, and we hired Shane on the strength of his talent as a comedian and his impressive audition for SNL. We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days. The language he used is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable. We are sorry that we did not see these clips earlier, and that our vetting process was not up to our standard."

Gillis later addressed his firing, tweeting, "It feels ridiculous for comedians to be making serious public statements but here we are. I'm a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. That can't be taken away."

"Of course I wanted an opportunity to prove myself at SNL, but I understand it would be too much of a distraction. I respect the decision they made. I'm honestly grateful for the opportunity. I was always a MAD TV guy anyway," he added. 

Gillis' firing led to an outcry from numerous comics and even former SNL castmembers -- including David Spade, Norm Macdonald and Rob Schneider -- who believe that it was an example of so-called "cancel culture," which they said represents an attack on free speech. A number of other former SNL castmembers, including Abby Elliott and Bill Hader, said they felt the show made the right choice. Check out the video below to hear more on the polarizing termination.

Saturday Night Live airs live, coast-to-coast, Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET, 8:30 p.m. PT on NBC.