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No Joke —Coalition Pressures
Offending Comedian

By July 8, 2024No Comments

From left: Richard Kato, Henry Lo, Guy Aoki, Mitchell Matsumura and Cindy Wu address news media during a June 6 news conference at the office of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance in L.A.’s Chinatown. They were gathered to demand that Netflix and other corporations cut ties with comedian Shane Gillis because of his history of using racist and homophobic slurs. In front of Lo is a photo of the Vincent Chin, who was killed in an incident of anti-Asian violence. (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

Netflix, Budweiser urged to stop rewarding slur-slinger Shane Gillis.

By P.C. Staff

Representatives of Asian American community groups met with news organizations recently to air their collective frustration with the words of a comedian they find offensive — and the corporations that reward and enable his unapologetic comedic stylings.

At a news conference at the Chinese American Citizens Alliance office in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Coalition, Chinese American Citizens Alliance, Greater Los Angeles JACL Chapter and Media Action Network for Asian Americans gathered to express their displeasure with comedian Shane Gillis due to his history of mockery and use of derogatory terms for Asians, as well as homophobic slurs in past appearances.

Gillis appeared as a host on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” earlier this year (See “From the Executive Director: I Watched Shane Gillis on ‘SNL’ So You Don’t Have to,” Feb. 24, 2024 Pacific Citizen, tinyurl.com/5xmtepjh) prior to launching both a tour of live dates sponsored by Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light beer brand and a six-episode TV series (“Tires”) on Netflix.

Monterey Park City Councilman Henry Lo of CACA-LA Lodge spoke first at the June 6 event, tying his complaints about Gillis to the 42nd anniversary of the slaying of Vincent Chin and the pandemic-fueled rise in anti-Asian violence. “Words and actions have consequences,” he said. “The reason why we are here today is because we are outraged by the rhetoric of the comedy of Mr. Shane Gillis. When we do not call out slurs and language that perpetuate Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners, then it runs the danger of inflaming fear, hatred and in some cases, violence directed at Asian Americans.

“And that is why we demand Mr. Gillis reflect on the impact of his words, and to apologize for our community.” Lo also called on Netflix and Bud Light to end their relationship with Gillis because his remarks “are insensitive and can lead to inflaming hatred against Asian Americans.”

Speaking next was MANAA’s Guy Aoki, who provided a background of the controversy that accompanied Gillis going back to September 2019, when NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” announced that he was joining the show’s cast. The venerable sketch comedy show, however, did an about-face and aborted Gillis’ addition to the show after podcasts surfaced in which he used a variety of slurs and derogatory remarks.

Despite that fraught relationship between Gillis and the show, less than 5 years later, “SNL” announced that it had tapped Gillis to host on Feb. 24. Aoki said, “On Feb. 16, MANAA sent a letter to NBC demanding that Gillis make amends to the Asian American community before that happened.” Aoki said NBC did not respond to MANAA’s letter.

Shane Gillis, co-star of “Tires.” (Photo: Netflix)

He noted that Netflix had not only added Gillis to its annual “Netflix Is a Joke” festival in April and May, a show that he had co-created — “Tires,” which debuted in May — had been given a second season before the first show of Season One had streamed. Jumping onto the Gillis bandwagon was Bud Light, which announced that it was sponsoring Gillis’ stand-up comedy tour. Again, letters from MANAA were written to Netflix and Anheuser-Busch regarding their respective decisions to do business with Gillis, and again, there was no answer from either entity.

“All of this sends a very hurtful message. If you duck a few years, slowly build your career back up and continue on as if nothing had happened, you can come back even stronger than ever,” said Aoki.

“The bottom line is this: MANNA is asking Netflix to cancel ‘Tires’ and Shane Gillis’ upcoming stand-up comedy special. We’re asking Bud Light to drop sponsorship of Shane Gillis’ his current stand-up tour, cut all business ties unless Shane Gillis makes an honest and sincere apology to the Asian American community for the harmful things he has done in the past.”

Los Angeles County Office of Education psychologist Richard Kato spoke next, prefacing his remarks by saying, “Before I begin, I want to say that my comments here are my own, from the perspective of a psychologist and an as an Asian American. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Los Angeles County Office of Education.”

His disclaimer notwithstanding, Kato used his 21 years of working in public schools and professional bona fides as the foundation for his remarks. “We discourage the use of racial slurs, putdowns and derogatory humor of any kind. Why? Because it can lead to embarrassment, anxiety, conflict, and lowered self- esteem,” he said.

Applying to the psychological principle of reinforcement theory to the comedian, Kato said, “Mr. Gillis, because he has not, and does not make an affirmative effort to apologize to the AAPI community, nor sees the need for it, coupled with his recent appearances, is reinforced to continue what he has been doing. He has unapologetically indicated he did this stuff before, so it’s likely he will do it again. … Life is tough enough as it is. We don’t need someone to put others down just to make someone else feel better about themselves. So, I support what we are doing here today.”

Representing Anti-Asian Hate Coalition of Southern California was its founder, Mountain View School District board member Cindy Wu. After decrying comedy that “degrades and diminishes others,” she used Kato’s remarks as a springboard, saying, “Children are particularly impressionable, and when they hear racial slurs, or derogatory remarks, used the name of comedy, it can only normalize hatred and prejudice in their minds. Using the ‘C word,’ for instance, isn’t just a careless slip, but it perpetuates a harmful stereotype and can incite real world violence and discrimination against Asian Americans.”

As a real-world example, she referred to an incident from earlier in the year that occurred “in the northern part of L.A. County” in which a 9-year-old Asian American boy had been bullied and physically assaulted by a group of 10 kids, following a year and a half of being called racial slurs. “He was beaten four times in two months,” she said and eventually ended up in the emergency room. Echoing the other speakers, she said, “I’m asking and requesting Shane Gillis to make a public apology.”

Greater Los Angeles JACL Chapter President and Pacific Citizen editorial board member Mitchell Matsumura prefaced his remarks by quoting from a letter written by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) on behalf of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. In it, Chu hoped that Gillis would “reflect on his past words and actions and finally apologize to the Asian American community.”

Speaking on behalf of his chapter, Matsumura said, “We join with the Media Action Network for Asian Americans — MANAA — and the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Los Angeles to reject and condemn the use of Asian slurs by Shane Gillis,” reiterating the demand that Bud Light and Netflix cut business ties with Shane Gillis. “We are asking the public to support our efforts. Please email the Media Action Network for Asian Americans at letters@manaa.org.”

During the Q&A part of the news conference, after Pacific Citizen asked whether there was a deadline on receiving responses from Netflix and Bud Light and if a response was not received, what the next step would be, Aoki said, “That’s something we will discuss. We have tried to reach out to these companies in private. … We’re having a press conference now because these things have failed, and we want the people to know what is going on.”

(Editor’s note: Subsequent to the news conference, Pacific Citizen sent emails to Gillis’ agent at Creative Artists Agency, as well as Netflix and his management company, Range Media Partners, for comment on the controversy surrounding him. No replies were received.)

Wu followed up and said, “I would say if he doesn’t respond in two months, then I think we’re going to take it to the next steps.” Asked by a KNX News reporter what that next step would be, she said, “We hope that we don’t need to go to the next step.”

Later in the news conference Matsumura said, “One of the general stereotypes is that we’re not going to fight back, that Asian Americans don’t fight back. We’re here to say, we’re gonna fight back.”

Editor’s note: Many of the original links to Gillis’ offensive remarks have been deleted from the web. TMZ.com, however, does has a story about Gillis’ past controversy that was posted before his “SNL” appearance. To view and hear some of Gillis’ comments, visit tinyurl.com/55ay3a5n.