Is Cancel Culture Killing Comedy? An opinion on recent remarks from Todd Phillips and others

With everything that has come out towards comedy and cancel culture, specifically the Shane Gillis firing and the remarks by Todd Phillips, I wanted to shed my personal thoughts on comedy and cancel culture.


I myself have always had an interest in comedians and stand-up since I was younger. I grew up as the jokester in my friend group, and I wasn’t afraid to push the envelope and make offensive jokes. While, nowadays, I try to refrain from making jokes about sensitive topics, I do slip up. While most brush it off, some people have found those jokes offensive. I respect their wishes and (try to) refrain from telling jokes like those.


So, how does this circle into the topic at hand? Well, Saturday Night Live (SNL) Shane Gillis for the jokes he told on race and using homophobic slurs, and the remarks made by Todd Phillips, director of the new movie Joker, talking about how comedy movies never do well because of cancel culture, I wanted to address why I think firing Shane Gillis was a good thing, and why I think Todd Phillips is right and wrong.


First, the Shane Gillis situation. I think SNL did the smart thing in firing Gillis, and I think he knows that too. While some said it was dumb for Gillis to lose his job over old comedy bits, SNL had to make a move as a business. While I’m sure others on the SNL team found Gillis to be funny, because of the culture we live in now, they would have lost ratings fast. At the end of the day, SNL needs to be a business and keep bringing money in to keep the show running.


Gillis seems to understand that as well. In a recent statement he made, he said that he was a “comedian that pushes boundaries” and that “if you go through my 10 years of comedy, most of it is bad, you’re going to find a lot of bad misses. I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said.” In my mind, this is basically saying that he isn’t mad for the company’s decision to fire him, and he is mostly upset about people calling out on what he thinks are “bad misses”. Unfortunately, I disagree on the whole bad miss part of his tweet. Most of the jokes that were found come from podcasts and videos that he has worked on, which means that these podcasts could be edited to erase the bad jokes. While at the time he probably thought these jokes would do great, they could have easily been cut from the video or podcast if SNL felt these jokes were bad.


At the end of the day, Gillis is still going to do his stand-up, and I’m perfectly fine with that. With all this publicity, I’m sure more people are going to tune in to his shows and his stand-up career to see what happens from there.


Second, I want to talk about the remarks made by Todd Phillips. In an interview he did with Vanity Fair, Phillips made a statement about why he believes comedy movies are failing in this new culture and why he made Joker a psychological drama over an action-packed joyride. Highlights from his interview: “Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture” and It’s hard to argue with 30 million people on Twitter. You just can’t do it, right? So you just go, ‘I’m out.’ I’m out, and you know what? With all my comedies — I think that what comedies, in general, all have in common — is they’re irreverent.”


With all of Phillips’ remarks taken into account, I don’t think I agree with what he has to say on the matter. First of all, you can still be funny in this new culture, you just have to be either sensitive about certain subjects, be aware that the jokes you’re making are sensitive, but still do it anyway, or avoid them altogether. What it boils down to is that comedy is evolving, not dying. It’s being aware that there has always been these sensitive topics. We just have more people being aware of how offensive they can be. To me, this sounds like the words of a man who hasn’t made it big in comedy movies recently, so instead of evolving, he chose to switch lanes and complain about why some of his comedies weren’t funny.


At the end of the day, I don’t think comedy is dying, per say. What I think is happening is that people are becoming more aware of the world around them, so when others choose to make offensive jokes, society wants to stand up for them. Like I’ve stated, comedy is evolving to be a part of this new culture. People now have the choice to either evolve with them, or stick to their old comedic ways, and accept the backlash you might receive. I, personally, have chosen to evolve with the times, but understand that I might make an offensive joke without knowing.


What I want people to take away from this is that it is okay to have different views on comedy. Saying “comedy is dying” is a little over-reactionary, but if you still make offensive jokes, that’s your choice. You understand the consequences, and are willing to keep doing it. Just try to be open to how others may feel about your jokes.



–Dane Shaull

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