Bowen Yang and Kenan Thompson address Shane Gillis, Dave Chappelle SNL moments

Bowen Yang and Kenan Thompson discuss some of the most controversial Saturday Night Live episodes of the 49th season

Bowen Yang and Kenan Thompson address Shane Gillis, Dave Chappelle SNL moments
Bowen Yang, Michael Longfellow, and Shane Gillis on SNL Screenshot: NBC/YouTube

Bowen Yang seems to have learned well the lesson Tina Fey imparted upon him earlier this year: “Authenticity is dangerous and expensive.” Whatever personal problems he may have had with hosts and guests on Saturday Night Live this season (i.e., Dave Chappelle, Nikki Haley, and Shane Gillis), he’s keeping those problems personal. In a new interview with Variety, both he and co-star Kenan Thompson elegantly sidestepped airing any true dirty laundry about the show’s direction.

First, they addressed Dave Chappelle randomly jumping on stage for the goodnights of the Dakota Johnson-hosted episode, during which Chappelle did not appear. Yang clarified that he wasn’t keeping his distance from the stand-up as some outlets reported (“I stand where I always stand on good nights. It was not a physical distance that anyone was creating”), but he was “confused” in the moment, which Thompson also describes as “jarring.” However, as far as the “controversy” (as Thompson deems it) of the next two episodes with Haley and Gillis, Yang diplomatically said, “I’m going to give Lorne Michaels some credit to that meta-narrative. There’s a story around the show now, and it’s his show. He gets to do whatever he wants.”

In other words, don’t blame the Not Ready For Primetime Players, blame the gamemaster. Yang expressed justifiable discomfort with the way his career has been tied to Gillis’, due to the fact that they were hired for SNL at the same time but Gillis was fired before ever appearing in an episode. “Anytime our names are in the same sentence, at least in a journalistic way, it always feels deleterious. It feels like one person is trying to undo the other. I was just really curious about what that show would be like and if it would be an opportunity to really move past it,” Yang explained. “I think he and I have done enough things in our careers now to really not [have] that be the definitive beginning or the thing that casts a pall over everything else that we do going forward.”

Of course, though Gillis’ star continued to rise without the platform of being an SNL cast member, he never fully quit the brand of problematic comedy that got him fired in the first place. That didn’t stop Netflix from giving him a sitcom, but as Yang noted to Variety, comedy is subjective. “Everybody is highly personal about what they find funny, so it’s everyone’s value systems meeting at the same time. That makes it completely ripe for conflict.” He then corrected himself: “Not conflict. I always boil it down to a healthy discussion about what’s going on in the world.” Hey, if you’re having a conversation that’s guaranteed to spread far and wide across the Internet, it makes complete sense to conduct that conversation verrrrrry carefully.

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