Yang brings own experience to bigoted comments by new ‘SNL’ member

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang again responded to racist comments made by new “Saturday Night Live” hire Shane Gillis, saying he’s faced Anti-Asian racism throughout his upbringing but also that “our country has become excessively punitive and vindictive about remarks that people find offensive or racist.”

Yang, who is Taiwanese-American, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday that racial epithets hurt and should be taken seriously, but also softened his criticism, saying Gillis’ comments “should be taken differently” because he is a comedian.

“I’ve experienced a lot of Anti-Asian racism throughout my upbringing. And it hurts. It is something that is very real,” he said. “And I do think Anti-Asian racial epithets are not taken as seriously as slurs against other groups. But at the same time, bigger picture, I believe that our country has become excessively punitive and vindictive about remarks that people find offensive or racist and that we need to try and move beyond that if we can, particularly in a case where the person is, in this case to me, like a comedian whose words should be taken in a slightly different light.”

Yang’s Sunday reaction marks his latest on the comments resurfaced by freelance writer Seth Simons. Simons tweeted a two-minute video clip of Gillis’ podcast, ‘Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast,’ recorded last year in which Gillis says on the video, “Let the f—ing ch–ks live there,” of Chinatown. Gillis also mocks a Chinese accent, the language barrier and says, “Chinatown’s f—ing nuts.”

The video recording of the podcast episode has been deleted from YouTube, and Gillis posted a statement on Twitter Thursday night, saying, “If you go through my 10 years of comedy, most of it bad, you’re going to find a lot of bad misses,” and adding he’s “happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said. My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”

Yang first responded to Gills in a Twitter thread on Saturday, saying he prefers comedy that “makes people think and doesn’t take cheap shots.” He also wrote he is open to meeting with Gillis and doesn’t think he should lose his job.

“We would benefit from being more forgiving rather than punitive,” Yang tweeted. “But if I can forgive Shane, as the guy he called a slur, I hope others can as well,” he wrote. “I also hope Shane is open to learning. We are all human, we’re all fallible.”

Yang’s own jokes

Yang himself is a complicated figure to highlight the racist comments. At the third Democratic debate in Houston on Thursday, Yang cracked an off-color joke as he discussed health care and the mounting paperwork doctors face. “I’m Asian, so I know a lot of doctors,” Yang said.

The joke was criticized by some on social media and Asian American commentators accused Yang of leaning on the “model minority” Asian stereotype. At a campaign stop in Seattle, Yang called his campaign “the nerdiest presidential campaign in history.” Merchandise on Yang’s website include a hat with “Math” on it and notebooks with a picture of Yang as an awkward teenager.

When asked Sunday about the candidate’s own jokes referencing Asian stereotypes, Yang characterized his comments as merely “poking fun” at such stereotypes to urge Americans to reflect on them.

“I would never claim that my individual experience would speak to the depth and breadth of our community,” he told Tapper. “At the same time, I think Americans are very smart. And that they can actually see right through that kind of myth and, if anything, by poking fun at it I’m making Americans reflect a little bit more on them.”

CNN’s Kyung Lah contributed to this report.