Netflix Defends Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais Amid Backlash

“Comedians who are good at what they do are always testing audiences,” said a Netflix executive amid ongoing backlash over stand-up comics specials.

Netflix doubles down on the controversial stand-up special Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais — again.

Streamer co-CEO and head of content Ted Sarandos reminded that Netflix has “always been a supporter of the art” of comedy during the “Future of Entertainment” panel at the ongoing Cannes Lions advertising conference, where Sarandos received the Entertainment Person of the year award.

Chappelle’s 2021 special “The Closer” led to a social media boycott of the streaming platform and a Netflix employee strike. Gervais released “SuperNature” earlier this year, which also features jokes about trans people.

“We program for people with a real range of tastes and sensibilities. [There’s a range in] how they were raised, what they find offensive or what they think is damaging to themselves or the children,” Sarandos said, standing next to the two controversial specials (via Deadlines). “We’re not going to make everyone happy, but that’s the beauty of on-demand: you can turn it off. The reason comedy is hard is that we don’t all laugh at the same things. We all cry at the same thing so dramas are a bit easier to do, but when it comes to comedy, things are very different.”

Sarandos continued, “Also, it didn’t freeze in time. Comedians who are good at what they do always test the audience. They know what makes a laugh; it was road tested before they recorded the special. If you look back at Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’ at the time, it was the greatest comedy hour ever filmed. Most of that material is pretty outdated today. Eddie said the same thing.”

The Netflix executive added that “part of the art form is crossing boundaries, and part of the art form meaning you only find where the line is by occasionally crossing it” in stand-up.

“Supporting expression is very important,” Sarandos explained, adding that viewers were also “very offended by our LGBTQ+ content and they wanted that content removed and they thought it was very dangerous.”

“They think it’s destroying their society,” he said. “And not only are we fighting for it, we are fighting for it all the way to the Supreme Court. We’ve never dropped them anywhere in the world.”

Sarandos concludes, “Diversity of thought, expression, is very important to maintain. It’s good for culture, good for society — not just for the US but everywhere.”

On a personal level, the co-CEO admits he “regrets” not empathizing with his staff being offended by each other’s stand-up specials.

“They were injured,” Sarandos said. “I gave an actual answer about expressions, but I should have empathized with them more directly. That’s something I regret, but it was a very important decision globally.”

At the time, Sarandos wrote an internal memo to staff discussing Chappelle’s “The Closer”, writing, “Some of you also ask where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow the title [on] Netflix is ​​designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line.”

Billy Eichner weighs in on the controversy during the Netflix comedy special “Stand Out: An LGBTQ Celebration,” which was released June 9 after being recorded during Netflix’s Is a Joke Fest in May.

“We all know how backward and dangerous the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is,” joked Eichner. “Queers, and especially trans people, are under attack by the legislature in this country. Trans people are despised. They try not to humanize trans people. They try to wipe out trans people. And I’m not even talking about Florida. I’m talking about Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special!”

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