Nobody Plays Both Sides of the Culture War Better Than Netflix Comedy

In ‘Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution,’ Netflix gives a voice to their favorite comedians’ preferred punching bags
Nobody Plays Both Sides of the Culture War Better Than Netflix Comedy

It’s nice to know that Netflix still has money in the budget for their upcoming LGBTQ+ comedy documentary Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution after paying Dave Chappelle $20 million per special as he tries to turn the entire transgender community into a punchline.

On June 18th, Netflix will release their examination of the careers of certain queer comedians in a film they describe as, “A feature length documentary that explores the history of LGBTQ+ stand-up comedy, considering its importance as an instrument for social change over the past five decades.” Among the many legendary comics featured in the documentary are Eddie Izzard, Lily Tomlin, Tig NotaroWanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Billy Eichner and Hannah Gadsby, the lattermost of whom Chappelle called out by name in his controversial and Grammy-winning 2021 Netflix special The Closer

Despite the combative relationships that many Netflix-beloved comedians have had with the LGBTQ+ community, the streamer is now putting on their ally-hat in order to appeal to progressive comedy fans and promote comedians who have had to field questions about Chappelle’s ongoing war on the transgender identity ever since signing their own Netflix deals.

Netflix’s efforts to platform comedians at every end of the social and political spectrums is, in many ways, a win for those who believe that comedy should be a space where artists from all walks of life can freely express any viewpoint, but it also serves a much more cynical purpose — it allows Netflix to double-dip on the free marketing that comes from endless internet drama surrounding humor’s place in the political debates that have infiltrated all cultural discourse. 

Netflix Comedy might as well be Colonel Parker selling “I Hate Elvis” buttons. 

Ahead of last week’s Netflix Is A Joke Festival in Los Angeles, Robbie Praw, Vice President of Stand-up and Comedy Formats at Netflix, explained his approach to picking and choosing comedians to promote on the platform, saying, “At the end of the day, we want to give people options.” 

“Some people’s favorite thing to do on a Saturday night may be to watch a Dave Chapelle special,” Praw explained. “For some people, it may be Taylor Tomlinson or Mae Martin or Sarah Silverman or John Mulaney or Chris Rock. And we don’t want to block those choices for our members.” And, for many, many others, it’s Ricky Gervais, who devoted roughly 20 minutes of his most recent Netflix special, Armageddon, to complaining about critics who weren’t amused by his attacks on “trans activist ideology” in the Netflix special before it.

The trailer for Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution opens with the high-minded platitude, “An artist who is able to take their lived experience and then use it for some social change, they are the ones that have the ability to change the world.” Most of the performers featured in the teaser talk about the adversity all queer comics face in their careers, and the tone of the video echoes the documentary’s rebellious title as images of gay rights protests flash across the screen to the sound of those inspiring voiceovers.

As a company, Netflix has made it clear that they want to appeal to both sides of the picket line in the comedy content they produce, and both the revolutionaries and the reactionaries should be free to use the platform for social change in either direction. Even YouTube's like counter on Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution reflects Netflix’s dream for their comedy wing — right now, it sits almost perfectly even in likes and dislikes.

For Netflix Comedy to consistently stand by the hateful rhetoric that their top-billed comedians voice in their specials and simultaneously claim to champion the rights of their A-listers’ targets is as much an exercise in free speech absolutism as it is a paragon of corporate hypocrisy. To them, it doesn’t matter who wins the fight over LGBTQ+ rights in America, so long as Netflix is the battleground.


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