Netflix And The Rebirth Of The Stand-Up Special

Has Netflix found a gap in the market with their commitment to stand up comedy?


Have you recently found yourself chatting about the new Louis CK special at a party? Perhaps you and your significant other shared an hour of laughs with Sarah Silverman? Or maybe you whispered the inappropriate parts of the new Dave Chappelle specials around the office water cooler (yes, I know that is no longer a thing)?

Just a few years ago, that likely would not have been the case. Unless your social circles included comedy die-hards, the latest stand-up special was a less-than-common topic of conversation. It was a far cry from the days when the HBO specials of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, or Eddie Murphy dominated the zeitgeist. But over the last few years, all that has begun to change. Stand-up is more and more a part of the public consciousness, and has regained its rightful place as a significant contributor to the social and political conversations dominating the cultural landscape.

Sarah Silverman
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The Comic’s Comic

Credit for the resurgence of stand-up on the small screen is, without a doubt, owed in large part to Netflix. Recognizing the untapped potential of the genre and its relatively cheap cost to produce, the streaming giant has made a concerted effort to corner the stand-up market. Inking major deals with high-profile stars including Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Degeneres, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Tracy Morgan, and Sarah Silverman, Netflix has positioned itself as the go-to source for premium stand-up content

By gathering such big names all in one place, Netflix has reignited the conversation around stand-up, with itself at the center of the discussion. With renewed attention on the genre, lesser-known (to the general public) comedians like Maria Bamford, Neal Brennan, and Ali Wong are being given the chance to shine alongside their more famous counterparts. A rising tide lifts all ships, and Netflix may just elevate B- and C-listers to an A.

The site’s commitment to diversity in stand-up is also apparent. You only have to look briefly through a list of the streamer’s specials to find stand-up from men and women of various races and backgrounds. Diversity in style is easy to find as well. From political commentary to dick jokes to emotional one-man shows, there’s something for everyone on Netflix.

Amongst comedians, landing a special on Netflix has become the high watermark for success. Only a few years ago, an HBO special was the holy grail, but those were few and far between, reserved for only the biggest names in comedy. Now, the ubiquity of Netflix, its willingness to take risks on lesser-known acts and new formats, and the ease with which it allows comedians to get in front of potential fans, has made it the most sought-after platform. With algorithms designed to target content directly to those who will most appreciate it, a Netflix special has quickly become one of the best ways to grow a fanbase, and an achievement in its own right.

Dave Cheppelle
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Recognizing Netflix’s success, more traditional vehicles for stand-up like HBO and Comedy Central are working overtime to compete, releasing new big-name specials of their own with greater frequency. NBCUniversal is likewise looking to cash in on the trend with the recently-launched Seeso – a comedy-only streaming service for those who can’t get their fill of laughs elsewhere. Netflix has challenged everyone to step up their game, and as a result there’s more great content out there than ever.

But at this point, everyone else is playing catch-up. Netflix is the name synonymous with stand-up now, and it doesn’t look like that will be changing anytime soon. With Netflix planning to release a new special every week for the remainder of the year, 2017 marks a new golden age for fans of stand-up. In any place and at any time, laugher is only a click away.


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