Grappling with the Netflix monstrosity

The streamer's comedy boom is good and also bad

It’s the second day of August.

A few weeks ago, a new batch of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee dropped on Netflix (during which Eddie Murphy discussed his potential return to stand-up). Next week, Tiffany Haddish’s series showcasing six of her favorite comedians drops on the streamer. There’s also more episodes of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act and a new comedy special from Simon Amstell. Oh, and later in September, a Between Two Ferns movie from Zach Galifianakis and Scott Aukerman is coming.

Netflix is a comedy monster that’s haunting our dreams and transforming them into content(ed) nightmares.

This isn’t new, of course. The platform has been in the original stand-up (and/or) comedy game since Bill Burr’s You People Are All the Same first premiered in its streaming queue back in 2012. At the time, Netflix was mostly licensing comedy specials from either acts who had produced their own hours, or companies like Comedy Dynamics that were footing the bill then approaching potential distributors like Comedy Central and HBO. Netflix’s entry into the game offered a brand new outlet for such materials, and its relative newness and frugality quickly made it a popular place to be.

Hence the streaming comedy boom that we are still living through right now. No single thing caused all of this, necessarily, but based on the conversations that I’ve had with comics, club owners, producers and other industry professionals whose careers are steeped in, or adjacent to, the comedy world, Netfix’s arrival has played a big part in all of this. And as you can see by its August listings alone, it still is — and will be for a bit longer.

At least, before this bubble inevitable bursts. And it definitely will, and it will assuredly result in a mixture of profound losses for the industry and unique opportunities for extreme creativity. Until then, though, we’re stuck with the fact that Netflix is still churning out special after special, series after series, and movie after movie that explicitly stick to (and break from) the standard stand-up model.

This is happening across the board of genres, obviously, as the clarion calls of “peak TV” and “too much TV” are as strong as they’ve ever been. Plus, with Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, WarnerMedia’s arrival as a new entertainment conglomerate and NBCUniversal’s renewed efforts to enter the streaming wars, it’s all about to get even more “peakier.”

Yes, that’s right. In addition to Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, which have remained the three dominant (and surviving) streaming services, Disney — which now owns a majority stake in Hulu — is set to launch its own platform with Disney+. WarnerMedia is also making a move with its forthcoming HBO Max service. And NBC? Well, despite the fact that they created (then shuttered) the comedy-centric Seeso, they’re gearing up to launch yet another streaming attempt.

Toss in Comedy Dynamics’ own Comedy Dynamics Network (and its massive presence on Amazon Prime), the short-form Quibi service that’s looking to bank on our ever-decreasing attention spans, and other eventual players, the competition for our eyeballs is about to get even more cutthroat than it already is.

And, yes, that’s the big picture. Netflix still is the dominant force in stand-up right now, though Comedy Central, HBO and Showtime are still doing what they can in terms of producing and distributing new specials. Amazon Prime also maintains a sizable back catalog, with the occasional new releases here and there, but later this month, Comedy Dynamics will be making a major push into Netflix’s territory with the help of their significant audience base. We’re talking new specials from Jim Gaffigan, Alice Wetterlund and many others, as well as a new hour from Broad City co-creator Ilana Glazer.

To be honest, I consider myself a comedy critic but there is just no way in hell that I can possibly watch all of these in a timely manner. I’m still slowly but surely making my way through a backlog of specials and shows from the past year. And this is just stand-up. I also try to make the time to watch other shows and films that I enjoy as a lay viewer or, when the opportunity arises, that I’ve been tasked with writing about.

The beauty of all of these options is that more and more kinds of people and viewpoints are being catered to. There’s a much larger diversity of content out there than there ever has been before. But it’s also becoming very niche.

So… good luck? At least we got Tim Robinson’s phenomenal (and thankfully renewed) I Think You Should Leave out of this deal. Then again, we’re also losing equally fantastic original comedies like Lisa Hanawalt’s Tuca & Bertie.


Random Bits

For no reason whatsoever, here’s a short video that the 92nd Street Y put together of John Mulaney making Bill Hader laugh uncontrollably during the pair’s recent appearance there to discuss HBO’s Barry. Hader’s giggles (and Mulaney’s purposefully causing them) made his tenure on Saturday Night Live what it was, especially whenever the “Weekend Update” character Stefan was involved. There are plenty of unofficial collections of such clips on YouTube, but it’s nice to see an official outlet catching on and doing the same.


Crowd Work

Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.