In order to understand why there’s so much stand-up comedy right now, you have to know a thing or two about Netflix’s involvement. There isn’t space enough to explain the history or the details of this story right here, right now, but I’ll use recent comments from Jimmy Carr and Sarah Silverman to quickly sum things up.
While promoting his recent Netflix special, Jimmy Carr: The Best of Ultimate Gold Greatest Hits on the British morning talk show program Sunday Brunch, the comedian declared that Netflix was responsible for comedy’s current “renaissance”:
"It's a really interesting thing for comedy because it feels like comedy is going through this kind of renaissance at the moment where there's something for everyone," he told hosts Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer.
"There'll be a lot of people watching Sunday Brunch who aren't big fans of what I do. It's a weird thing with being a comic where if you think I'm funny, you're right. And if you think I'm not funny, you're right.
"There's something for everyone now."
If we’re simply talking numbers, Carr’s not wrong. According to Wikipedia, since Bill Burr’s You People Are All The Same in 2012, Netflix has distributed a massive 166 original comedy specials, up to and counting Amy Schumer’s Growing last week. Not accounting for precise timing (Burr’s special was released in August 2012, Schumer’s in March 2019) or individual specials versus double-headers (like Dave Chappelle’s) or series (like The Standups and The Degenerates), that comes to 20.75 specials per year.
So, again, when it comes to quantity, Carr is on the money. There really is “something for everyone now” it terms of stand-up comedy on Netflix.
But what about quality? And yes, I realize this is a very loaded rhetorical question because art is subjective and it’s all about personal tastes and blah blah blah. After all, as Carr’s “there’s something for everyone now” implies, there’s plenty of comedy to choose from. Yet that’s what I’m getting at with Sarah Silverman, whose Hulu series I Love You, America was canceled after two seasons.
When it comes to television, especially in the current age of so-called “Peak TV,” shows come and go without most viewers even noticing. But Silverman’s story about how little Hulu apparently valued her program, despite its Emmy and Writer’s Guild award nominations and critical acclaim, speaks volumes:
“I know that they did love the show,” Silverman starts out, diplomatically, “but I think what it cost compared to its popularity or the eyes that they had on it didn’t—you know, the people that make the decisions there don’t have any connection to the show. So it’s easier for them. It’s probably smart. They make very hard decisions.”
Then she takes a turn. “I probably shouldn’t,” she says tentatively. “Eh, fuck it. Guess I’ll just burn this one down. I think it’s a funny story, or maybe it sounds obnoxious and it’s too showbiz-y. I’m really debating right now.”
She doesn’t debate for long.
“You know, it’s one of their only shows nominated for Emmys besides Handmaid’s Tale,” she tells me. And yet, after appearing at last year’s Emmy Awards on behalf of Hulu, Silverman says she got a $1,500 bill for hair and makeup.
“Even Comedy Central, like 15 years ago, paid for that shit when I was nominated,” she says. “I was just flummoxed. Wouldn’t it be worth them paying $1,500 to not have me on Matt Wilstein’s podcast saying Hulu wouldn’t pay $1,500 for an Emmy for their network?”
It’s one thing for a streaming-induced comedy renaissance to provide “something for everyone.” It’s another thing entirely for said streamers — Netflix, Hulu and the like — to whittle down precisely what that “something” is until it’s as profitable and monotone as possible.
Silverman’s is not the first original streaming comedy series to be canceled, but more importantly, it’s not the only original comedy show headlined by a woman to get the boot instead of the benefit of the doubt. The Break with Michelle Wolf was given 10 episodes at Netflix and nothing else. The Rundown with Robin Thede, meanwhile, lasted for 24 episodes at BET before it was axed. Chelsea Handler’s self-titled Chelsea beat them all with a whopping 120 episodes across two very experimental seasons, but like the shows that came after, it wasn’t allowed the wiggle room to truly figure things out.
Which brings us to the downside to Carr’s comedy renaissance. Yes, it is a renaissance. Yes, this current boom in comedy content owes the majority of its existence to Netflix, the streaming platforms that followed suit, and the cable networks that are trying to keep up. However, because of the increasingly rapid manner in which we consume all of this new content, viewers are burning through it all as a fast as they can — despite the fact that there’s no way in hell that they can possibly consume it all. Meanwhile, Netflix and other entertainment giants are still trying to figure out how to monitor and monetize this rapid comedy consumption. They don’t care about providing something for everyone. They just want you to click, view and share as many of these things as possible, and if those clicks, views and shares don’t add up, then whatever falls behind by these metrics is tossed aside.
Welcome to the comedy renaissance. There’s too goddamn much of the stuff and none of the tastemakers seem to care about whether or not everyone (i.e. women, minorities, etc.) is represented.
Like many Parks and Recreation fans, I’m still impatiently waiting for The Paley Center to upload any and all official videos of the recent cast reunion event to their official YouTube channel. Until then, here’s an unofficial video the Patton Oswalt introducing everyone to the audience.
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.