Are we about to get an interactive comedy special from Netflix? Is this even something that comedy-attuned subscribers would want to see? (Or, for that matter would any comedians actually want to do this?)
I’ve been thinking about these questions ever since the streamer announced You vs Wild, its new outdoor reality series with television host and survivalist Bear Grylls. Like the special Black Mirror episode that was released just after Christmas, You vs Wild is an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure style of program. Or, as Grylls explains it in the latest trailer, “You’re in charge here. You’re on this journey with me. You decide. And if you don’t make the right choices, it might not end well for me.”
Obviously, Grylls is going to be fine — just like all of the actors involved in Bandersnatch are actually okay and didn’t die the many potential (and horrible) deaths that millions of viewers subjected them to. So this begs the question… What other kinds of interactive programming is Netflix cooking up in its secretive creative think tank? As the company’s vice president of product, Todd Yellin, told attendees at the FICCI-Frames media conference in Mumbai earlier this month:
“[Bandersnatch is] a huge hit here in India, it’s a huge hit around the world, and we realized, wow, interactive storytelling is something we want to bet more on,” Yellin said. “We’re doubling down on that. So expect over the next year or two to see more interactive storytelling. And it won’t necessarily be science fiction, or it won’t necessarily be dark. It could be a wacky comedy. It could be a romance, where the audience gets to choose – should she go out with him or him.”
The emphasis above is mine, but Yellin’s meaning is quite clear: Netflix is all aboard the interactive storytelling train. But does this, or will it ever include, stand-up comedy?
Probably not. Yes, live stand-up comedy — despite the protestations of most comics — is ample ground for interaction. People in the audience will laugh, clap, cheer, whoop or heckle, depending on their level of inebriation, the quality of the performance and many, many other variables. The comedian, meanwhile, will respond to these various outbursts with off-the-cuff humor, additional jokes, a scathing rant or two, or nothing. Who knows? The night is young!
Even so, that doesn’t mean that the comedian who’s taping the special, the audience who’s attending the taping and the viewers at home actually want to participate in or witness such a complicated spectacle. And “complicated” is the operative word here, because trying to account for all of the possible variables inherent in a live comedy show taping for the purpose of reproducing said invariability in a digital format would be a monstrous task — if not outright impossible.
For Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, showrunner Charlie Booker and company spent two years developing the story and the technology that was necessary to tell it. It was a “daunting” process, as the team told The Hollywood Reporter in December, for writing, mapping out and filming a “branching narrative” like Bandersnatch took a helluva lot of pre-planning, planning and more planning. What’s more, as complex as the process of making Bandersnatch a reality was, the end result is actually fairly simple since viewers are tasking with choosing between only two options at any given time.
A stand-up comedy show, however, inherently contains far more variability than that. Sure, as my jokey mock-up image of Louis C.K.’s 2017 special demonstrates vis-à-vis the Bandersnatch model, only two choices (“boo” and “applaud”) are provided to the viewer. But there’s far more that can happen at any given moment in a live performance. Plus, how would one even go about trying to determine at which point in the show that the viewers at home would want to, or could, interact with the performing comic?
I’m obviously overthinking this stupid, silly idea. (Honestly, I just wanted an excuse to create the Louis C.K.: Bandersnatch mock-up image, which I’m still laughing at in a coffee shop currently.) But I guarantee you that in at least one planning meeting at Netflix’s headquarters, at least one executive has considered this possibility — if not brazenly mentioned it so that others could hear it. Which makes sense, as stand-up comedy was one of the first bits of original programming that Netflix dove into, and it remains one of its most consistent (and numerous) forms of creative output. Now that the streamer wants to up the ante with interactive content, it’s impossible that these two disparate paths haven’t crossed one another yet in a boardroom somewhere in California.
Conan O’Brien has been on the air as a late night television host for over 25 years. To commemorate this fact, Team Coco has uploaded over 350 remote comedy pieces from the collective catalogs of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and Conan. There’s a lot of great stuff to be found there and it is definitely worth wasting a few good hours of your time on.
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.