The access to comedians is at an all-time high with the growth and popularity of stand-up comedy on Netflix. Moreover, Netflix has adopted a business model that highlights the likes of comedy’s Mount Rushmore from Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Ellen DeGeneres, and John Mulaney. This meteoric exposure of some of comedy’s greats has also showcased three prominent comedians -- Hasan Minhaj, Dave Chappelle, and Tom Segura -- who have come under fire for sensitive subject material. This topic underscores the ethical considerations of Netflix as a platform, as well as the necessity for comedians to defend themselves as Netflix watches from afar.
Netflix as a platform is a premium, pay-to-use content provider that ultimately has the final say as to what content appears. With that stated, Netflix has the affordance to add and remove content without providing a public-facing response. In the cases of controversy, Netflix has historically refused the goading of writers to receive a formal statement from the organization. Recently, Dave Chappelle has been called “reckless” for his comments regarding the #MeToo movement and the trans community. Given Netflix’s refusal to respond publicly, Chappelle has received quasi-journalistic assaults over and over again. Similarly, comedian Hasan Minhaj, who told a story of being referred to as a “sandn----r”, has continued unscathed.
Comedian Tom Segura’s comments regarding Louisiana and the departure of the “R-word” in common vernacular has created a vortex of animosity. Segura’s use of the word “retarded” has sparked outrage from a number of critics including commentary from Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe. The magic concoction to finally receive a public comment from Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, appears to be one part commentary from Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe and precisely 97,102 signatures on a Change.org petition.
A lack of transparency has comedians fending for themselves on programs such as Breakfast Club, Conan O’Brien, and even the PBS NewsHour. Unfortunately, the true magic combination for a public response is still unknown. Growing tensions and comedians pushing the boundaries may reveal the primary ingredients of the recipe sooner than later...