In the most recent episode of his long-running podcast WTF, stand-up comic Marc Maron (April 22, 2019) warned that we should “be wary” of trying to “separate stand-up genres.” His argument being that, “if you’re doing the job of stand-up, you’re just a fuckin’ stand-up comic.” What, then, should comedy scholars, comics, and fans make of the application of Netflix’s ever-changing generic classifications to stand-up comedy specials? While many critics and comics have celebrated Netflix's ongoing contribution to the current so-called comedy boom, others have raised concerns about a stand-up special glut, pay disparities that hurt women of color, and the potential for celebrity comics to crowd out up-and-comers. A related concern is what critics see as the flattening and commodification of stand-up - long heralded as a unique art-form capable of pushing boundaries of form, taste, and topic - into easily digestible comedic content.
In the interest of starting to explore these questions, I edited a short montage of stand-up comedy specials organized under the same genre. With this video, I hoped to draw attention to the ways in which Netflix’s branding strategy, drawing on big data and personalized recommendations, erases fundamental differences between comics to the point that these genres cease to have any real meaning. In addition, I created a preliminary list of genre tags and categories for use by those interested in futher exploring this topic.
Genres are able to give creators a sandbox in which to play with recognizable conventions and expectations, but a quick glance at Netflix’s chosen genre tags seem so arbitrarily assigned as to give no information with which to play. Stand-up specials are inherently hard to classify. Are they TV? Film? How do you categorize humor? Unlike movies or television shows, we don't have widely agreed upon ways to divide stand-up in genres. Are there, then, potential material consequences to these tags? As some have argued, Netflix’s algorithm is at its heart a branding strategy used to guide viewer behavior while giving the illusion of personalization and choice; however, after some preliminary research, Netflix genres seem to have less effect on audience choice than prior name recognition, buzz, YouTube clips, and recommendations from friends.
Stand-Up Specials in Order of Appearance
Demetri Martin - Live (At the Time) (2015)
Garfunkel and Oats - Trying to be Special (2016)
Jeff Dunham - Very Special Christmas Special (2008)
Maria Bamford - Old Baby (2017)
Ken Jeong - You Complete Me, Ho (2019)
Nate Bargatze - The Tennessee Kid (2019)
Theo Von - No Offense (2016)
Bill Burr - Walk Your Way Out (2017)
Joe Rogan - Triggered (2016)
Lucas Brothers - On Drugs (2017)
Ali Wong - Baby Cobra (2016)