Stand-up comedy: the great Netflix localiser?

Curator's Note

Stand-up comedy has proven an incredibly significant part of Netflix’s original content strategy, with the SVOD releasing a new special almost every week since 2016. It stands to reason that as the company has rolled out internationally, it has looked to recruit international comics as well. This has problematised long-held assumptions that comedy has trouble crossing borders; that it is a distinctly local genre.

Released exclusively on Netflix in June 2018, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette was Australia’s first comedy Original. Its critical reception was overwhelmingly laudatory and its international impact extraordinary: it was viewed in over 190 countries and generated significant social media attention. 

It would not be unreasonable to suggest that the success of Gadsby’s special set the pace and created an appetite for Netflix’s 2019 Comedians of the World series, which featured 47 comedians from 13 regions (including two more Australians). 

In an attempt to offset the exorbitant costs associated with producing stand-up specials from A-listers like Dave Chapelle and Jerry Seinfeld, Netflix has also sought to expand the stand-up audience by fostering less experienced comics from around the world, using 15- and 30-minute forms like those in The Standups and The Comedy Lineup.

It’s also really interesting to see how other SVODs have similarly embraced this cost-effective genre of content: in Australia, stand-up specials from local comics constitute a significant proportion of the original content produced by nationally-bound streaming service Stan, and Amazon Prime Video also launched their own series (using many of the same local artists).

Stand-up was at one point singularly the domain of cable outlets like HBO and Comedy Central, so it’s important to consider how SVOD production conditions have changed the genre, and if so whether those differences matter.

One initial impact can be felt with Gadbsy’s follow-up special, Douglas. Recent promotion of the title highlights the cultural and national lenses still being used to understand and appreciate comedy.

To be fair, Douglas is quite literally a response to Nanette’s global success, particularly in the US, as this trailer demonstrates. But it very conveniently serves dual purposes for Netflix, by addressing dual audiences. This is expressly felt in the respective Australian and US Netflix Twitter coverage leading up to the special’s release.

For Australians, “Hannah takes on America” in Douglas. To the Los Angeles audience and larger US Netflix viewership Gadsby is directly addressing, Douglas represents “Hannah’s take on America.”

This suggests that maybe not too much has changed after all. Commissioning stand-up from comedians around the world has been a cheap and convenient way to simultaneously load up the Netflix catalog with original content and represent audiences in different regions. But the content itself is still being presented and received in different ways, suggesting that comedy remains a distinctly local genre.

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