Netflix aims to rule the world of stand-up. So far, it’s succeeding.
In the production of stand-up comedy specials, Netflix has taken the mic right out of the hands of its competitors.
The relatively new tech company released 25 stand-up specials in 2016, and in the category long ruled by HBO, the streamer now boasts a powerhouse lineup that includes Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and Amy Schumer.
Plenty of venerable entertainment institutions are bending to the deep-pocketed will of Netflix, which has built a global audience of 93 million subscribers, in part due to massive spending on original content. Sony Pictures Entertainment, for example, suffered the poaching of Jerry Seinfeld and his popular Sony Crackle series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, with a reported $100 million Netflix deal.
Like its rapid ascendency in the television business, Netflix’s rise in stand-up hasn’t taken long. The streaming service released its very first special, Aziz Ansari’s Buried Alive, in 2013.
And the large sums Netflix can offer top-level comedians only partly explain the company’s comic upswing, according to Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s vice-president of original documentary and comedy.
“We’re extremely friendly to artists,” says the former indie film executive. “We release their work fully intact, and we don’t censor or edit, which might be the case with a broadcast network. We fully support the comedians we work with and their vision.”
The sharpened focus on stand-up specials has worked in unison with the service’s expansion into more than 190 countries, Nishimura says. But do comedians speaking English alone on a stage appeal to other cultures and nationalities?
“These are big personalities known around the world,” Nishimura maintains. “We hear very consistently that [stand-up specials] get great responses from other territories. In turn, the comedians we work with expand their reach and audience sizes shortly after they premiere on the service. The fact that we have been growing that way makes us an even more attractive partner.”
One of the reasons stand-up works so well on Netflix, Nishimura believes, is that it’s an impulse-driven viewing choice on an on-demand, watch-anytime platform. “Part of the beauty of our service is that comedy specials are available 24/7,” she says.
But the job of recruiting comics and licensing their content can also run 24/7. “You go on a lot of tours, and you spend a lot of nights out in smoky clubs,” Nishimura admits. “You have to be there. You can’t cheap out on it.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2017