Ted Sarandos Stands by Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais: Comedians Should ‘Cross the Line’

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Netflix is doubling down on Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais’ controversial stand-up specials — again.

The streamer’s co-CEO and content chief Ted Sarandos reminded that Netflix has “always been a supporter of the art” of comedy during the “Future of Entertainment” panel at the ongoing Cannes Lions advertising conference, at which Sarandos received the Entertainment Person of the Year award.

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Chappelle’s 2021 special “The Closer” led to a social media boycott of the streaming platform and Netflix employee walkouts. Gervais released “SuperNature” earlier this year, which also featured jokes about trans people.

“We’re programming to people with a real variety of tastes and sensibilities. [There’s a range in] how they were brought up, what they think is offensive or what they think is damaging to themselves or to children,” Sarandos said, standing by both controversial specials (via Deadline). “We won’t make everyone happy, but that’s the beauty of on-demand: you can turn it off. The reason comedy is hard is we don’t all laugh at the same thing. We all cry at the same thing so drama is a little easier to pull off, but when it comes to comedy, it’s all very different.”

Sarandos continued, “Also, it’s not frozen in time. Those comedians who are good at what they do are always testing the audience. They know what gets laughs; it’s road-tested before they record the special. If you look back at Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious,’ at the time, it was the greatest hour of comedy ever filmed. Most of that material is pretty out of step today. Eddie says the same thing.”

The Netflix executive added that “part of the art form is to cross the line, and part of the art form means you only find where the line is by crossing it sometimes” in stand-up.

“Supporting expression is really important,” Sarandos explained, adding that viewers were also “super offended by our LGBTQ+ content and they want it taken down and they think it’s super harmful.”

“They think it’s destroying their society,” he said. “And not only do we fight for it, we fight it all the way to the Supreme court. We’ve never taken them down anywhere in the world.”

Sarandos summed up, “Diversity of thought, expression, is super important to defend. It’s good for culture, it’s good for society — not just for the U.S. but everywhere.”

On a personal level, though, the co-CEO admitted that he does “regret” not empathizing with his staff who were offended by the respective stand-up specials.

“They were hurting,” Sarandos said. “I gave a real matter-of-fact answer about expression, but I should have been more empathetic with them directly. That’s the thing I regret, but the decision was very important globally.”

At the time, Sarandos penned an internal memo to staffers addressing Chappelle’s “The Closer,” writing, “Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles [on] Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line.”

Billy Eichner weighed in on the controversy during the Netflix comedy special “Stand Out: An LGBTQ Celebration,” released June 9 after being recorded during Netflix Is a Joke Fest in May.

“We all know how backwards and dangerous the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws are,” Eichner joked. “Queer people, and especially trans people, are under legislative attack in this country. Trans people are being demeaned. They’re trying to dehumanize trans people. They’re trying to erase trans people. And I’m not even talking about Florida. I’m talking about Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special!”

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