Netflix Is a Joke: When the Platform Becomes the Bit
In September, billboards proclaiming “Netflix Is a Joke” popped up overnight in Los Angeles and New York. While some thought it was a shot by its competitors Hulu or Seeso (RIP), it turned out to be a lame attempt at guerrilla marketing by the tech-entertainment behemoth. Since their industry disrupting blitz began in 2013, Netflix has spent nearly as much money on comedians as they have on producing original films and TV shows in an attempt to corner the market. And they’ve largely succeeded. By the midpoint of this decade, they simultaneously replaced Comedy Central as the channel for up-and-coming comics and HBO as the home for prestigious A-list stars.
But now that Netflix has every traditional segment of Hollywood running scared, the company’s become ripe for satire. Netflix’s new slogan was meant as a self-aware nod to the plethora of product they provide, like a less repellent version of Arby’s “We Got the Meats.” But it’s also made some worried that this glutinous volume of one-hour specials might be the pin that leads to the bursting of this generation’s comedy bubble. Andy Kindler, the veteran comic who started out during the first comedy boom, recently told the Just For Laughs crowd at his annual State of the Industry speech, “Netflix is releasing a new comedy special every week. It’s exciting because now you can binge-watch America getting tired of standup comedy again.” The bust is not a foregone conclusion by any means, but if it does happen, we’ll know who was patient zero.
I wouldn’t say I’m getting tired of Netflix’s unending deluge of standup, but the first time someone retweeted @NetflixStandup into my timeline, I skipped it. I’ve reached the point where I instinctively skip over Netflix comedy I don’t recognize knowing that if it was great, I’d read a thinkpiece about it later. It was the next time I saw it that I realized something was off. The account had the familiar Netflix logo and graphics and its official-sounding handle that somehow wasn’t taken yet. But the comics featured were unknown. Too unknown. There’s Indian comedian Johnny Shawarma, who ends every joke with a punchline about not going to medical school. British bloke Nigel Crisps, who thinks naming a school after the Columbine massacre shows how nuts America has become. Raunchy Betty Bensen, who can’t pick up a gel pen or stapler without wondering if it’ll make her cum. And stoned millennial comedian Jacob Litfield, who does half of his set with a fidget spinner on his nose.
But who is behind these videos? I reached out to one of the co-creators “Snack Bitch” to get the inside story of an inside joke.
What can you tell me about who you are? What your background is in?
There’s a team of us behind this whole thing, with two of us as the main producing force. We’d like to remain anonymous for now. So, for the time being, we’ll use some arbitrary codenames: “Snack Bitch” and “Candy Boy.”
Snack Bitch has the background in graphic design, website management, and video editing. This project is really their brainchild. Candy Boy’s background is in theater and producing live shows. However, both have been working together writing and making video sketches for a little while now. Along for the ride, we have some crucial teammates who made all of this possible.
What gave you the spark to create these videos?
It was a combination of eyerolls, true frustration as users (and fans), and the shift of what the term “special” represents. Ultimately, it was when we discovered that Netflix — a multi-billion dollar company that’s treating standup very seriously — doesn’t own “Netflix Stand-up” in any capacity. That sparked the “no way, now we HAVE to do this” mentality. So we went and secured the domain, netflixstandup.com, and @netflixstandup on social sites across the board.
What % of each video is making fun of Netflix’s business model vs. making fun of well-known comedic personas?
This is 100% Netflix and 0% any specific comic. Netflix put incredible money behind standup comedy — from the biggest names: (Chappelle, Rock, Seinfeld, etc.) to smaller acts, as well as launching this massive “Netflix Is a Joke” campaign. They aimed to (and successfully) dethroned HBO as the Comedy Special King in the minds of subscribers and insiders. Not to mention in quantity and big names too.
It was an impressive feat, but we feel it was done with no plan beyond “we want to have them all!” It doesn’t do subscribers nor comedy fans much good if they don’t know whose special is coming out next, when it’s coming out, or how to find them a week or so later when two more specials have subsequently dropped. So we felt with building NetflixStandup.com, why not show them what we want and make fun of them in the process? Updating it every week with the most outlandish and absurd standup characters we could create.
How did you decide which comedians to parody? One is clearly Brandon Wardell and another seems like a Jim Jefferies/Russell Brand hybrid. But the others seem to be pastiches of common standup tropes.
It’s interesting to hear the characters — in this case, Jacob Litfield and Nigel Crisps — described as CLEARLY any specific person. We understand the connections that could be made, but we think these characters would be contemporaries to similar acts within their genre rather than direct imitations. All the performers came up with the characters they did and wrote those bits. Collaborating and riffing happened, but the performers deserve credit for the results. I don’t believe there were any hidden motives to tear down anyone in particular. Who knows, maybe that will change in a new video. Hey, YouTubers, remember to like and subscribe to catch the latest releases!
Do you worry what comedians might think about their parodies? Brandon Wardell came across his and seemed to take it in stride.
Somewhat? Not really? While the characters utilized some popular or frequently used styles, we feel that the characters are still very unique to themselves. Backstories were created. Subtle personality traits exist beyond just their face values, and these are revealed in the performances. And this has now, officially, been over-intellectualized.
To be honest, Brandon never came to mind when we were doing Jacob Litfield. Only after Ron Funches tweeted the video to Brandon did it occur to us that people could take it that way. But it’s awesome that he liked it (and seemed to like the other videos too).
Do you have friends come through with characters they want to try?
So far we have primarily worked with comics on the rise in NYC. The characters are theirs. They came to set with the material and their costumes. We created the “venue” settings. From there it was a genuine collaboration that resulted in these trailers consisting mostly of takes that were off script. Without sounding too film school dork, It’s been an incredible thing to witness and be part of these comics getting lost in these characters. We hope to make mini Jim & Andy docs for each of them in 20 or so years. If this gets big enough, we may even do a live showcase show much sooner than that.
As of this interview you only have a little over 200 followers, so you’re under the radar. But your videos, social media accounts, and even website are so close to the real thing. You’re even using their logo. Are you scared of getting a cease and desist order?
Of course, dear God! The thought of having the massive and powerful legal sword Netflix can swing at our necks is terrifying.
And not really… The likelihood that they feel any type of threat from us is probably not all that great. After all, the company’s campaign for comedy programming is “Netflix Is a Joke” so hopefully they can take one. At the end of the day, it would be cool if they noticed us at all.
How far are you trying to go with this project?
Initially, Snack Bitch had this idea and wanted to do one video. Then Candy Boy was involved and it went to 10. 15. Eventually landing on the goal of making 52. One for each week of the year. Cause, if we’re going to do this, might as well follow in their footsteps.
Do you think there’s any validity to Netflix saturating the standup special market? Do you think that’s necessarily a bad thing?
Yes, we think Netflix’s efforts are valid. And yes, we think the execution deserves criticism.
It’s fair to mention how there’s far more comics, talented ones, than ever before. It’s fair to say that there is a massive demand right now for comedy, specials, series, and everything. Our contention isn’t that a media empire like Netflix should stop giving as many opportunities as they like. It’s that there’s a responsibility to make an effort to uphold the integrity of what having a standup special means. You know, keeping them special.
With giving these comics the opportunity to be heard, they should also provide subscribers the chance to easily discover artists they ordinarily wouldn’t know — all while sophisticating their comedy tongue. It’s somewhat disrespectful to the artists that they get lumped into a messy large library, and then once they’re released, Netflix seemingly forgets about their existence.
Other than the Pokemon mindset of “gotta catch em all,” what’s the point of doing this if it’s difficult for people to find? It seems like they’re more excited about releasing specials than the specials themselves.
We think NetflixStandup.com is as much of a joke about what they’re doing as it is a giant ass note for their suggestion box. At the end of the day, it was very easy to create a user-friendly site that only cost us $10 and a few hours.
To watch @NetflixStandUp’s weekly videos, check out its YouTube page.
Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.