In a recent op-ed for The Guardian, writer Brian Logan examined recent specials from Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais, and concluded that American comedy’s in the midst of an “’ironic bigotry’ problem.”
In the article, Logan wonders whether the backlash to Chappelle’s recent specials – under fire for questionaly homophobic bits – indicates that the comic is, perhaps, not the most PC performer out there. Beyond that, actually, Logan posits that, unlike the comparatively clever British comic Ricky Gervais, Chappelle’s simply intolerant:
He’s not, then, being ironic, in the sense that (for example) Ricky Gervais’s jokes are ironic. Chappelle doesn’t couch these routines in winking inverted commas; nor does he wear a Gervais-a-like smirk to signal devil’s advocate intent. He does hedge the jokes with caveats, mind you, repeatedly claiming that he respects and defends everyone’s right to live as they please.
As Logan sees it, Chappelle’s straight-up sexist, and homophobic, and transphobic, if his recent specials are accurate depictions of his own personal politics. However, in his eyes, this isn’t true of Gervais – who’s tonally very similar to Chappelle, all eye rolls and “oh get this shit” and feeding off fearful crowds — because…well, there’s not really a satisfying “because” to be found, but perhaps it has something to do with his better scripted delivery, as opposed to Chappelle’s more conversational style.
Interestingly, this week, The Guardian also posted a piece titled “From Louis CK to Jerry Seinfeld: Netflix’s comedy boom is about to go bust.” The thesis? “Netflix is throwing so much cash at big-name comics – many of whom are way past their best – that it’s choking up the standup scene. Why won’t they take a chance on anyone actually young and exciting?” The headline’s actually more aggressive than the article itself; author Stuart Heritage has plenty of nice things to say about Netflix’s comedy production skills, he just thinks they should be doing more with the huge corner of the market they’re occupying. Instead of buying one blockbuster special from Louis CK, he argues, why not buy ten from a bunch of younger, more exciting, not already famous performers?
It’s a fair point, for sure, but not a very well-researched one; sure, spending the majority of their budget on big names may not be the most creative programming – but it’s bringing lots of eyes over to Netflix’s growing original comedy section, and likely introducing welcoming viewers to comics they may not have heard yet, like Cristela Alonzo, Jen Kirkman, or Tom Segura.
Plus, just last month, Netflix taped six new half hours with Nikki Glaser, Beth Stelling, Dan Soder, Fortune Feimster, Nate Bargatze, and Deon Cole. So, it’s clear the network’s aiming to become more than just a platform for the already established to produce projects on their terms; between this new series (titled The Stand-Ups), experimental sketch showcase The Characters, and a commitment to creating offbeat content like the Wet Hot American Summer sequel series and Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite, it seems Netflix is doing just fine making their own creative decisions.
The fact that these two pieces – one a take-down of several comics’ sardonic political commentary, and one criticizing the most prolific comedy producer out there right now – appeared on the same site in the same week is certainly interesting, and more so as its coming from The Guardian, a UK publication. From over here, it’s exciting to hear comics like Dave Chappelle and Louis CK take on charged topics like Trump and racial tension; in particular, guys like Chappelle and CK and Gervais are especially deft at using sarcasm to shine a spotlight on ignorance – a style that, sure, can often come across as indifferent (or, arguably, “ironically bigoted”.) With all the exciting comedy the US is exporting, is that the message our stand-ups are actually sending? Or was it just a rough week over at The Guardian HQ (maybe someone forgot their Netflix password or something?)
Regardless, each piece is worth a read for their analytic take on the current state of comedy – and a few ideas about its ideal future.