Comics were sympathetic to Chappelle, but the backlash to his trans community jokes began to make its way into sets. After saying that people have asked her about the attack, Robin Tran, a transcomic who headlined a show, joked, “I just want to say, for the record, I only told him to scare Chappelle.” On another show, another transcomic, Nori Reed, did a very funny, experimental set that put off telling a conventional punch line for a few minutes and then, inspired by Chappelle, called it “No jokes, all vibes.”
One of the strengths and perhaps vulnerabilities of Netflix, the festival and the service, is the offering. The streamer’s comedic taste is always hard to pin down. The brand is big. l interviewed the heads of Netflix comedy in 2018, around the height of their power, although competition from rival services such as Apple TV+ and Disney+ loomed. When asked if they could continue to draw the most famous names with a lot of money, Lisa Nishimura, the vice president of independent and documentary film content, said, “If we keep growing the audience, it’s good.”
What does that mean now that the audience has shrunk? Will the number of Netflix comedy specials decrease? Will competitors fill the space? HBO has put out quality shows and found a discourse-dominant hit with “Rothaniel” by Jerrod Carmichael. (That special was directed by Bo Burnham, whose “Inside” is one of the most impressive success stories for Netflix in recent years.)
At a coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard, just a few blocks from the hotel where club owners and comics stayed and you could see nerve-wracking sights like Dave Attell, a nighttime Comedy Cellar chapter bathed in Hollywood daylight, I met Robbie Praw, the director of original get up at Netflix. He looked tired managing this behemoth. When asked if financial problems will change Netflix’s commitment to comedy, he said no, but admitted that when it came to the number of specials, there would be “a little more curation.”
It was a careful, careful answer, one that reflected more in the moment than any joke, billboard, or festival that week.