Ted Sarandos, CEO of Netflix, defended Dave Chappelle’s new comedy special “The Closer” – which contains jokes about Jews and trans people – drawing a line between artistic expression in standup comedy and hateful speech in the workplace.
In a memo to staff, Sarandos brought up the popular Netflix series “My Unorthodox Life,” which is about a Jewish woman who fled her strict religious community, as another example of supporting creative freedom even when some believe it is harmful.
“Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him,” Sarandos wrote in the memo, obtained by Variety. “His last special, ‘Sticks & Stones,’ also controversial, is our most watched, stickiest and most award-winning stand-up special to date.
“As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom,” he added, “even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful, like ‘Cuties,’ ‘365 Days,’ ‘13 Reasons Why’ or ‘My Unorthodox Life.’”
He noted that some employees had “asked where we draw the line on hate.” He said the company does not allow shows “that are designed to incite hate or violence,” and that he does not believe ‘The Closer’ “crosses that line.”
“I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries,” the memo continues. “Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited, but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
The joke that caused offense to some Jews centered on an ancient civilization that discovered space travel, left Earth and then came back to claim it as their own. His punch line is the title for the world-conquering film: Space Jews.
But Jews were hardly the only group offended. “The Closer” is the fourth Chappelle special in which he mocks transgender people. As Katelyn Burns, an MSNBC opinion columnist, wrote: “His transgender bits have revived his career.”
In the special, released last week, Chappelle expresses support for J.K. Rowling, author of the “Harry Potter” series, for her anti-trans statements. “Gender is a fact,” Chappelle says. “Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth.” The comedian also claims to have “beat up” a lesbian, saying “I whooped the toxic masculinity out of that b****.”
Three Netflix employees – including one who is trans – complained about the Chappelle special and were reportedly suspended after they crashed a quarterly meeting of company directors. GLAAD, a watchdog group that promotes LGBTQ equality, called on Netflix to “listen to LGBTQ employees, industry leaders, and audiences and commit to living up to their own standards.”