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Netflix CEO defends Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle over controversial specials

"I think it’s very important to the American culture generally to have free expression," said Ted Sarandos

By Tom Skinner

stills of Dave Chappelle in 'The Closer', and Ricky Gervais in 'SuperNature'
Dave Chappelle in 'The Closer'/ Ricky Gervais in 'SuperNature'. CREDIT: Netflix

Ted Sarandos, the CEO of Netflix, has defended Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais following the controversy over their comedy specials.

Chappelle’s stand-up The Closer hit the streaming platform last October, and saw the comedian say that he was “tricked” into calling a trans woman beautiful. He also compared trans women to white people in blackface while declaring himself to be “team TERF” (a trans-exclusionary radical feminist).

SuperNature, the latest Netflix show from Gervais, was also met with significant backlash upon its release last Tuesday (May 24). Some viewers called the actor and comic “transphobic” due to jokes he made in the special about the trans community.

US LGBT rights group GLAAD has since said that the show is “full of graphic, dangerous, anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes”. In a statement, the organisation also claimed that Netflix “refuses” to enforce its own policy whereby content that is “designed to incite hate or violence” is not allowed on the platform.

Netflix employees from the LGBTQ+ community and allies staged a walkout from the company in protest of Chapelle’s The Closer, which they said featured transphobic and homophobic jokes.

Earlier this month, the streaming service outlined its anti-censorship stance in an internal memo that was sent to staff. “If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you,” one section read.

During a recent interview with The New York Times, Sarandos doubled down on Netflix’s policy. He argued that the only way comedians can figure out what’s acceptable is by “crossing the line every once in a while”.

“I think it’s very important to the American culture generally to have free expression,” Sarandos told the outlet (via Deadline).

“We’re programming for a lot of diverse people who have different opinions and different tastes and different styles, and yet we’re not making everything for everybody. We want something for everybody, but everything’s not going to be for everybody.”

The Chappelle support, Sarandos continued, “wasn’t hard in that way. And rarely do you get the opportunity to put your principles to the test”.

“It was an opportunity to take somebody, like in Dave’s case, who is, by all measure, the comedian of our generation, the most popular comedian on Netflix for sure. Nobody would say that what he does isn’t thoughtful or smart. You just don’t agree with him.

“I always said if we censor in the US, how are we going to defend our content in the Middle East?”

According to Deadline, the NYT claimed that the CEO said his remarks about Chappelle also applied to the SuperNature comedian.

Ricky Gervais defended his approach to tackling such “taboo subjects” during an interview on The One Show last week.

“I think that’s what comedy is for, really – to get us through stuff, and I deal in taboo subjects because I want to take the audience to a place it hasn’t been before, even for a split second,” he said.

“Most offence comes from when people mistake the subject of a joke with the actual target.”

Ted Sarandos previously claimed that he believes “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm”.