A lot of fantastic stand-up comedy specials have come out this year, and with six months left to go, there’s still plenty more to come before everyone drunkenly sings “Auld Lang Syne.” Nearly half of these titles were released by Netflix, the streaming giant whose dedication to stand-up resulted in one new special per week in May. Yet basic and premium cable outlets like Comedy Central, HBO and Showtime are still in the game, especially when it comes to producing smaller, half-hour programming. To this day, One Night Stand (HBO) and The Half Hour (Comedy Central) remain the short genre’s main staples.
Other programs, like HBO’s Comedy Half-Hour and Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening, have continued this ’80s and ’90s tradition to varying degrees, though their output lately pales in comparison to the full hours audiences are being inundated with. Enter Netflix, whose latest contribution to the game isn’t yet another singular stand-up special from a rising star or an established icon, but its very own collection of half-hour concert films. Titled The Standups, Netflix bills it as one giant “comedy special featuring six 30-minute episodes where six up-and-coming comedians take the mic to show off their material to the world.”
The “up-and-coming” qualifier doesn’t apply uniformly to all six performers, as many will recognize Deon Cole (black-ish, Angie Tribeca) and Dan Soder (Billions) from television. Audiences might also remember Nikki Glaser (Not Safe) and Fortune Feimster (Glee) from their previous work, but they probably won’t recall Beth Stelling and Nate Bargatze unless they regularly late night comedy-centric programs like @midnight and The Tonight Show. As Glaser, Cole, Bargatze and Soder explain to Uproxx, however, the sextet’s diversity of experience (as will as actual diversity) made The Standups all the better.
“We’ve all been around for a long time, but we’re not household names or anything,” says Bargatze. “Hopefully we can build a repertoire, so that people can come and watch this on Netflix. You know what I mean? Everyone kind of trusts Netflix now. They’ve put on so many good shows lately, so everyone thinks, ‘I trust that you guys know who should be doing these.’ Every comic who did this is a real headliner. They headline shows all over the road. We’ve all done stuff, and now thanks to Netflix, we’ve done this.”
Like Cole (Cold Blooded Seminar), Glaser (Perfect) and Soder (Not Special), Bargatze recently released his first stand-up hour, titled Full Time Magic. Feimster and Stelling have not, though they have done televised half-hour sets elsewhere and, as Bargatze notes, are frequent headliners. Plus, as Glaser explains, it’s just a really great group of people. “It’s usually up-and-coming comics you may not have heard of,” she says, “but this is kind of dififerent because you get to see someone who has done an hour do a shorter set. I was on board with The Standups as soon as I heard who was getting involved with it.”
Of course, rounding up the six comedians to film six half-hour stand-up sets is one thing, whereas finding the right person to accomplish such a feat is another matter. Netflix did just that in March 2016 when it hired “programming wizard” Robbie Praw away from the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, where he’d served as vice president for eight years. According to the Montreal Gazette, Netflix “picked the right person for the job” as Praw’s 12 years at Just For Laughs — where he began as a production assistant and worked his way up — helped boost the annual gather’s presence on the world comedy stage. If anything, his addition to the creative team at Netflix would only help solidify the platform’s increased devotion to stand-up.
“I talked to Robbie Praw back in October,” recalls Soder. “He was like, ‘We’re going to do half-hours on Netflix and I want it to be a really good group.’ So he told me about it, and about some of the people who were doing it, and I was like, ‘Oh shit, this is a really great group.'” As Bargatze, a longtime friend of Soder’s, puts it, “we’ve all known Robbie forever” because of Montreal. “I remember talking to him about it. He had the idea for a while, then it started moving forward. It just made sense to try it with him and with this group. Except for Dan,” he jokes. “At first I didn’t want to do it because Dan Soder was doing it.”
Glaser, meanwhile, first caught wind of what would eventually become The Standups at the Denver taping for Amy Schumer’s Leather Special. “I ran into Robbie backstage, and I think he kind of hinted about something,” she remembers. “He booked me on Just For Laughs’ ‘New Faces of Comedy’ show. Me and Amy were both on the same ‘New Faces’ show in 2007. I’ve known him since then, so it was really Robby carrying this group of comics.” As for Cole, he too knew Praw from his Montreal programming days, but didn’t want to participate in Netflix’s upcoming “binge marathon” of stand-up at first — mainly because his hour special had just come out.
“Then I start thinking about it,” he explains. “Netflix has 100 million subscribers. This isn’t somebody doing their own special, then putting it on Netflix. This is Netflix’s show, so they’re really going to support and promote it, and all they were asking of me was to give up just 30 minutes of material. It seemed like a win-win.” Glaser, Soder and Bargatze, whose previous specials premiered in 2015 and 2016, agreed with Cole’s assessment of The Standups‘ potential power and signed on as well. Besides, instead of having to compile yet another hour’s worth of original comedy, they simply had to present half as much material.
This made it easier for everyone involved, but according to comments made by the comics about Netflix’s secretive internal processes, the leading streamer apparently possesses research about its subscribers’ comedy viewing habits. “They were saying that when people watch these specials, if you’re not Chris Rock or Dave Chapelle, they aren’t watching the entire hour. So they thought we should try this half-hour series instead,” says Bargatze. Praw supposedly expressed a similar idea to Glaser, who recalls the former Just For Laughs executive commenting on Netflix’s realization that most people watching its original specials were only watching the first half hour at most.
Netflix did not respond to a request for comment, but whether or not they researched their audience’s attention span for stand-up doesn’t matter if significant numbers don’t stream The Standups. After all, bankrolling a massive three-hour special with six stars is a gamble. Yet if the streaming giant has proven anything to be true, it’s that modern television viewers love to binge-watch their favorite shows. Considering HBO and Comedy Central’s penchant for syndicating their half-hour comedy shows, perhaps Netflix’s gamble will pay off. “When I sit down for a special, it takes me a couple of watches to get through it. I’m not a big watcher, especially with comedy. I’m like, ‘Okay, I get it. I’m moving on,'” says Glaser. “But bingeing? I can go through five or six episodes of something back-to-back. That’s how dumb I am. I need a fix.”
So why not a stand-up comedy binge? Doubling up on hour-long sets, like Dave Chappelle’s first two Netflix specials, may prove to be too much, but knocking out a few half-hour routines at a time is feasible. You’ve probably done this already, especially if your late night channel-surfing habits include watching a few back-to-back repeats of HBO or Comedy Central half-hour specials. With The Standups, Netflix puts its comedians’ work all in one place — thereby increasing the odds that interested bingers will find and watch it. And if enough people do, perhaps this series will add to its catalog with additional seasons featuring short sets by another mix of worthwhile comics, “up-and-coming” and otherwise.
All six episodes of The Standups are now available to stream on Netflix.