When the Netflix is a Joke festival was first announced in March 2020, it was much smaller in size and scope — and then the pandemic happened. “To have to delay was really disappointing, but it gave us more time to grow the festival substantially because we felt like the idea of celebrating stand-up and comedy took on a whole new meaning,” says Robbie Praw, Netflix’s VP of standup and comedy formats.
The end result, a joint effort between Netflix and Live Nation, takes place in Los Angeles between April 28 and May 8. It features more than 280 events (at last count) across the city at locations ranging from Dodger Stadium, the Forum, Crypto.com Arena and the Hollywood Bowl to major theaters and comedy venues.
Around a dozen of those show will be taped to stream on Netflix, including Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias making history by becoming the first stand-up comedian to ever perform at Dodger Stadium.
“It’s the biggest comedy show ever in LA, and it will be the biggest special that Netflix has ever shot,” Praw says of Iglesias’ two Dodger dates. “The festival grew in ways we really never could have imagined.”
The timing may be a little awkward for a festival devoted to its tongue-in-cheek “Netflix is a Joke” comedy brand — given what’s going on with the streamer’s declining valuation. And although ticket sales may cover part of the costs — plus the amortization of filming some of the shows for the service — it still is an ambitious, costly venture that coincidentally comes after investors reacted to its first subscriber loss in more than a decade and shares dropped a more than four-year low.
But even speaking to Variety prior to the streamer’s bad news last week, Netflix head of comedy Tracey Pakosta said the investment in the festival is also meant to send a message that “we see ourselves as the leader in all things comedy — standup, scripted, sketch, TV, movies. And the festival is one more way to keep building on that offering.”
It all began with a simple idea inside Netflix: A comedy hall of fame, dubbed “The Hall,” honoring stand-up legends George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers and Robin Williams. But then Praw began thinking big.
“When we started talking it through, it made sense to build a whole celebration of comedy around ‘The Hall,’” says Praw, who previously spent 12 years at Montreal’s famed Just for Laughs Festival. “I was able to tap into my background.”
That’s when Praw, Pakosta and others took the “Netflix Is a Joke” brand — which began as a marketing slogan on billboards about six years ago, and later became a social channel — and turn it into a major festival.
Besides the Iglesias shows, the 11-day festival will include comedy concerts, standup showcases, conversations, podcast recordings, table reads and other showcases from Kevin Hart, Larry David, John Mulaney, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, David Letterman, Pete Davidson, Amy Schumer, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, Wanda Sykes, Patton Oswalt, Conan O’Brien, Margaret Cho, Bill Burr and others.
“This comedy festival is massive,” says Hart, in a statement to Variety. “Netflix has done an amazing job in supporting comedy over the years and they have been an unbelievable partner to me and my brand. Showing up at this festival was a must for me.”
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