The last time I was at Ted Sarandos’ house, in late summer 2020 to interview him and wife Nicole Avant for a Town and Country magazine profile, I took a moment to peruse the bookshelves of the sitting room. Next to framed pics of the Netflix co-C.E.O. with various Democratic politicians sat book after book by and about comedy legends: Carl Reiner, Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Pryor, Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, Steve Martin, and so on. A veritable library of comedians.
“Ted is a huge comedy fan,” Jimmy Kimmel told me for the profile. That was an understatement. Sarandos is a student of comedy; he knows the history and worships the gods. It took Netflix only a couple years to corner the market on A-list stand-up specials, doling out eight-figure deals to stars like Amy Schumer and Kevin Hart, destroying the dominance that HBO and Comedy Central had built over decades. Sarandos considers guys like Will Arnett and Ricky Gervais his personal friends. When I asked him to name a mentor type that he admires, he cited Lorne Michaels alongside Norman Lear. A dinner party at the Sarandos house might include past guests Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Jeff Garlin, or Tiffany Haddish—or perhaps even one of Ted’s favorites, Dave Chappelle.
So of course Sarandos is standing by Chappelle, despite the furor over the new special, The Closer, which is basically 72 minutes of ad hominem attacks on the transgender community, in particular, and L.G.B.T.Q.+ people, in general. For Sarandos, this is personal. He believes in the stand-up mantra, that good comedy often—and perhaps even necessarily—pushes boundaries, makes people uncomfortable, and sometimes stokes anger. The alternative scenario—a world of comedy by committee, or censorship for hurt feelings—would have neutered some of the greats he loves, like George Carlin or Eddie Murphy or Joan Rivers.