15-Minute Stand-Up Specials? Netflix Is Trying a New Format



Janelle James will be among the first group of performers to release a 15-minute special on Netflix. Credit Mindy Tucker

In a move that could have major ramifications for the art and business of stand-up, Netflix announced Monday that it will start releasing 15-minute-long comedy specials.

These sets will be filmed live in Atlanta later this year and will focus on respected veterans and young up-and-comers, none of whom are the A-list stars who have typically received the most attention on the streaming giant.

The first comics include Aisling Bea, Michelle Buteau, JR De Guzman, Tim Dillon, Sabrina Jalees, Janelle James, Sam Jay, Josh Johnson, Ian Karmel, Jak Knight, Matteo Lane, Max Silvestri, Taylor Tomlinson, Phil Wang, Kate Willett and Emma Willmann.

Netflix did not divulge how much the performers will be paid, and the announcement came as the comedian Mo’Nique called for a boycott of Netflix over the weekend, accusing the company of racial and gender bias when it came to specials. She said Netflix offered her a six-figure deal compared with multimillion-dollar payouts for Dave Chappelle and Amy Schumer.

The move to shorter specials indicates Netflix is doubling down on stand-up, developing a pipeline of talent, and experimenting with a new micro form. Most specials are around an hour or more. And while comedians appearing on a late-night shows typically prepare five-minute sets, Comedy Central has produced half-hours of stand-up (commercials included) and Netflix tried that length last year as well with “The Standups.”

As Netflix has become the most powerful platform in stand-up, this news raises the question of whether the 15-minute set could become a new industry standard in an age of shrinking attention spans. It’s already common for club sets to run around 15 minutes. At the same time, this experiment also may suggest that at a time when podcasts can run for hours and Dave Chappelle releases a 48-minute special taped the previous month, the idea of an industry standard may itself be fading away.

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