"It's silly for a network to pretend their hands are tied when it comes to content they put on their network."
Amid the intense and multifold controversy that followed Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix standup special The Closer, a large portion of which centered around what some consider dangerously transphobic material, the streaming giant’s CEO Ted Sarandos defended Chappelle and Netflix’s role in airing the special as a matter of “freedom of speech” and “creative freedom.” But Raphael Bob-Waksberg is calling bullshit.
The creator of the hit Netflix animated show BoJack Horseman took to Twitter this week questioning Sarandos’s purported anti-censorship stance, considering the fact that Netflix had once asked him to take out a scene from his own show. “Still mystified that apparently Dave Chapelle’s deal is that he says whatever he wants and Netflix just has to air it, unedited. Is that normal, for comedians? Because Netflix once asked me to change a joke because they were worried it might upset David Fincher,” he wrote.
The full scene that would have featured an animated version of Fincher, the filmmaker that Netflix has worked with extensively, was indeed ultimately cut. But Bob-Waksberg offered to share the script for it if 100 people responded to his thread with proof that they had donated to Trans Lifeline, a grassroots trans aid nonprofit. His call resulted in some $2,000 being donated, and also provided a look at the cut scene that ultimately featured an extremely mild gag about Fincher and his film Seven.
“Netflix was right to note, it's a dumb scene,” Bob-Waksberg continued. “My point was it's silly for a network to pretend their hands are tied when it comes to the content they put on their network.” In fact, he noted, not only was it a largely harmless edit request from Netflix, but an example of what is an integral part of art-making. “Here are my last thoughts on this before I turn off this hell machine for the night: 1) Good pushback and feedback (if it's good!) makes art better and if you as a network don't know how to give it, you might as well be throwing your money down the toilet.”
Granted, the situations between a show like BoJack and a special like The Closer are not entirely comparable: production behind a narrative series inherently requires the push and pull of countless minds and voices, whereas stand-up, despite sometimes having additional writers, is largely presented as a one-person creation (the “feedback,” a comic would likely say, is the audience’s reaction and nothing else). But, questions of creative freedom or edits aside, Bob-Waksberg ended the thread on a mic-drop tweet that neatly sums up the entire Chappelle debacle, and the disappointment many see in the gap between who he once was and the hill he has now chosen to die on.
"For a comedian who famously walked away from his hit TV show because he was worried he was Making Things Worse,” Bob-Waksberg wrote, “it's remarkable how many of his fans (and collaborators!) believe comedians have no responsibility to not Make Things Worse."
Netflix did not immediately respond for comment.