LOS ANGELES — Over the past two weeks, in a shock-and-awe display of cultural power that suddenly seems from a bygone era, Netflix put on a behemoth festival that summoned all corners of the comedy world. Take Saturday evening, for instance. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey cracked jokes at the YouTube Theater while Billy Eichner hosted an evening of LGBTQ+ stand-ups at the Greek Theater that included, among others, Wanda Sykes and Tig Notaro. Tim Heidecker chatted with comics at the Elysian Theater, a savvy new alternative space, while Mitra Jouhari from Adult Swim’s “Three Busy Debras” prepared to go onstage. Two miles away, Gabriel Iglesias was getting ready to be the first stand-up to ever perform at Dodger Stadium.
The inaugural Netflix Is a Joke Fest which was cooked up before the pandemic and then postponed, rivaled if not eclipsed Just for Laughs, the mammoth industry event in Montreal. Producing 298 shows in dozens of spaces throughout Los Angeles, this ambitious effort took place in an awkwardly humbling moment for the streaming giant, after a quarter when it reported losing subscribers for the first time in a decade and its valuation dropped more than a third. There were layoffs, talk of price increases and the once unthinkable, adding digital ads.
The physical kind blanketed the city, including a seven-story sign overlooking Hollywood Boulevard that commanded: “Please Laugh Responsibly.” This is the sort of corporate humor that uses jokey irony to disguise a commercial purpose, but there was something especially incongruous about the swagger of these promotions. To trumpet, in another sign, “the biggest comedy event in history” (with an asterisk and the joke “probably”) while employees anxiously whispered about the company’s future gave the festival a certain “last days of the Roman Empire” vibe.