Netflix Co-CEO Supports Dave Chappelle's 'Artistic Freedom' in Controversial Comedy Special

Chappelle's newest comedy special, The Closer, has sparked backlash for jokes directed at the LGBTQ community

Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle in The Closer. Photo: Mathieu Bitton

The co-CEO of Netflix is defending Dave Chappelle's latest comedy special The Closer, which has sparked backlash due to a series of controversial jokes about the LGBTQ community.

In a memo sent out on Friday obtained by The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, Ted Sarandos reportedly told staff members the streamer would not be pulling Chappelle's special, citing the comedian's right to "artistic freedom."

"Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him," Sarandos said, per Variety. "As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom — even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful."

Sarandos said while Netflix doesn't allow titles "that are designed to incite hate or violence," the company's executives "don't believe The Closer crosses that line," according to THR.

"As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom — even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful," he added.

A Netflix spokesperson had no comment when reached by PEOPLE on Tuesday.

Dave Chappelle: The Closer
Dave Chappelle. Netflix

The memo was reportedly sent after Netflix's quarterly business review, a meeting reserved for the top 500 employees at the company. According to multiple reports, the meeting was crashed by three uninvited employees who have since been suspended, including Terra Field, a senior software engineer based in San Francisco.

Field, who identifies as queer and transgender, publicly condemned the streaming service's decision to release the special on Twitter.

A spokesperson for Netflix denied that Field was suspended for speaking out against the special, telling The Los Angeles Times, "It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employees for tweeting about this show. Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so."

Field was unable to be reached for comment.

In The Closer, which premiered last week, Chappelle, 48, made multiple jokes about the LGBTQ+ and trans community, at one point claiming he was "team TERF," the term for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, an ideology that excludes trans women as women.

"As a trans woman, I have usually defended Dave Chappelle's specials because I think they're hilarious and his jokes about trans women never felt intentionally malicious," actress and director Taylor Ashbrook recently tweeted. "The Closer changed my mind on that. That special felt so lazy and disingenuous and I'm really disappointed."

In the staff memo, Sarandos also reportedly touched on Netflix's deal with Chappelle, noting that his previous comedy special, Sticks & Stones, was the platform's "most watched, stickiest and most award winning stand-up special to date."

"Particularly in stand-up comedy, artistic freedom is obviously a very different standard of speech than we allow internally as the goals are different: entertaining people versus maintaining a respectful, productive workplace," he said.

Chappelle, meanwhile, appeared to address the controversy during a sold-out show at Los Angeles' Hollywood Bowl last week.

"If this is what being canceled is like, I love it," he said as the crowd gave him a standing ovation, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

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