Courtesy of NY Times
“They always mention that they watched it on Netflix,” said Mr. Ansari, the 30-year-old comedian best known as a creator of the MTV sketch-comedy series “Human Giant” and a star of the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
Until now, Netflix has given Mr. Ansari’s fans one more chance to hear his jokes, months or years after the telling. For his third stand-up special, Mr. Ansari is moving Netflix to the front of the line. His show “Buried Alive,” based on his tour of the same name, will make its Netflix debut on Nov. 1. It will be the biggest stand-up special distributed by Netflix to date, in much the same way that “House of Cards” was that streaming service’s first high-profile original drama.
There’s more comedy coming, the company says, as it opens another front of competition with HBO. In announcing the expansion into comedy specials and feature documentaries last month, the Netflix chief executive, Reed Hastings, said that the service had “become a big destination for fans of these much loved and often underdistributed genres.”
Mr. Ansari’s conversations with his fans bolster Mr. Hastings’s assertion. Netflix “seems like it’s the closest delivery service of media we have that actually matches up to our preferences and expectations,” he said in a telephone interview during a break from “Parks and Recreation” production. (Lately he has been binge-viewing the ABC drama “Scandal” through Netflix.)
Mr. Ansari said he was amused when a fan asked him on Twitter: “When are you going to put out another stand-up special on Netflix? I need more free stand-up.” Netflix, of course, costs $8 a month. “It’s so convenient, you don’t even think about the fact that you’re paying for it,” Mr. Ansari said.
Netflix’s forays into licensing the first-run rights to television shows, much as a TV network does, are predicated on the belief that people are more likely to keep paying if the service has exclusive programming. In June, the service presented a comedy special by John Hodgman, and last week it presented the premiere of one by Mike Birbiglia, who wrote positively on Twitter of Netflix’s international reach: “I signed a crazy contract that I think included other planets.”
Netflix has comedy specials by Marc Maron and Kathleen Madigan in the works. Mr. Ansari’s show is unlike those before it, a Netflix spokeswoman said, because the company intends to put a significant promotional campaign behind “Buried Alive,” billing it as original programming on par with “Arrested Development” or “Orange Is the New Black.”
“We’ve been working to make Netflix a great home for comedians to do their best work and to support their live performance careers, and having Aziz debut his new show with us is a validation of that strategy,” Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer for Netflix, said in an e-mail.
Mr. Ansari’s special was taped in Philadelphia in April. He said the material was “a lot more mature” than that in his previous specials, focusing on the differences between the friends his age who are getting married and having children, and himself, a commitment-phobic comedian. “All that stuff seems very far away for me,” he said. His first book, announced last week by the Penguin Press, will tackle similar themes about single life, but with new material.
Mr. Ansari plans to release “Buried Alive” as a $5 download, but only after the Netflix premiere. The straight-to-fans strategy, pioneered by Louis C. K. in 2011, was successful for Mr. Ansari last year, he said, but its downside was obvious: “You’re kind of preaching to the choir.”
He added, as modestly as possible, “I have a pretty big choir.” But with the new special, he said, “my goal is to get people that don’t know my stuff already, and maybe expand my audience.”
That’s where Netflix comes in. The service has more than 30 million subscribers in the United States, and its algorithms for recommending shows keep improving. Mr. Ansari said that when he was at home using Netflix, his own shows are recommended to him all the time.
Unlike, say, passive viewers of Comedy Central, though, Netflix watchers requires at least a bit of action, which is a potential drawback for some. On Sunday Mr. Birbiglia told his Twitter followers that “apparently the only way to find” his Netflix special “is if you type in my last name.”
Mr. Ansari’s “Buried Alive” was filmed and edited before Netflix entered the picture. He said he bumped into Mr. Sarandos at an event in New York, and he commented on the popularity of Mr. Ansari’s past specials. That conversation led to the distribution deal. (Neither side would comment on the financial terms.)
“It’s an interesting time for someone to be releasing content,” Mr. Ansari said. “No one’s quite figured out things. You can do all types of things. At this moment, it really seems like Netflix is the way to go.