Ari Shaffir Stays Authentic For His New Netflix Special


’s new double special “Double Negative” tackles two opposite, but interrelated themes – “Adulthood” and “Childhood” – a fitting format for a comedian who has spent the last 5 years being seen as both a hero and a villain for the same things. Ari’s first special, “Passive Aggressive” was an object lesson on using modern technology to do an end run around traditional gatekeepers. Ari produced it with a team from Arts + Industry in cooperation with now-defunct digital distribution platform Chill.com. Its sales were bolstered by a large and loyal following Ari had gained through his podcast “Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank,” a following which he parlayed into a run on Comedy Central Digital for his storytelling show “This Is Not Happening.” The show’s popularity got it moved up to broadcast, along with a new hour special, “Paid Regular,” and the network went back and bought out “Passive Aggressive” to broadcast as well. While comedians were lauding the trail Ari had blazed and the doors Ari had opened to former outsiders through TINH, he was also cast as a villain for a bit on that first special that used a non-entertainer’s full name in a very unflattering light.

Even this new special is a yin-yang in a meta sense. While it’s no longer trailblazing to do your comedy special with Netflix, Ari maintained an enormous amount of vision and control over it by financing the production himself. At the same time, choosing to follow the digital trail that once led him to Comedy Central has caused a break between the artist and the network, with Comedy Central recasting Roy Wood, Jr to host the new season of TINH. “Double Negative” premieres on Netflix, Tuesday, July 18. Ari can be seen live nightly in clubs around New York City and upcoming as the new host of The Nasty Show during the prestigious Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal July 19-25.

We talked with Ari Shaffir about making the special himself.

The Interrobang: I think a lot of people have already answered this, and it’s no longer really a curiosity, but why did you go with Netflix for your special?

Ari Shaffir: I went with Netflix because It’s a double special, so I had always been thinking of digital while I was making it. The limitations of linear television, there’s no real way to do it on there. I made it a double because I usually try to get a through line through my specials, instead of just a collection of bits. Here’s a thing about something. I just kept having a hard time narrowing it down [to one hour and one theme]. It started…I was going to do something where it started out about being childish and ended with having to grow up, but I just kept seeing the two sides of it. I was listening to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins, and they had that double album, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” and it just hit me. Because it’s not two separate things, each says something about the other.

I was an English major and we had to do a report on a short montage of an American Director and talk about what the montage was doing, what it said about the whole movie, and what it said about the director’s life view and work. You can get that out of just a little piece. So I was thinking about that, and what the one part would say about the other. I did both in the same location, but did a different set and different clothes on each hour. Well, it was the same set but we changed the lighting. On the first one it’s orange back lighting with green backlighting, then we swapped it so it looked different. I had Eric Abrams directing and this great set designer, Mike Bricker and it all came together. It was such a cool thing to work on because we were all in charge and had to figure it all out.

[For this special], I wanted to do it on my own. I wanted to do it all myself and then shop it around and be like “Here’s the finished thing, you can’t change it now, it’s too late.” I just didn’t want to get any notes. I mean, I asked some people to review the material, see if it sounded too much like anything that was already out there. I ran it by David Taylor, Jeff Danis, Ryan O’Neill, Jerron Horton, but it wouldn’t be any of them telling me to do it one way or another, it was just a, “Hey, you might wanna..” and I could take it or leave it.

So, then we had this budget and I had to approve everything in the budget. Some stuff, like a stand-in, I don’t need a stand-in, cut that out, I’ll stand there.

The risk [of doing it on my own] was that I wouldn’t make any money and just lose a ton of cash. I had saved up the money, I didn’t take vacations, I didn’t treat myself or anything, just so I could take this risk. So, then we had this budget and I had to approve everything in the budget. Some stuff, like a stand-in, I don’t need a stand-in, cut that out, I’ll stand there. But then there are other things, I set up the stage and the lighting the day before so I could have the setup all done for my shows Friday night that we weren’t recording and get used to it. But there are union guys that do all that, so that was thousands extra. That’s a lot of money, but it was worth it. It was fun making all those decisions.

The Interrobang: You’ve always been very hands on with your specials though, and you’ve mentioned before that you really like it to be authentic…

I always like to rethink the standard ways to go, because a lot of these rules are just like one guy 6 years ago said this and now everyone “has” to do this but nobody knows why.

Ari Shaffir: I don’t like specials that are too glossy. I always want it to feel like you’re there – I want the lighting dark like a club, I want you to see the backs of some people’s heads, but just barely, if there’s a waitress walking around there’s a waitress walking around. I got really into that from “The Shield” where they’d do those scenes where you see a chain link fence and that’s in focus while stuff is happening in the background, then they shift the focus onto the action so you feel like you’re actually there watching this happen. I always like to rethink the standard ways to go, because a lot of these rules are just like one guy 6 years ago said this and now everyone “has” to do this but nobody knows why. Like on “Passive Aggressive,” Michelle Caputo and Shannon Hartman said we had to cover up all the exit signs and I was like “Why?” and they said, “Because you have to” but nobody really knows why, so I said “There’s Exit signs in this building, keep them.”

The Interrobang: So, you say you don’t ever go on vacation, but you did just spend like 4 months in Southeast Asia.

Ari Shaffir: I had wanted to go on vacation for awhile, but I had responsibilities. I had to finish season 3 of This Is Not Happening, I finished this special and I just left. I wanted to see things and there was always something I was supposed to start or finish and Duncan [Trussell] said, “They’re trying to stop you from seeing the world, man.”, so I finally just went. And I was at a point, all I need to do is work on the next hour, so I wasn’t wasting anything [by taking time off] right now. Just go, clear your brain, I’m going to do it after my next special too. My plan right now is to do my next hour a year from November, I wanna have it finished and ready to present for Edinburgh 2018. And then shortly after that, I’ll tape it.

The Interrobang: You really have stuck to the hour a year plan, haven’t you?

Ari Shaffir: I really have been trying to just do that UK style of producing an hour and touring on it. And after talking to about his hour a year plan, I really got into that as a goal. And I never go on vacation – except that last one – and since I’m in New York I can get a bunch of spots a night and only have to work 4-5 nights a week. That’s all I do, I have no life. I like putting stuff out and working towards a goal. There’s the other school of thought, the Attell way, where you just work on stuff for 3-4 years and take only the killerest bits for your album, but I like my pace. I’ve put out a lot of material in the last 7 years, I’m pretty happy.

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Amy E Hawthorne is a New York by way of LA comedy journalist and founder of ComedyGroupie.com. She's also a produced numerous stand-up shows, got a paycheck and a drinking problem from The Comedy Store and is convinced that the Big Avocado lobby are the ones who really pull the strings in this country.