When it comes to comedy, the United States has it pretty good. Not only does the country have a pretty huge infrastructure to support comedians and comedic movies and TV shows, but satire — while it can sometimes get you in hot water — is unlikely to get you killed. In other countries, that's not quite so true, and those countries are where longtime Seinfeld writer Larry Charles — director of movies like Borat and Religulous — turns his eye in the new Netflix series, Larry Charles's Dangerous World of Comedy.
In an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com ahead of the Netflix premiere on Feb. 15, Charles revealed the idea for the series came while taking to Google with a few search terms.
"Before I ever even formulated the idea, just wondering what would happen if I Googled comedy and the most dangerous places I could think of. So, I would Google Somalia and comedy. Or, Iraq and comedy and inevitably, no matter how crazy the place was, there were comedians there," Charles explained to PopCulture.com, adding how he also spoke with everyone from famous talk show hosts to failing stand-ups, to even a war criminal or two.
Prior to starting the show, Charles admits he did an "enormous amount of deep research" to get it right.
"We connected with people in all these countries, they helped, and once we had research and we kind of knew who we might want to talk, where we might want to go, then we connected with someone in each of these countries who helped us prioritize there a schedule where we could actually talk to as many people as we possibly could during the time we were there," he said. "And then once we got there, that was always a state of flux. So you had to be very flexible with that part as well. Things would come up suddenly, you had to seize upon that moment, things would fall apart sometimes, you had to make other plans. And that's the nature of that sort of filmmaking."
The series takes Charles to Iraq, Liberia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, where he gets the chance to talk to the soldiers who have had to find humor in the worst possible situations. Additionally, Charles explores culture within the U.S. for a deeper dive into racial humor, and how it has become fodder for commentators from recent immigrants to the alt-right.
Though Charles's onetime collaborator Jerry Seinfeld has famously said American colleges aren't safe spaces for comedians anymore as too many in the audience take offense at what he perceives as innocuous jokes, Charles does not think that the dire straits some comedians around the world exist under are entirely distinct from those questions being raised by both performers and audience members at home.
"I think they are very connected, very connected," Charles said. "Part of this multipronged reason for doing something like this project, is to illustrate those connections and those contrasts, which are very startling at times, you know? Of course, I'm of a certain generation that I can sympathize with the older white comedians plight in this new environment. However, I feel like comedy and the country run parallel in all the countries I go to, including the United States, and right now we're in a very fragmented world.
Adding how the U.S. is "very fragmented" at the moment, Charles admits there are many different factions and it is these very factions that create contextual diversity in comedy as well.
"The dominance of the white male patriarchy in comedy, like in many things, is crumbling," he said. "And, of course, like we see in many things like politics, the white patriarchy is going to try to cling to that power. Inevitably, it has to fall and sympathize at best with the other voices that are rising up in comedy."
Larry Charles's Dangerous World of Comedy is streaming now on Netflix.