Without plot lines or scripts to guide them, stand-up comics deliver the purest form of comedy you can find. Some get political, some stick to lighter fare, and some can’t help but stir controversy no matter what they say. Regardless of their style or content, the best of them make one thing their priority — to make sure your gut is hurting from belly laughs by the time they leave the stage.
And that kind of gut pain is the kind that would be welcome just about now. Last year was unique and we’re all hoping this new one will eventually be a little bit less stressful. In the meantime, we could all use a few good laughs. Thankfully, you don’t have to break quarantine to find a good stand-up comic. Netflix boasts an impressive collection of stand-up specials, and you can enjoy them in the comfort of your own living room. We’ve gone through all of the streamer’s specials to find the funniest of the funny.
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The Best Stand-Up of 2020
While it wasn’t very easy for anyone, 2020 hit stand-up comedy particularly hard. How do you do stand-up when there’s nowhere to stand up? Thankfully, enough comics either got their specials in under the wire or found creative ways to make the thing work that Netflix had enough material to put together The Best Stand-Up of 2020. The special includes clips from some of the funniest stand-up artists on Netflix during this singular year. Among other things, it’s a great way to sample the stand-up acts and see which ones make you laugh the hardest. Some of the specials clipped include Jerry Seinfeld’s 23 Hours to Kill, Eric Andre’s wild Legalize Everything, Taylor Tomlinson’s Quarter-Life Crisis, Kevin Hart’s surprisingly contemplative Zero F**ks Given, and a whole lot more.
Rhys Nicholson: Live at the Athenaeum
According to Rhys Nicholson’s act, the only way he’ll attend a house party is if someone there will be so “wrong” that they’ll make him feel better about himself. Thankfully, he doesn’t hold to similar rules for stand-up specials. He delivers his thoughts on the dangers of hallucinogens, his struggles with mental health, and society’s mishandling of controversial gender issues with his signature brand of hilarious self-deprecating cynicism.
Kevin Hart: Zero F**ks Given
Hart’s COVID-era special recorded in his own home with the comedian performing in his pajamas has a pretty misleading title. The title Zero F**ks Given braces you for an hour of no-holds-barred ranting, but that isn’t what you get. While Hart is no less free with obscenities than usual, Zero F**ks is an impressively funny and surprisingly introspective comedy special. Much of it revolves around Hart coming to terms not only with the pitfalls of fame, but with how it’s changed him. He explores his own ups and downs and as a celebrity with hilarious stories about being filmed in fast-food parking lots, his short and fruitless boxing career, and having pizza with Jerry Seinfeld.
Ari Eldjárn: Pardon My Icelandic
If you’re not from Iceland, then Ari Eldjárn has a few things to teach you. Through the comic’s wit and observation, you learn about the crushing sense of inadequacy under which Eldjárn’s fellow Icelanders apparently suffer, not only in comparison to the larger countries of the world, but even among the other Nordic nations. You’ll be tickled to learn of the national pride Iceland took in grounding the rest of Europe’s planes with a volcano, the pride they take in their handball, and Marvel fans won’t want to miss Eldjárn’s take on Hollywood’s version of the thunder god, Thor.
Donald Glover: Weirdo
Donald Glover is a man of many talents. He’s an actor, made famous by Dan Harmon’s Community, a Grammy-winning rapper known as Childish Gambino, a stand-up comedian, and, most importantly, a weirdo. In this classic performance in New York, audiences get a glimpse of the man just before his ascendence to musical superstardom. With his unique brand of storytelling, Glover shares his love of Cocoa Puffs and Toys “R” Us and reminds us all that he really is just a weirdo at heart.
Bert Kreischer: The Machine
If the image didn’t do it for you, Bert Kreischer’s The Machine is as goofy and absurdist as you’d expect. Kreischer dives into unbelievable stories, including everything from a run-in with a grizzly bear to his experience in Russia, where he earned the nickname “The Machine.” Bert’s lived his life as a man-child but just so happens to also be a husband and father — a contradiction that defines his life. An uproarious, relatable hour of comedy, The Machine is equal parts hilarious and endearing.
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Marc Maron: End Times Fun
Everybody’s favorite podcasting middle-aged cynic, Marc Maron, takes his trademark bleak attitude toward everything to Netflix in this suitably titled special. Maron discusses vitamin hustlers, evangelicals, grown male nerd children, and many more harbingers of the end times as he weaves his way toward a truly climactic secret apocalyptic fantasy.
Hannah Gadsby: Douglas
Hannah Gadsby’s second Netflix special follows in the success of her first special Nanette, and takes the Australian comic to whole new heights. Gadsby ponders the intricacies of popularity and identity and takes a deep dive into the strangeness and wonder of everyone’s favorite place: The dog park.
Hannibal Buress: Comedy Camisado
Hannibal Buress was already relatively famous when the Bill Cosby scandal broke. When it came out that Buress had already called Cosby out for sweeping his sexual assault allegations under the rug in a previous comedy special, his popularity exploded. In Comedy Camisado, Buress addresses the fallout from his Cosby routine in his customarily sly, dry way. He also delves into zipper etiquette and the legacy of steroids — important topics for everyone to consider.
Eric Andre: Legalize Everything
Eric Andre is well-known for pushing the envelope in ways both provocative and inane. When he takes the stage in New Orleans in this comedy special, Andre brings his textbook energy and shamelessness to new heights. Tackling everything from flawed fast-food icons to the bizarre choice of the Cops theme song, Andre takes a more political note, striking at commercialism and a broken society in Legalize Everything.
Maria Bamford: Old Baby
In her first stand-up special since her wild and crazy hit show Lady Dynamite, Maria Bamford fully accelerates into awkwardness in Old Baby. This unconventional special moves through a series of strange Los Angeles performance venues, taking an unusually self-referential approach as Bamford examines the relationship between herself and her various audiences. From dog park philosophers and mismatched in-laws to audience abandonment issues and therapy songs, Old Baby is as weird — and weirdly fun — as only Maria Bamford can provide.
Tom Segura: Disgraceful
In his third Netflix special, Tom Segura truly hits his stride. He gets this streaming thing and he understands he’s merely a cog in the machine. Segura brings a formidable stage presence, treating this special like he’s speaking to an underground club, not the entirety of the internet. There’s an authenticity that makes his jokes about fatherhood, PC culture, and the like hit home with a bit more poignancy because it truly feels like you’re the only one in the room.
Bill Burr: Paper Tiger
Bill Burr has never been called “subtle,” and it’s extremely clear why in this Netflix special filmed in front of a full house at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In this raucous, scathing special, Burr complains about Michelle Obama’s book tour, takes on male feminists, explores his hang-ups on taking baths, and explains why his personality may very well destroy his marriage.
Bo Burnham: Make Happy
Bo Burnham started his comedic career as a teenager recording songs on YouTube. His 2016 special Make Happy, however, is considerably more grown-up. Burnham appears to finally be feeling the burnout of being young and famous, ripping on the entertainment industry and preposterous shows like Lip Sync Battle, and taking a good hard look at his own work. Despite his boyish charm and punny one-liners, Burnham takes on a darker tone with this special without sacrificing the funny.
Mike Epps: Only One Mike
Mike Epps is a comedy legend, with more than two decades of performing under his belt, and yet Only One Mike is just his second Netflix special. Regardless, he makes his return to Netflix count in Only One Mike, filmed at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Epps is as inappropriate and raunchy as ever as he reflects on the gifts and curses of raising four daughters, battling childhood dyslexia, and much, much more.
Taylor Tomlinson: Quarter-Life Crisis
Taylor Tomlinson follows up her Netflix debut on The Comedy Lineup Part 1 with her first dedicated Netflix special just two years later. At 25, Tomlinson has already accomplished much more than many other comedians, and she’s learned many, many lessons in that quarter decade. Most notably that the 20s are far from “the best years of your life” like everybody keeps telling her they are. One of comedy’s newest stars, Tomlinson talks about working on herself, realistic relationship goals, and all those other millennial buzz-topics with a caustic wit that shows her to be one of the great voices of reason in comedy.
Tiffany Haddish: Black Mitzvah
Tiffany Haddish has become such a full-fledged movie star at this point that it’s easy to forget that she cut her teeth in stand-up for more than a decade before hitting the big time. In her first Netflix comedy special, which, again, is crazy considering how long she’s been doing this, she shows why her star took off so suddenly once she finally got the recognition she deserved. Exploring the eccentricities of being a Black Jewish woman and her uncomfortable relationship with fame, Haddish is delightful, relatable, and, of course, hilarious in this long-overdue special.
Chelsea Peretti: One of the Greats
Peretti is best known for her portrayal of Gina Linetti, the precinct’s cynical civilian administrator on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but writing is her true bread-and-butter. She’s worked on a number of comedy shows, including Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation, and it’s these experiences that she uses to create One of the Greats. It’s intentionally overwritten, painstakingly self-reflective, and made to be a comedy about comedy. Peretti takes a strangely meta-approach to comedy and it works for her. It’ll work best for you after you’ve watched a more traditional comedy special first.
Iliza Shlesinger: Elder Millennial
Iliza Shlesinger has long been a Netflix stand-up stalwart, with five specials (Freezing Hot, War Paint, Confirmed Kills, and Iliza Unveiled are the others) but it’s Elder Millennial that is her masterpiece. Taking aim at her own generation as well as every other one, Elder Millennial feels strangely like listening to your grandmother on her annual Thanksgiving tirade. Yet, Shlesinger is infinitely more charming than your grandmother — no offense. Nailing everything from dating, sex, and the double standards and hypocrisy that pervade our society’s every interaction and government’s operation, Shlesinger walks a tightrope of wisdom and purposeful naivete. She’s an elder millennial with much to learn but she also knows how to tell it how she sees it.
Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones
Chappelle’s long-awaited return to stand-up specials did not disappoint in the slightest. With his characteristically caustic wit and self-referential humor, Chappelle struts into the special like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, an action hero who returned to glory after a self-imposed hiatus. The guy left on top, he’s returning on top. Of course, times have changed since the final episode of Chappelle’s Show aired in 2006, and Chappelle’s famous impressions of people of different races and unfiltered opinions on race relations in the U.S. (the Jussie Smollett incident, for one) haven’t aged well for all. That’s likely why critics widely panned the special. Audiences and die-hard Chappelle fans, however, loved it because Chappelle has refused to change with the times, even if that means living a few steps over the line. If you like Chappelle, you’ll love Sticks & Stones.
Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America!
Capitalizing on American hysteria over … well, everything, and Americans’ exceptionalist attitude toward … well, everything, Chieng has some good-natured fun with cultural differences between people. Chieng is a Daily Show correspondent who was born in Malaysia, was raised in Manchester, New Hampshire, and Singapore, and attended the University of Melbourne. He has been around, seen the world, and actively engaged with it, and it shows in his stand-up.
Simon Amstell: Set Free
U.K. viewers know Simon Amstell best as host of Popworld and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, creator of Grandma’s House, and writer and director of the feature films Carnage and Benjamin. Chances are, though, that you’ve never heard of him. Well, consider Set Free your introduction. As many critics have noted, Set Free is basically a public therapy session, as Amstell uses his time on stage to work through a number of personal issues, including his relationship with his family, social anxiety, body image issues, and other mental health problems (yes, therapy itself is one of Amstell’s targets, too). If you don’t think that self-reflection can be funny, give Set Free a try. Amstell fans might have heard some of the material before, but to the rest of us, it’s new — and very, very good.
Whitney Cummings: Can I Touch It?
By her own admission, Whitney Cummings has evolved. “Generalizing about men and women paid for my house,” Cummings notes, referring to her two sitcoms, 2 Broke Girls, which she produced, and her short-lived starring vehicle Whitney. That was the old Cummings. While Can I Touch It? tackles similar material, it does so with more nuance and self-reflection than Cummings’ past work. Not that the comedian has lost her ability to shock, of course. The part of Can I Touch It? that everyone will be talking about comes in its second half, when Cummings brings out a custom-built sex robot that looks exactly like her before launching into an extended bit about how man-on-robot relations might pave the way for the next feminist revolution. Is it uncomfortable? That depends on how you feel about sleeping with an automaton. Is it raunchy, funny, and weird? You bet.
Fortune Feimster: Sweet & Salty
Fortune Feimster is a Southern, lesbian, full-bodied woman, which is to say she is fairly unique in stand-up comedy. In her Netflix special debut, she shows off why she’s such a rare talent with an original perspective. Though she sometimes ventures into well-traveled stand-up topics, Feimster does it with unabashed brashness and unapologetic fury — a tour de force you don’t often see on stand-up stages. She’s a laugh-out-loud talent with a lot to say and the charisma to make you take notice.
Aziz Ansari: Right Now
In January 2018, an anonymous woman accused Ansari of sexual misconduct in a scathing article on Babe.net. Right Now, directed by Spike Jonze, is Ansari’s response. The comedian opens Right Now by expressing his shame and regret over the incident (although, notably, he never quite apologizes), then spends the rest of the special interrogating the effect of “wokeness'” on pop culture — and Ansari himself. Right Now is at its best when Ansari turns the spotlight inward, dissecting some of his older bits — an ode to R. Kelly, for example, that has aged spectacularly poorly — and re-examining his past behavior. No, it isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. It shouldn’t be. Compared to Ansari’s other specials, Right Now is surprisingly honest and raises some interesting questions. Given the context, that’s enough.
Anthony Jeselnik: Fire in the Maternity Ward
Anthony Jeselnik is still a bad, bad man — or, at least the character he plays is — but Fire in the Maternity Ward is the Comedy Central star’s cleanest, most accessible special yet. That’s not to say that it’s tame. Jeselnik still wrings laughs out of topics like white supremacy, abortion, and dropping babies. And yet, the cartoonish racism and misogyny that defined Jeselnik’s earlier work are gone, making it easier to appreciate Jeselnik’s craft — and his craft deserves appreciation. Unlike other off-color comedians, Jeselnik is a disciplined and patient performer. He takes his time, which makes his punchlines’ inevitable twists all the worse. Going into Fire in the Maternity Ward, many fans worried that the current political climate might dull Jeselnik’s edge. They shouldn’t have. Jeselnik might be a sociopath, but he’s a funny one, and Fire in the Maternity Ward proves that the comedian is still at the top of his game.
John Leguizamo: Latin History for Morons
John Leguizamo premiered his one-man stage show Latin History for Morons in 2017, and the performance went on to earn a Tony Award for its exploration of the influence and importance of Latin Americans throughout U.S. history. Netflix brought the show to subscribers in November 2018, offering a chance for everyone who couldn’t make it to Broadway (or afford tickets) to experience the fascinating, kinetic history lesson taught by Leguizamo across 90 minutes of energetic explanation — complete with chalkboard and assorted props. While it’s not traditional stand-up comedy, the show’s one-man format and nonstop humor make it stand out from the crowd as both educational and entertaining.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
Widely regarded as one of the most groundbreaking, unique, and powerful stand-up specials in recent years, Australian comic Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette deconstructs the very nature of stand-up comedy and the human experience. Originally planned as Gadsby’s final stand-up show (although the comedian ended up launching Douglas in 2019 after Nanette’s wild success), Nanette is as hysterically funny as it is emotionally raw. The special debuted on Netflix in June 2018 to critical acclaim (it currently holds a 100-percent “Fresh” rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes) and almost immediately inspired countless think pieces celebrating Gadsby’s surprisingly layered exploration of LGBTQ issues, gender, mental health, and even art history. The brilliance of Nanette is best understood when you go into it without knowing too much about how the special unfolds, so we’ll leave it at that and hope to see you on the other side.
Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King
The first stand-up special from former The Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj, Homecoming King, won a Peabody Award in 2018 for its brilliantly crafted, tremendously funny exploration of the immigrant experience in the U.S. and Minaj’s experiences growing up in an Indian-American Muslim family. That Minaj is able to do so without resorting to the most expected, well-worn topics is what makes the special so unique, and the heartwarming — and occasionally heartbreaking — stories he shares about his life are the sort that often find as much common ground in the human experience as that of the immigrant experience.
Jerry Seinfeld: Jerry Before Seinfeld
So, what is the deal with airplane food? Netflix threw a reported $100 million at Jerry Seinfeld for streaming rights to his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee series and two stand-up specials, and the comedian’s first effort is a return to his comedy roots. Jerry Before Seinfeld explores the comedian’s early stand-up career before he became an icon with his titular sitcom in the 1990s. The special is part documentary, part stand-up, and all hilarious confirmation that Seinfeld’s brand of humor is timeless. If you’re a die-hard Seinfeld fan who can stand laughing for nearly an hour, Jerry Before Seinfeld needs to be in your Instant Queue.
Kevin Hart: What Now?
Anyone who told you that stand-up comedy and action films have nothing in common clearly never watched Kevin Hart at work. Hart is as physically active onstage as anyone you’ll find, and the first 15 minutes of his 2016 performance sees him pissing Don Cheadle off during a game of poker, fighting evil henchmen with Halle Berry, and cleaning blood off himself before jettisoning from under the Lincoln Financial Field stage in Philadelphia. Once he starts, it’s an avalanche of humorous tidbits about his son being afraid of a glow-in-the-dark Batman, a scary experience while viewing The Conjuring, and what exactly a “preemie week” is.
Tig Notaro: Happy to Be Here
If you’re unfamiliar with Tig Notaro, get familiar, because she’s both a wickedly funny comedian and an inspiration to cancer patients everywhere. In 2012, following a breast cancer diagnosis, Notaro took to the stage to air her grievances in a legendary set at L.A’s Largo club. Later, even though Louis C.K. sold copies of that Largo performance to raise money for Notaro, she used her series One Mississippi as a platform to call upon women to make their voices heard, prompting investigations that submarined C.K.’s career. In Happy to Be Here, as the title implies, Notaro is more jovial than ever, happily joking about her gender identity and performing bits of goofy physical comedy without any hint of hesitation. It’s both hilarious and heartwarming, and if you like comedy, you should see it.
Fred Armisen: Standup for Drummers
Rarely (if ever) will you see a stand-up special targeted toward such a niche subject or group of people. Fred Armisen: he of Saturday Night Live and Portlandia fame: doesn’t care. As the drummer and bandleader for Seth Meyers’ late-night house band (and, formerly, Chicago punk outfit Trenchmouth), Armisen is uniquely equipped to write drumming-related jokes, which he does with expertise and aplomb. The special is also definitely funny for the drumming impaired, thanks to Armisen’s incredible physical comedy abilities and his generally hilarious vibe, but most of the jokes will land better for those who hit stuff with sticks for a living.
Bill Burr: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way
This black-and-white Netflix exclusive is a microcosm of Bill Burr’s comedy: Simple, honest, and straight to the point. Burr dispenses with the preshow theatrics that dot many contemporary comedy specials and gets right down to business. In this case, “business” is 80 minutes of Burr saying whatever he wants, and it’s hilarious. Despite the title, Bill really doesn’t care how you feel about, well, pretty much anything. He’s uniformly unafraid of broaching topics like how local weather affects interracial relationships (his wife is black), and his borderline-arrogant attitude works to drive the show forward. Burr is simultaneously approachable and intimidating, with a fast-paced New England accent that perfectly underlines his comedic style.
Chris Rock: Tamborine
The first of two comedy specials Rock will produce for Netflix as part of a very lucrative deal, Tamborine combines the kind of social awareness we’ve come to expect from contemporary stand-up performances with some more intimate, sensitive material. The first half of the program sees Rock skewering the “All Lives Matter” movement and commenting on the experience of being black in contemporary America; he hits mostly familiar notes, but with the same verve and vocal affectations that shot him to stardom in the first place. Later, he considers his personal shortcomings, exploring the many reasons behind his marriage’s failure, including admissions of a borderline porn addiction and a tendency toward arrogance. It’s an uneven show (directed by Bo Burnham), but if you like Rock’s comedy, it should hit home.
Jen Kirkman: I’m Gonna Die Alone (and I Feel Fine)
Jen Kirkman is newly 40 and fired all the way up in this 2015 Netflix special. She dives into some sharp, hilarious truths about turning 40, divorce, kids, sex, and more in an endlessly entertaining show. Forty may be just another milestone, but it certainly comes with some perspective.
Sarah Silverman: A Speck of Dust
While Sarah Silverman hasn’t completely abandoned the shock-value jokes that put her on the map: and, let’s be real, she probably never will: A Speck of Dust sees the now-40-something comedian slowing her roll a bit, mixing some charm and sincerity into the acid vat. Silverman’s newest offering touches on a litany of personal subjects, including the death of a beloved pet, and imbues some of her routines with a biting sense of self-awareness that effectively serves new material while deconstructing the old. If you’re here for the gross-out punchlines, they’re still around, but it no longer feels like the focus of her comedy, and we appreciate it.
Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas
Nearly 17 years after taking the comedy world by storm with his legendary special, Killin’ Them Softly, Dave Chappelle returned to the stage with two hour-long stand-up performances released exclusively through Netflix. The specials, which constitute Chappelle’s first televised comedy work in more than a decade, prove that one of America’s funniest and most iconic laugh miners still has “it.” In The Age of Spin, recorded at the Hollywood Palladium, Chappelle details his four encounters with O.J. Simpson and riffs on the Bill Cosby scandal. Deep in the Heart of Texas, on the other hand, sees the unpredictable comic tackling more controversial topics, like gender identity and racial tensions, as only he can. Across both specials, the message is clear: Chappelle doesn’t care what you think, and he won’t neuter himself for the sake of political correctness.
Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe
While Jim Gaffigan’s first stand-up specials, Beyond the Pale and King Baby, focused more on his eating habits, Mr. Universe sees the affable comic switching gears to talk more about … uh … his eating habits. Gaffigan, who was once named “The King of Clean” by the Wall Street Journal for his family-friendly subject matter, returns to the stage with more than an hour of jokes that fit seamlessly into his wheelhouse. Mr. Universe does achieve more balance than his previous shows, however, with Gaffigan leaning less on his famous “voice” (a soft falsetto he uses to criticize his own material as it’s performed) and showcasing material that’s more diverse than ever. The show closes with a riotous bit wherein Gaffigan speaks to an American Express representative over the phone, while continually breaking the fourth wall.
Jim Jefferies: Bare
If you’re sensitive about coarse language, you might want to skip this one. Australian comedian Jim Jefferies is no stranger to offensive comedy: He was even once assaulted onstage by an angry fan. The attack didn’t deter Jefferies, though, it simply propelled him to new levels of popularity and vulgarity. Bare, Jefferies’ sixth stand-up special, features some of his finest and most deplorable work to date. His liberal use of certain volatile expletives lends a certain edge to his comedy, as does his subject matter. Bare runs the gamut from typical stand-up material (relationships and sex) to outlandish jokes centered around Paralympic pariah Oscar Pistorius, who was famously convicted of murdering his girlfriend. You might not agree with Jefferies or even like him, but you have to respect his chops.
John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City
Following the overwhelming success of his first two specials: New in Town and The Comeback Kid: former SNL writer John Mulaney hit the big-time, as evidenced by the sellout crowd packing New York’s iconic Radio City Music Hall for his third taped performance (the second made specifically for Netflix). This time around, age has begun to catch up to Mulaney, who laments his body’s transformation into the “gross” period of life while acknowledging that he still kinda looks like a giant child. Thanks in part to some other comedic ventures that registered as both successes (Big Mouth) and failures (his short-lived sitcom Mulaney), the comic is sharper than ever here, mixing swaths of new subject matter in with his trademark self-deprecation.
Todd Glass: Act Happy
Let’s get this out of the way: Todd Glass’ style of comedy is not for everyone. The oddball comic’s first Netflix special opens on his tour bus, as Glass addresses his “band,” encouraging them to treat the tiny Lyric Theater as if it were a … slightly less tiny theater. Glass’ show is half super-scripted, Bo Burnham-style performance art and half car-crash ad-libbing. He’s unafraid to go on ridiculous tangents and improvise wildly, involving the crowd in ways that few comedians even attempt. Glass’ subject matter ranges from the extremely mundane (a woman’s candy-eating habits on a plane flight) to the extremely personal (his struggles with sexual identity and his heart attack), but it’s all infused with the same unbridled energy that makes him a joy to watch perform.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
Pryor’s no-holds-barred, profanity-laced comedic style influenced an entire generation of actors and stand-up comedians, as did the legendary stand-up film Live in Concert. Pryor’s physical, high-energy brand of comedy brings his jokes to life, as the troubled comic all but jumps off the screen. Live in Concert plays far better on a screen than it does through a set of speakers, as Pryor’s hyper-dramatized facial expressions truly bring his jokes to life. His manic mimicry is at its best when he’s joking about his own life, from snorting cocaine in front of grandma to stepping in the ring with Muhammad Ali. Forty years later, Pryor’s classic set holds up.
Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife
As you might have guessed by reading this far, women are depressingly underrepresented both in stand-up comedy as a whole and in Netflix’s library. Reprising her extremely-pregnant role from Baby Cobra, the 2016 Netflix special which shot her to stardom, Wong riffs on the difficulties of pregnancy and parenting with no regard for the stomachs of her audience. “Motherhood is a wack-ass job,” she tells us while primed to pump out kid No. 2 at any second. She’s similarly uninterested in riding the fence of political correctness, addressing questions of race and gender with brutal honesty befitting her high-octane style. Her comedy isn’t for everyone, but it’s undeniably powerful.
This might be cheating, but we couldn’t in good conscience leave The Standups off our list. Rather than a single special from one comedian, this is an episodic show: two six-episode seasons are available to stream: that showcases a new comic for 30 minutes a stretch. Some are better than others, but they’re all worth watching, and they require a significantly shorter time commitment than the majority of our picks here. In particular, the episodes with Kyle Kinane and Aparna Nancherla are highlights of season 2, while Dan Soder stands out in the first season.
Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives
While he may, in his own words, “look like a muppet getting his Ph.D.,” don’t let Hari Kondabolu’s non-threatening outward appearance fool you. Kondabolu has a unique and sometimes intense voice, especially when things get topical and he starts comparing American presidents to Mortal Kombat characters. As passionate as he is about subjects like race and sexism, he strikes a surprisingly easy balance with lighter material like how much funnier his mother is than him and his dreams of hosting a mango podcast. Warn Your Relatives is an hour of laughter both playful and political, and if nothing else is worth watching for his hilarious anecdote about getting heckled by fellow comedian Tracy Morgan.
Daniel Sloss: Live Shows
Daniel Sloss has two specials on Netflix listed as episodes under Live Shows — Dark and Jigsaw. Both shows are hilarious triumphs. It’s practically trite at this point to say a comic’s humor is “no holds barred,” but when it comes to Sloss, it’s true not only in terms of his choice of language, but with some particularly sensitive subject matter like religion and the loss of loved ones. Sloss goes to uncomfortable places most comics won’t tread, delivering emotional gut-punches in the middle of bits gleefully laden with obscenities. He’s at times devilishly crude and other times so poignant he seems to be walking a line between a stand-up special and a one-man show. It would be worthless to recommend one special over another, because if you watch one you’re sure to watch the other.
Tom Papa: You’re Doing Great
Tom Papa’s got something to say, and it’s the name of his 2020 special, You’re Doing Great. With his sharp observational humor, Papa looks at the anxieties of adult life in the 21st century — from the disproportionate joy of buying a new tube of toothpaste to the absurdity of TV makeovers. You’re Doing Great not only keeps you laughing the whole way through, but Papa gives it a surprisingly affecting message about turning off the voice that tells you that you’re never good enough and appreciating what you have. And he never misses an opportunity to poke fun at Staten Island.
Patton Oswalt: Annihilation
Annihilation was Patton Oswalt’s first stand-up special after the unexpected death of his first wife — true-crime writer Michelle McNamara — in 2016. He talks about the aftermath, particularly being faced with the sudden reality of raising his daughter alone, with poise and humor. But while he may get you to tear up a time or two, the special is more than therapy. While a good chunk of the second half deals with his loss, there’s still plenty of tear-jerk-free humor covering robocalls, bad haunted houses, and the best street fight Patton Oswalt ever saw.
Demetri Martin: The Overthinker
Demetri Martin brings his signature deadpan delivery to the stage in 2018’s The Overthinker. Martin seems a little looser than in earlier stand-ups, and unlike in his first Netflix special — 2016’s Live (At the Time) — his large white pad returns with his hilarious satirical cartoons, including his design for a p-shirt (as opposed to a t-shirt) and a graph tracking how well his jokes do. And as usual, we get about four minutes of guitar accompanying a stream of classic one-liners like “Nearly half of all Americans are torsos” and “Experts believe there’s about 25% more camouflage than we realize.”
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