The 30 Best Stand-up Comedy Specials on Netflix

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The 30 Best Stand-up Comedy Specials on Netflix

So, yeah: Netflix won. When the streamer started premiering original stand-up specials earlier this decade, it entered a world with a pretty clear structure. Comedy Central might’ve had the most original stand-up every year, but HBO was still the biggest game in town, the opportunity every comedian hoped for. Netflix quickly upended that by cranking production up to a new special a week, opening the floodgates of comedy to a home audience hungry for new content. Netflix hasn’t stayed put with just a weekly hourlong, though—it’s experimented with formats and release schedules, letting younger comics make a national debut with 15-minute specials, and allowing some comedians to drop multiple career-spanning specials at the same time. Netflix quickly conquered comedy not just because of the sheer volume of content, but because of a sharp critical eye that helped turn comedians like Ali Wong and Hannah Gadsby into breakout stars. There’s an overwhelming amount of stand-up comedy on Netflix, and much of it is very good; here’s the best of the best.

30. Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher – The Honeymoon Stand Up Special

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The enfant terrible dynamic between newlyweds Leggero and Kasher is the star of The Honeymoon Stand Up Special, a collection of half-hours, and is the element that holds the series tightly together when other elements falter. The main event is the collection’s third part, a series of improvised roasts/therapy sessions with various couples in the audience. Though it’s essentially a crowd work exercise, both Leggero and Kasher thrive on each other’s rhythms and clearly delight both in putting these poor people in the hot seat (their patients include a woman who admits to not feeling any emotion) and in giving them a thrill. This framing device plays to the couple’s strengths: a podcaster’s ability to draw a guest in and a roaster’s proclivity towards knocking them down as specifically as possible. Also, I don’t know, call me old fashioned, but there’s something beautiful in the real look of love Kasher gives a newly-Jewish Leggero when she refers to the Holocaust as a “membership dropoff.” These two are just in awe of each other’s abilities.—Graham Techler

29. Ellen DeGeneres – Relatable

This special is damn delightful. I loved Ellen’s HBO One Night Stand as kid; I watched it dozens of times—it was ALWAYS on. While she’s a lot lower energy nowadays, it’s just pleasant to see her show how actually funny she is again. Yeah she’s charismatic, excitable, and great at talking to Sofia Vergara or Max Greenfield, but she’s also an incredibly adept comedic performer, and it’s kind of cool that a lot of America’s Moms are finally going to get a more concentrated dose of that. Sure, this isn’t some cultural takedown a la Bill Burr or Dave Chappelle, but honestly? Thank God. Comedy being “harmless” has become this bad thing, and while I do love the irreverent, twisted, and fucked-up, sometimes it’s just nice to see the Seinfelds of the world talk about Ubers they’ve clearly never taken.—Yusef Roach

28. Adam Sandler – 100% Fresh

100% Fresh is incorrectly named. Not because it isn’t good, but because it suggests a tone of ironic bitterness that isn’t represented in the special. Directed by Sandler’s frequent collaborator Steven Brill (with some sequences filmed by Paul Thomas Anderson), 100% Fresh contains one small dig at Rotten Tomatoes (an aggregate website that collects reviews from outside sources), but is otherwise shaggy, earnest and inventive. Sandler grins and mutters his way through it all, but he seems to be having fun, and it unlocks much of his old charm in an instant. Sandler’s giggling rubs off on you. The off-kilter songs are back, with lyrics like “I guess that calls for a death pillow over your face.” There are duds every once in a while. But then Sandler does a song about Chris Farley. It’s funny, sweet and sad. And when he sings “I wish you were still with me, and we were getting on a plane to go shoot Grown Ups 3,” it’s chilling, but also humiliating. Because somehow we never thought to think about how a guy who lost someone so young like that might want to spend his adult life making as many movies with his closest friends as possible.—Graham Techler

27. Neal Brennan – 3 Mics

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Brennan’s deconstruction of stand-up has a clever ring to it, but one that could easily grow tired without some greater point. After all, stripping down any cultural medium to its constituent parts hopefully reveals some greater truth about it. That truth comes about when Brennan steps before the “emotional stuff” mic located at center stage and veers away from more expected fare, both in terms of subject matter and delivery. He holds his viewers captive with starkly told stories about his emotionally deficient childhood and the clinical depression he’s managed ever since. In these moments, he doesn’t quip, he doesn’t weave his way towards a joke; instead, he allows each confession to hold its very heavy weight. Brennan admits how, outwardly, his depression simply makes him seem chill, according to his many black friends. “Neal, man, you don’t give a fuck,” he says, imitating their response. “Well that’s because I’m sad,” he says.—Amanda Wicks

26. Marc Maron – Thinky Pain

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Is Marc Maron finally likable? Maron’s always been an incredible comedian and, in recent years, a talented and insightful interviewer on his podcast WTF. But those skills always came under a rage-filled veneer as Maron’s on-stage persona lashed out at the world around him, the women he dated and the goings on in his head. It was hilarious but a little off-putting. The Marc Maron in Thinky Pain is gentler, bringing a humility to his heady, introspective comedy that’s a welcome change. Starting with an anecdote about comedy legend Bill Hicks and continuing onto Maron’s fears of being an old dad or his midlife crisis, Thinky Pain still showcases all the best parts of Maron’s comedic voice, it’s just speaking a little softer. —Casey Malone

25. Fred Armisen – Standup for Drummers

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The title isn’t just a gag. Armisen, who was a professional drummer for indie rock bands before segueing into comedy, devotes a solid chunk of this hour to jokes that will mostly be appreciated by drummers or anybody who’s ever been in a band with one. He riffs on awkward soundcheck banter between drummers and sound men, about the common nuisances of touring with a drum kit, and about how bad non-drumming members of a band are at keeping time. This has to be the only stand-up special to start with a drum solo, include jokes about paradiddles, and feature cameos from Sheila E., Blondie’s Clem Burk, Green Day’s Tre Cool, Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa and legendary session drummers Thomas Lang and Vinnie Colaiuta. Early on Armisen talks about the pride of being a drummer, and how it means “you’re just better than everybody.” That pride suffuses the entire special, undercut only slightly with a touch of tongue-in-cheek self-mockery.—Garrett Martin

24. Ali Wong – Baby Cobra

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Baby Cobra is more than the product of a carefully honed craft. It is an unusual portrait of transition: from young adulthood to adulthood, single life to marriage, marriage into motherhood. It is also the first network special to feature a deeply pregnant comedian, which is not a gimmick but a very practical undertaking. Wong refuses to slow down for the simple reason that slowing down, especially for a woman and mother in Hollywood, is the first step in a long fade to obscurity.—Seth Simons

23. Nate Bargatze – The Tennessee Kid

The Tennessee Kid is a special filled with quiet, shifty confrontations with authority, all of which leave Bargatze displaying the nervous confusion of a smart kid who knows what the adult in the room is saying doesn’t make sense, but also doesn’t know if it’s worth it to correct them. When Bargatze is told a clerical error with JetBlue would require his birth certificate to solve, he’s simply left to frown and say “I thought I was the proof of my birth.” It’s this disbelieving attitude that makes Bargatze an extremely agreeable presence, especially since he doesn’t put the kind of spin on the ball that would turn the approach sour or smarmy. Even in a bit where he tries to reassure us that we shouldn’t need to worry about climate change given the state of every other planet in the solar system, he appreciates the value of sincerity. “It’s unbelievable,” he says of the other planets. “They’re nowhere right now.”—Graham Techler

22. Hari Kondabolu – Warn Your Relatives

Anointed voice-of-their-generation comedians can sometimes stumble when initially thrust into the cultural spotlight—as Hard Kondabolu has been with the fallout from The Problem with Apu. Not this time. Warn Your Relatives, his first Netflix special, is a searingly confident statement from an extremely, proudly political comedian who injects his rapid material with a strong current of justified anger. “My stand-up isn’t for everybody,” he says, to laugher at such a ballsy statement from an outwardly nerdy persona. “It’s okay, it’s okay. That’s why it’s good.”—Graham Techler

21. Rory Scovel – Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up for the First Time

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This is the risk Rory Scovel takes with his absurdist approach to stand-up: our official review wasn’t especially kind to his Netflix special, even though our comedy editor (uh, me) found it to be one of the smartest and most refreshing specials in years. Scovel balances conceptual metacommentary on the conventions of stand-up with fully-formed political material as biting as any other comic working today in an hour that sends up the very idea of stand-up even while showing how powerful it can be.—Garrett Martin

20. Jen Kirkman – I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)

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What makes this hour of material so refreshing is that everything Kirkman discusses is the sort of subject that women are unfortunately supposed to be ashamed about in our culture. She’s supposed to be still reeling from her divorce and sad that she’s a childless single woman, living on her own at age 40 who will get discovered dead in her bathtub with her face eaten off by a cat. Instead, Kirkman is light on her feet, happy about her current situation and ready for the adventures that the second half of her life will bring.—Robert Ham

19. Lucas Bros. – On Drugs

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The political comedy in On Drugs is done both incredibly casually and with discernible commitment. If sometimes it seems hard to tell whether the Lucas Bros. are making it look effortless or simply not trying, we never really get the sense that they themselves are too cool for this. As far as comedy duos go, they seem to have taken a few cues from another set of twin comedians that eschewed a straight-man/funny-man dynamic, and not just because both the Lucas and Sklar Bros. reportedly attended law school. Kenny and Keith will occasionally check in with each other on a given topic, agreeing to “smoke on it.” Their hive minded brotherhood is routinely delightful, whether they’re pausing a joke to wipe sweat off each other’s noses, or tag teaming a letter to republicans on gun control.—Graham Techler

18. Reggie Watts – Spatial

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For my money, the most sublime pleasure in stand-up is less often in the punchline than the path to it. In so many routines it is too possible, I think, to predict a joke’s third act in its middle, and sometimes even the beginning. But when you cannot, when you are suspended for the entire journey in a state of orgasmic unknowing, then you might remember the mind-quaking possibilities that drew you to comedy in the first place. Reggie Watts is as virtuosic as it gets, a form-bending raconteur unsatisfied to tread too long in any single territory. In Spatial, his second Netflix special, he dances between joke-telling, storytelling, song, dance and an improvised play, featuring guest-stars Kate Berlant and Rory Scovel. The hour is infused with a level of emotion rare in stand-up, and which brought me nearly to tears in his closing number. This one really is remarkable.—Seth Simons

17. John Mulaney – New In Town

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John Mulaney’s New In Town starts silly and doesn’t stop. Mulaney’s boyish energy and looks couple with his goofy inflection to give the entire special a high energy that the comic gently grounds by focusing on his life. Mulaney digresses, but each joke—including the definitive Ice-T on Law & Order: SVU routine—is so deftly weaved into the larger story that you never feel a single segue. Instead of a well-rehearsed performance, New In Town feels like an old friend showing up to dinner with stories he can’t wait to tell you. As a special bonus to those who would watch the special rather than listen to the record, the opening credits are done up like an early eighties sitcom, with a theme by Reggie Watts. —Casey Malone

16. Hasan Minhaj – Homecoming King

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Homecoming King has a lot to unpack and asks more of its audience than the average special. It isn’t afraid to enter dark territory where even a full minute goes by without a single joke. The reason this works is that first and foremost, Minhaj is an all-around great storyteller. The performance could have had zero jokes and still would be a compelling piece of work. Luckily, he’s a smart comedian who knows how to use his material wisely, even if that means holding back to let the important points hit home.—Christian Becker

15. Hannibal Buress – Comedy Camisado

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Hannibal Buress  is the platonic ideal of your extremely stoned friend. In Comedy Camisado, he rides the fame bump of outing a famous rapist to treat you to the searing specificity of his anger, be it towards the woman who wouldn’t let him check into a 2 and half star hotel without proper ID, or how 32 is a pointless age. He’s not dropping culture changing bombshells this time, but he’s still the guy you wanna smoke a bowl with.—Gita Jackson

14. Mike Birbiglia – My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

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Sleepwalk With Me, Mike Birbiglia’s one-man show about a tough break-up and sleep disorder that he eventually adapted to a book and feature film, looked for a while like the defining work of his career. And yet My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend manages to improve on Sleepwalk in almost every way. In it, Birbiglia tells us about coming to terms with the compromises in his romantic relationships, both today and as a teenager, as well as his views on marriage after the events of Sleepwalk, and it’s all wrapped in the story of a terrifying car accident that turns into a bureaucratic nightmare. Birbiglia’s an incredible storyteller, jumping from the present to his adolescence and to the recent past seamlessly, never dropping a thread and using every small tale to reinforce the larger story. —Casey Malone

13. Aziz Ansari – Live at Madison Square Garden

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Aziz Ansari  reveals a vital new strength in this special. He can comfortably broach serious, depressing issues and cut right to the heart of society’s ills without ever growing strident. He retains his effortless charisma and youthful exuberance even when talking about how horrible men are to women all of the time. He’s a more fully rounded comic now, a wiser and braver performer whose material now matches his stature, and one who has grown comfortably into his role near the top of the current stand-up hierarchy.—Garrett Martin

12. Zach Galifianakis – Live at the Purple Onion

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Galifianakis is one of the most unique comedians of our time and this tour documentary shows him at the peak of his stand-up career. The Purple Onion was the perfect place for this to be filmed. It’s a small, intimate room and it gives Zach the freedom to be loose with his material. But what makes this film stand out are the scenes spliced in between the stand-up. Watching Zach travel, make his friend try on dresses and interact with a redneck is just as fun as watching him perform. Three short years before The Hangover films made him a household name this fascinating documentary shows a comedian on the rise. —Chris Donahue

11. Patton Oswalt – Annihilation

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In defiance of the pain and anguish he is clearly still feeling, and as a mode of catharsis, he makes the discussion of his wife’s death the centerpiece of this hour. To watch him wrestle boldly with the emotions of that experience and the aftermath of it, while still finding those pockets of joy and strange humor, is affirming and beautiful. But it’s not easy by any stretch. That’s evident when director Bobcat Goldthwait pushes the camera in to focus on Oswalt’s face as he talks about the worst day of his life, which wasn’t the death of his wife, but having to break the news to their young daughter, Alice. We hang on his every word, following him as he takes his brave daughter back to school the next Monday. Then he pulls the ripcord, remembering getting peppered with questions by Alice’s classmates and learning a little too much about their home lives. The laughter that follows is so rich and relieving, like that first gulp of water after an hour on the treadmill.—Robert Ham

10. Jim Gaffigan – Beyond The Pale

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Yes, Jim Gaffigan’s breakthrough special features the Hot Pockets routine. There’s so much more here, though. If you’re wondering why Gaffigan is respected by basically all corners of the comedy world—able to play in the biggest venues and to the most mainstream audiences, while still maintaining credibility with the alt-comedy scene—Beyond the Pale should answer your questions. He’s a master craftsman who’s smart and sharp enough to bring his own unique viewpoint to universal topics.—Garrett Martin

9. James Acaster – Repertoire

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Acaster has the casual confidence and slightly buzzed, motormouth tendencies of clear influences Dylan Moran and Stewart Lee, which extends to a certain loose-fitting, corduroy-heavy wardrobe—straight out of a less aggro era of British alternative comedy. Recognise, the first of four hours in Repertoire, rolls along as many specials from that era did, and it’s a wonderful, tipsy, bubbly ride with no clear moment-to-moment form but a remarkably cohesive worldview by the time he wraps it up. It’s pretty amazing how formally assured it eventually reveals itself to be, given that Acaster seems constantly bored by our expectations of where we think the show might go.—Graham Techler

8. Maria Bamford – Old Baby

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Like her demeanor, Bamford’s material ranges from the intimate to the grandiose. An early joke, delivered to her husband and their pugs, pokes at the apologetic language people use to describe their relationships. “Um, well we just met, and we genuinely liked each other, and, you know, there’s ups and downs, but we like each other, so we stay together,” she intones, in character, her tone painfully earnest. Then her face turns cold and stony; she’s back to herself: “Oh, I’m sorry—if you’re bored with your miracle!” Her husband chuckles, patting the dog. You can tell he’s heard this joke before but it’s not a pity laugh. The beauty of their domestic setting is that it’s imbued with context, from the painting of their dog to the little bride-and-groom figurines resting atop the couch. This feels like any old day for them, just hanging out and goofing around.—Seth Simons

7. Tig Notaro – Happy to Be Here

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Notaro, one of the true masters of deadpan, seems almost comfortable with her life on her latest special. Sure, she’s still self-effacing, to an extent, and still approaches her celebrity and success with a bemused distance, but she positively beams when she talks about her marriage and her two young twin sons. After all the grief that she mined for her career-making stand-up specials and sitcom, Notaro has more than earned the confidence and joy she shows in Happy to Be Here. Also fans of the Indigo Girls absolutely need to watch this special.—Garrett Martin

6. Chelsea Peretti – One of the Greats

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After years of paying her dues, Chelsea Peretti has more than earned her moment in the spotlight. Considering the special’s title, it’s tempting to ask the obvious question: Is Peretti indeed one of the greats? Long answer—for anyone who has tracked her growth, it’s clear that she has always been a voice to be reckoned with. In this way, her special only reiterates what any serious comedy fan had long ago determined. Short answer—yeah, she’s pretty friggin’ great.—Mark Rozeman

5. Chris Rock – Tamborine

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Tamborine proves that Rock’s comedy is just as smart and sharp as it’s always been. He immediately starts off by talking about cops shooting black kids, wasting no time to dive right into one of the most depressing problems undermining our country. He effortlessly cuts through the feeble “bad apples” defense regularly carted out by police departments when this happens, and calls for a “world with real equality”—one where as many white kids are shot by police each month as black kids. From here he segues into gun control, and then into an extended bit about how one of his main goals as a parent is to prepare his kids for the white man and also making sure they get bullied enough. As he puts it, the main reason Trump is president today is because we no longer know how to handle bullies. Rock hits on one hot button issue after another, regularly flirting with jokes that some might be offended by, but with a perspective that’s so thoughtful, original, and, in its own wicked way, respectful that it would be hard to argue that he ever crosses a line, even if you believe there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed.—Garrett Martin

4. John Mulaney – Kid Gorgeous at Radio City

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John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City is of a piece with his last two specials. As before he doesn’t tell jokes, per se; he weaves long, elaborate stories out of his daily life, both now and as a child, focusing on how absurd the mundane can be. That might make him sound like some kind of Seinfeldian observational comic, but he avoids the clichés of that genre. It’s not the observation that makes Mulaney funny, or the recognition we might have for whatever he’s talking about. It’s the level of detail that he goes into, like when he talks about elementary school assemblies. He doesn’t just bring up that familiar setting and tell a few broad jokes about kids, teachers and school. He goes deep into one specific assembly he had to attend every year, describing in detail the Chicago police officer who specialized in child homicide and would give annual presentations on how to avoid or escape “stranger danger.” Mulaney creates a whole tableau out of this assembly, from the outlandish appearance of Officer J.J. Bittenbinder, to the cop’s increasingly ridiculous scenarios, with the comedy growing with every new detail. There’s no conventional setup or punchline, and little reliance on the universality of his topic; it’s just a story ostensibly pulled from Mulaney’s life and told in a fantastic fashion.—Garrett Martin

3. Hannah Gadsby – Nanette

Nanette grows past the confines of a comedy special and into something completely different—a riveting screed against misogyny in all forms that utterly abandons its reliance on jokes. It is, despite being extremely funny, the anti-comedy special. That’s not a label I’m putting on it—Gadsby announces her intentions for the special very clearly. It’s a work of art that—as someone who both loves comedy and often feels conflicted about its place in our cultural landscape—I’ve been waiting for for a long time without even realizing it.

It is an extremely angry hour, an extremely cathartic one and an extremely necessary one. An art form cannot thrive if it refuses to look itself in the face and question its own necessity. If it does, it might emerge on the other side stronger and more vital.—Graham Techler

2. Eddie Murphy – Delirious

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Before Eddie Murphy came on to the scene, no other comic had the audacity to take the stage in tight, red leather. Delirious is Murphy’s masterpiece—a snapshot of a fearless 22-year-old not giving a fuck about anything. Of course, this was 1983, and some of Murphy’s attitudes towards women, homosexuals and AIDS were dated to say the least (he’s since apologized for some of the material). To modern ears, this is caustic stuff (and interesting from a sociological standpoint). But the real highlights here are Murphy’s firecracker energy and his spot-on impressions of James Brown, Elvis and Stevie Wonder, as well as his own exaggerated tales of growing up. But despite its warts, Delirious is still a monumental stand-up performance—it’s clear who Murphy idolized, and who he would influence in the years to come. And with its off-color moments, the fact we’re still talking about it three decades later says something for Murphy’s genius.——Mark Lore

1. Richard Pryor – Live in Concert

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Richard Pryor’s Live in Concert is the ur-stand-up film. It wasn’t the first stand-up routine to be released as a long-form video, but it was the first to be released in theaters, and as the greatest single work of the greatest stand-up comedian in history, it’s probably the best stand-up special of all time. Pryor’s extremely dark material—he pulls from his impoverished upbringing in a brothel, his addictions and heart attack, and the unending racial turmoil in America—shouldn’t be funny, but his ability to turn this pain into unforgettable comedy is a kind of real-life alchemy. Despite all the things in this world that limited Pryor’s freedom, from drugs to race to health, he comes off as the freest and most clear-eyed observer of what it means to be human and alive during these 78 minutes.—Garrett Martin

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