The 40 Best Stand-up Specials of the 2010s

Comedy Lists Best of the Decade
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The 40 Best Stand-up Specials of the 2010s

10 years ago there were only a few outlets for stand-up comedy specials. There was Comedy Central, HBO and Showtime, and maybe a couple of the other, lower-profile pay cable stations, and that was it. Whatever editor at Paste had to assemble the “best stand-up specials of the 2000s” list had way less material to consider than we did today. Streaming has blown the comedy game wide open, with Netflix leading the pack, and Hulu, Amazon, and other (usually short-lived) outlets in pursuit. This is far from a bad thing, though—this explosion in distribution reflects the rapid growth in venues and other outlets for comedians to experiment, grow and prosper, and the result has been one of the deepest, richest, most varied and hilarious periods for stand-up ever.

When my assistant editor Olivia Cathcart and I started talking about what specials would make this list, we only had three rules. First off the special had to be released between 2010 and 2019, obviously. Secondly we could only include one special per comedian. And thirdly, it had to be something we personally liked. We weren’t interested in including specials because they were popular or “important” or anything like that; what matters is how much they made us laugh, how they made us feel, and what they made us think about. Hopefully you’ll see some of your favorites below.—Garrett Martin

40. Liza Treyger: The Half Hour

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“Couples that don’t hold hands are like thin people that don’t dress well — you do not deserve that.” Treyger dishes out harsh criticisms of society, namely the patriarchy, without ever coming across as smug. The unapologetic comedian is not without flaws but is refreshingly shameless about them. Sharp-tongued and incredibly fun to watch, her first 30 minute special ends on the only sex-ed lesson a girl needs. It’s a half-hour that’ll send you to Google in hopes to binge more.—Olivia Cathcart


39. Nick Thune: Folk Hero

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Nick Thune is not a “guitar comic” per se but he does deploy one as soothing background to a series of clever one-liners to open up his first special. Between the loungelike Brooklyn space, Thune’s folkish music and dapper, corduroy suit (“three quarters roy’s, one quarter mine”), Folk Hero stands out for its overall pleasant aesthetic in contrast to the typically loud and flashy vibe of its contemporaries. Thune manages to mixe short and long-form comedy while keeping the quality consistent throughout.—Olivia Cathcart



38. Ron Funches—Giggle Fit

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The latest special from Ron Funches starts with a guest appearance from Ric Flair, the greatest pro wrestler of all time, who’s so flashy that he makes those megachurch prosperity gospel preachers seem downright ascetic. Flair’s not just there because Funches is a fan, but to act as a living symbol of the confidence that Funches aspires to. If Giggle Fit is any indication, Funches is running pretty close to that mark. Funches is in the best shape of his career, physically, mentally and comedically, in what is easily his most assured special yet. His unique delivery is as inherently funny as ever, and his bits on his son Malcolm and how his weight loss has effected his relationships with friends and dates are personal yet relatable. Like Funches himself, Giggle Fit is a delight.—Garrett Martin


37. Emily Heller: Ice Thickeners

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Heller’s clearly a comedian ready to be center stage after over a decade of stand-up. She skips through her set with ease and keeps the crowd work to a minimum, which is a plus not because she’s bad at engaging with the audience (she does fairly well in this special), but because we simply don’t need the distraction. Heller is confident and times jokes with impeccable flair, going along at a fast enough pace that nothing ever drags but without being so quick that we miss the punchline. Watching this special is a bit like hearing a song for the first time and feeling like you’ve always known the tune, not just because it hits familiar beats, but because it’s so consistently good that it’s simply difficult to imagine a world in which it doesn’t exist. Ice Thickeners is a solid hour of what comedy should be in 2019: giving no fucks, hating men and just being damn funny.—Clare Martin



36. Michelle Buteau: The Comedy Lineup

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Michelle Buteau does a whole lot in such little time. Part of the first wave of Netflix’s 15-minute specials, The Comedy Lineup, Buteau’s set serves an elaborate elevator pitch for comedy stardom. Buteau says turning 40 made her prioritize comfort over everything and she’s clearly comfortable in front of the cameras. The comedian exudes charisma as both a performer and a writer for one rousing show. Not a minute is wasted in her set and credit belongs solely to Buteau, not the runtime.—Olivia Cathcart


35. The Lucas Brothers: On Drugs

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Photo courtesy of Netflix

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 Brothers 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 Brothers 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



34. Jerrod Carmichael: 8

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Jerrod Carmichael comes off as contrarian on his latest HBO stand-up special. It’s a tack he frequently takes on his great NBC sitcom: present a social or political issue, and then almost play devil’s advocate against the position you’d expect him to have. On 8 that means basically coming out against animal rights and climate awareness, not out of malice, but out of simple apathy and self-obsession. His strongest material focuses on the moral failings of our grandfather’s generation, with hints of Bill Cosby. What links all of this together is Carmichael’s patient delivery—he speaks softly, slowly, drawing the audience into a conversation that’s consistently funny without having much in the way of jokes.—Garrett Martin


33. 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



32. Jo Firestone: Comedy Central Stand-up Presents

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Firestone’s debut stand-up special nimbly toes the line between her more absurd character-based work and traditional notions of stand-up. There’s more than enough evidence of what our assistant comedy editor Seth Simons calls “one of the strangest, most delightful voices working today,” but with a more straight-forward delivery than fans familiar with her writing and sketch work might expect. In this great half-hour Firestone proves she’s equally comfortable telling jokes as she is creating a ridiculous character or scenario.—Garrett Martin

31. 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


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