2017 has seen more new stand-up specials than probably any other year in history. A lot of that has to do with Netflix. They’ve released at least one new special every week this year, in addition to the six-episode half-hour series The Standups. On top of that, Comedy Central, HBO and Showtime have premiered several new specials so far, with more to come. If you’re into pretty much any kind of stand-up comedy, 2017 has been almost overwhelming.
Let us help you pan through that stream and dredge up the flecks of gold. Here are Paste’s picks for the 20 best stand-up specials of 2017 so far, featuring some of the biggest names in the industry alongside some of the best up-and-comers.
20. Roy Wood Jr: Father Figure
[Wood] is somewhat tempered by the strictures of the short form pieces that he does for The Daily Show, which is why it is especially great to see him stretch out within the borders of his first hour-long standup special. Father Figure features the same pointed social commentary and interest in racial politics but with the threads wound more tightly around observations from his own experience. It’s such a tightly-constructed hour that it feels strange to point out that it is his first stand-up special and to hear that Wood feels like he found his comedic voice in 2006, almost a decade after he started.—Robert Ham
19. Nate Bargatze: The Standups
This Tennessee native checks in with one of the strongest episodes of Netflix’s half-hour stand-up variety series. If you’ve seen his work before, you know that Bargatze is self-effacing and sarcastic but rarely cynical, telling stories where he shifts from the butt of the joke to an onlooker describing real-life absurdities. The highlight is a section about a makeshift reptile zoo in North Carolina with an incredibly lax attitude towards customer safety. At only a half-hour he doesn’t quite have enough time to get fully going, but it’s a breezy and hilarious taste of one of today’s more underrated comics.—Garrett Martin
18. Tracy Morgan: Staying Alive
It has been said that comedy is tragedy plus time, which if true, makes Tracy Morgan a gold mine of laughs. Netflix’s Staying Alive is being packaged as Morgan’s big stage comeback after a fatal road accident that put him in a coma and nearly ended his life. After fighting the good fight, Morgan is back and ready to prove that he hasn’t lost a single beat. Morgan has made appearances here and there over the past few years, most notably back on the Saturday Night Live stage (which also earned him an Emmy nomination last year). While his guest appearances are beloved, this special puts Morgan right back in the mix with the comedy community, using his near-death experience as a means to make us laugh.
17. Sarah Silverman: A Speck of Dust
In A Speck Of Dust, Silverman has found the sweet spot in crafting the ideal stand-up special. Give your fans exactly what they came for, while also throwing in a few new ingredients to come off looking just fresh enough. While her jokes don’t always stick the landing, and she ends the show on a bit of low note, there is plenty to take away from her performance style and from her self-aware humor, which is part sarcasm, part confidence, and all Silverman.—Christian Becker
16. Louis C.K.: 2017
[On 2017] C.K. skirts closer to the edge without tumbling over and losing everyone’s trust in the process. While he’s there, he enjoys the weird ironies of loud party girl cheers in response to his defense of legal abortion, the palpable flutters of unease that he sets loose by jokingly calling his mom a whore. He’s been doing this long enough to know when to push the audience and when to pull them gently along with him. He’s smart enough to not risk the goodwill and cultural currency he’s earned over the past decade.—Robert Ham
15. Rory Scovel: Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up for the First Time
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) finds it to be one of the smartest and most refreshing specials of the year so far. 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
14./13. Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin; Deep in the Heart of Texas (tie)
Chappelle is still at the top of his class, wholly at ease onstage and mischievous as ever. His winding stories have the same unscripted, manic feel as his classic material, perfectly crafted without seeming crafted at all. [Chappelle has] a tireless drive to play out his tiniest impulses to their most absurd conclusions.—Seth Simons
12. Joe Mande: Joe Mande’s Award-Winning Comedy Special
The bulk of the material in Award-Winning Comedy Special similarly plays with our expectations of what stand-up is and how we should be reacting to it. The common formal approach of peppering long-form jokes with short punchlines is turned on its head by Mande, who will either end a bit abruptly, with no warning, or bring it back to pick up where he left off when we’re least expecting it. It’s pleasantly jarring, and keeps the audience on its toes. With stories and perspectives revolving around MTV’s Next, his short-lived experimentation with dick pics and a cringe-worthy experience at a Jewish summer camp, Mande is able to let the audience get a little bit ahead of him only to pull back and reveal how far ahead of them he actually is.—Graham Techler
11. Kurt Braunohler: Trust Me
Braunohler’s sudden turn to overtly political territory takes us off-guard completely, in a way that’s both refreshing and satisfying. His astonished appraisal of his own lucky circumstance as a tall, white man takes the form of very real, very specific and very disturbing statistics about police brutality towards black men. “The street I walk down is a fundamentally different one than a black man walks down, and a woman walks down,” says Braunohler, before launching into a series of absurd statements designed—in his words—to “undermine the authority given white speech.” Not to pat white men on the back for saying some basic human decency stuff, but this is a Comedy Central special, and I have to applaud Braunohler for using this particular platform so aggressively and responsibly, while never sacrificing the comic tone it’s in his best interest to cultivate.—Graham Techler