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

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