The 40 Best Stand-up Specials of the 2010s

Comedy Lists Best of the Decade
Share Tweet Submit Pin

20. Eugene Mirman: An Evening of Comedy in a Fake Underground Laboratory


Stand-up is best experienced live and Eugene Mirman takes full advantage of the visual element of his comedy special. While many specials are produced with an audio-only album companion, An Evening of Comedy in a Fake Underground Laboratory gives Mirman proper space to fuck with the form. Mirman packages his absurdist brand of humor in a multitude of mediums ranging from visual aids to backing up jokes with a theremin. Like musical comedy, prop comedy often gets a bad rap but Mirman elevates it well beyond our expectations.—Olivia Cathcart

19. Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King


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

18. Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour


I knew that Barry’s Crowd Work Tour—a set of dates where he took the stage with zero prepared material, interacting with the audience and using his quick wit as his guide—would be a raging success. And watching this film from director Lance Bangs, which follows the comedian on his West Coast run of dates, has proven me dead right.—Robert Ham

17. Kristen Schaal: Live at the Fillmore


Live at the Fillmore is one of the most unique and entertaining specials of the decade. Schaal is always redefining what stand-up (or a horse) can be, keeping you on your toes for 60 minutes of delightfully offbeat comedy. Her magnetic performance is immediately reminiscent of her Bob’s Burgers persona, deceptively coy then playfully mischevious. This devious hour wonderfully incorporates unique visual elements cultivating in a filmed segment to cap off her most absurdist bit.—Olivia Cathcart

16. Ali Wong: Baby Cobra

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

15. Nate Bargatze: Full Time Magic


Beneath Southern born Bargatze’s low-key charm and common guy demeanor lies a sharp mind and a keen eye for the life’s minor absurdities. And if that sounds like the liner notes to a stand-up album from fifty years ago, well, there is a bit of a throwback appeal to Full Time Magic. Bargatze proves you can be hilarious without working blue or fixating on sex, but it’s not like he’s a puritan or a moralist, or anything. He’s just an affable guy with great timing and some hilarious stories to share.—Garrett Martin

14. Chris Gethard: Career Suicide


At this point in the Marc Maron/Louis C.K. era of oversharing onstage, let’s not pretend that there’s anything unattractive or taboo about admitting your neuroses and anxieties and darkest parts of your personality. But you can still do so dishonestly, and as it becomes more and more in vogue for comedians to get candid and dark, the more and more likely it will be that comics will use that as a shortcut to authenticity. Gethard does not do that. I would venture that with enough misinformation about depression and suicide out in the ether, being forthcoming about these experiences is actually very important in its own right. So yes, this show is significant and important for a whole hatful of reasons. But is it funny? Obviously. Gethard is a master storyteller, and this special elaborates on the essays from his book A Bad Idea I’m About to Do with a jittery, off-the-cuff charm. Out loud, his stories spill out in a barrage of words and qualifications before hitting a detail that neither Gethard nor we, the audience, were expecting.—Graham Techler

13. Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend


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, Birbiglia’s new special/album, 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.

Thankfully Birbiglia makes this as hilarious as it is captivating—he tells everything with the frantic energy of a 10-year-old, his oversized silliness letting all his little observations sneak into your brain before you can notice how absolutely perfect they are. Birbiglia also makes tremendous use of the theater setting in the video special, spinning like a mad man during “The Scrambler” and projecting a particularly amazing piece of evidence onto a screen during the finale. Moving, masterful, honest and hilarious, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is Mike Birbiglia’s best so far. -Casey Malone

12. Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood


2017 was a huge year for Tiffany Haddish, and although Girls Trip might have been the highlight, her excellent Showtime special proves that wasn’t a fluke. Haddish worked hard to get this far, with over two decades in stand-up, and She Ready is basically a culmination of the first stage of her career. Her stories about growing up in foster care and struggling with homelessness in the early days of her comedy career are fundamentally depressing but you’ll be too busy laughing from Haddish’s constant punchlines and physical comedy to notice it. Haddish doesn’t bring up her life for easy sympathy, but to find the comedy behind the pain, and to show that anybody can make an impact if they’re good enough and work hard enough.—Garrett Martin

11. Maria Bamford: The Special Special Special


Lots of comics are celebrated for their perceived “edginess,” but few performers are willing to go to the avant garde extremes of Maria Bamford. In The Special Special Special, Bamford lays bare comedy’s Freudian core by recording an entire hour-long set in front of her parents (and only her parents) in her childhood home. The result is something like an HBO special as directed by David Lynch and one of the most original stand-up performances in recent memory. Whether The Special Special Special ultimately comes off as adorably intimate or just unsettling is up to the viewer, but either way it’s a hell of a high-wire act. —Hudson Hongo

Also in Comedy