The 40 Best Stand-up Specials of the 2010s

Comedy Lists Best of the Decade
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10. Chelsea Peretti: One of the Greats

chelsea_one_greats_decade_yt_screenshot.JPGAfter 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


9. 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) 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



8. Hannibal Buress: Live in Chicago

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Like previous Buress routines, Live is an enjoyable mixture of bizarre anecdotes, cultural commentary and uniquely Buress-ian non sequiturs. Of course, given the comic’s rising star, the biographical humor concerns topics like international travel and an encounter with Scarlett Johansson instead of shitty roommates, but none of that has dulled Buress’ signature weird edge.—Hudson Hongo


7. Chris Rock – Tamborine

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Photo courtesy of Netflix

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



6. Hannah Gadsby – Nanette

Photo courtesy of Netflix

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


5. Julio Torres: My Favorite Shapes

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My Favorite Shapes starts with Torres discussing his favorite shapes. He sits at a conveyor belt that he operates with a foot pedal, presenting different objects and props and describing them in increasingly absurd ways. One is an oval that sadly stares at its reflection wishing it was a circle; another is a random collection of geometric objects that Torres says is an exact scale model of Tilda Swinton’s apartment. At one point we hear excerpts from a cactus’s diary, and anybody who struggles with mental health or self-doubt will relate to it. Most of these descriptions share a tone familiar from Torres’s SNL work, like ”Wells for Boys” and “Diego Calls His Mom”—goofy, sad, and surreal, but a recognizable enough version of real life to make immediate sense.

Torres eventually does stand up and move about the stage, but it never has the energy or pacing of a traditional stand-up set. When he does impressions, they’re not of people but of objects and concepts, like a Britta filter, or the curtain that separates first class from coach. He has a skill for mining the ridiculous out of quotidian objects, almost like he’s updating the bland observation humor of somebody like Jerry Seinfeld into a form of comic magic realism. There’s a bit where he presents shapes of animals he’d like to see at the zoo, and one of them might be the most perfect joke for understanding his point of view: it’s a porcupine who had its quills removed so it wouldn’t injure its lover, and now no longer recognizes itself. Torres loves instilling animals and inanimate objects with the sadness and insecurities of humans, in a way that’s both very specific and yet universal, and also never corny.—Garrett Martin



4. Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady

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Political comedians and comedy shows, especially The Daily Show, have always had to navigate criticism of “clapter,” or: when an audience’s response to a joke is more that they agree with it than that they find it particularly funny. Here, Wolf assures us that she’s able to have it both ways. She’s both speaking so particularly to the audience’s concerns and frustrations that they frequently erupt into applause, but the building blocks of her comedy are all intrinsically funny on their own—there’s no inauthentic laughter. Though Wolf is still one of The Daily Show’s most reliable elements, Nice Lady announces her as a voice that well deserves its own platform—one where she can keep getting shit done.—Graham Techler


3. Kyle Kinane: Whiskey Icarus

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Uncle BBQ tells his dumb-dumb stories in one of the most rewatchable comedy specials of the 2010s. Kinane’s first special, Whiskey Icarus, shows off everything audiences love about the comedian, namely his prowess at weaving intricately long, but not overdrawn, stories punctuated by his surly but sweet demeanor. As he regales the San Francisco crowd with tales of taking a cab to Wendy’s and witnessing someone eat pancakes on a plane, Kinane quietly displays his underrated acting chops with perfectly delivered micro-act outs. Whiskey Icarus honestly poses Kinane as the modern everyman exhibiting the duality of being either the smartest or sleaziest person in the room at any given time.—Olivia Cathcart



2. 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


1. Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted

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About two-thirds of the way through Tig Notaro’s first HBO comedy special, the 44-year-old stand-up removes her shirt to let the Boston audience see her mastectomy scars and completely flat chest, and then performs the rest of her set without commenting on it. It feels here like another great bit of conceptual stage work on the comic’s part. It is, like her insistence that she get a standing ovation at the end, a commentary on the nature of these kinds of standup performances. As great as they can be, standup shows can get routine because audiences are now trained to know what to expect. The truly outstanding comics are the ones that mess with the formula. Notaro dares to address this huge thing head on and dares to mine it for laughs.

That’s been the magic of Notaro’s stand-up work for her whole career, though. And why her current success feels so justified and so worthwhile. She’s been in the trenches for so long, it’s about time the world took notice of her flat, halting delivery and unique view of the world around her. It’s the kind of voice that can take what would be a plain anecdote like she and her friend trying to chase down a Santa impersonator and turn it into an ROTFL moment. It’s also the voice that elevates an already great story about bombing hard in Las Vegas with an ice cream moustache on her face to the level of breathless hilarity. Shirt on or shirt off, Notaro is still going to remain one of the best stand-up comics around.—Robert Ham

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