Whether they came out as conventional TV specials, albums, digital streams or even mixtapes, there were plenty of great stand-up sets to check out this year. And thanks to services like Netflix, it’s never been easier for comedy fans to find them—or harder for comics to stand out from the crowd.
Unfortunately for them, not every comedy special and album that came out this year can be named one of the best. Here are 10 that definitely can. Determined after considerable hand-wringing and a closely guarded (completely proprietary) voting process, we’re confident that these are the finest stand-up offerings of 2014.
10. Neal Brennan – Women and Black Dudes
Neal Brennan’s takes on race and politics recall his Chappelle’s Show days, and even his delivery will remind some of his former partner. But Brennan doesn’t play a character. In fact, he’s so down-to-earth there are times when even he seems surprised by the reaction a joke is getting. Women and Black Dudes proves that Brennan can carry a show by himself. It’ll be interesting to see where his name pops up next.—Mark Lore
9. Jerrod Carmichael – Love At The Store
Jerrod Carmichael may be an up-and-comer, but he certainly doesn’t act like one. At 26, the Winston-Salem native already boasts the ease and confidence of a seasoned veteran. The comedian’s highly conversational approach is on full-display in HBO’s Love on the Store, his Spike Lee-directed stand-up special. And while not every joke hits the mark (Carmichael’s readily acknowledges when a bit dies), there are more than enough hilarious and thoughtful comedy nuggets here to rank Love at the Store as one of the best comedy debuts in recent memory.—Mark Rozeman
8. 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
7. Bill Burr – I’m Sorry You Feel That Way
Bill Burr’s onstage persona is sharp, unwavering and nearly arrogant. This attitude defines him as a comic, and is even evident in his latest special’s title, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way. But make no mistake, Burr’s concern for your feelings is anything but authentic. Unless, of course, we interpret “I’m Sorry” as an expression of pity rather than regret. In that case, “It’s pathetic you feel that way” would truly be an appropriate alternate title for Burr’s raucous special—and a perspective that arms Burr with the observational insight required to continuously churn out incredible sets.—Maren McGlashan
6. Mark Normand – Still Got It
Mark Normand’s Still Got It is packed with jokes. Normand’s voice, straight from vaudeville, fires joke after joke, all impeccably built and precision engineered to land exactly a second ahead of where the audience’s expects. Listeners come away not knowing much about Normand; he talks about race, religion and women, but seems less interested in his opinions as he is in mining those topics for perfectly crafted jokes. Still Got It showcases Normand’s Jerry Seinfeld-like observations and Mitch Hedberg-esque wit strongly enough to make the case that he could be the successor to both.—Casey Malone