The 20 Best Stand-up Specials on Netflix by Female Comedians

Comedy Lists
The 20 Best Stand-up Specials on Netflix by Female Comedians

Happy International Women’s Day or, as I like to call it, March 8. It’s just another day, and I still felt the need to turn down the volume in my headphones going home earlier when a man was walking too close behind me. Very cool.

Nonetheless, it’s worth taking the time to celebrate those women who make our lives better, whether by inspiring us, challenging us, or, in the case of these comedians, making us laugh. Netflix’s impressive catalog of stand-up specials includes a bevy of talented female comics whose humor runs the gamut from goofy and lighthearted to the more pointed and profound.

Whether you’re just looking for a laugh or want a hilarious take-down of the patriarchy, there’s something for you in these 20 Netflix specials by women comedians.

1. Maria Bamford: Old Baby

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Maria Bamford delivers her routine into a mirror. She delivers her routine to her husband. (Nearby, a pug snores.) She delivers her routine to four individuals sitting on a bench outside her house. The bench segues back inside a house. The crowd has grown. There is a merch break. The routine is now being delivered in a corner of a bookstore. There is another merch break. Such is the framework of Maria Bamford: Old Baby. It may contain familiar material for those who have been following Bamford’s work for a while, but is nevertheless an hour of material that delights. The way in which the special cuts from crowd to crowd—softly, subtly, without making much of a deal about it at all—is wonderful. It serves to illustrate something about Bamford herself and provides aspiring comedians with a valuable lesson of their own, something which they may know instinctively but feel somewhat confused about in practice: a show to four people is just as legitimate a show as a show for thousands.—Evan Fleischer

2. Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia

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Nothing is more fun to watch than a comedian who is happy to be there, and Michelle Buteau is without a doubt the happiest person in the room in Welcome to Buteaupia. Opening the show as her own warm-up act, she dances with the audience as if she’s in a crowded bar buying everybody a round of shots. This is her way of loosening up both herself and the crowd while also providing an entrance that is different from popping out from behind a curtain while soaking in the applause.—Christian Becker

3. Nicole Byer: BBW (Big Beautiful Weirdo)

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With multiple successful podcasts, roles on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Unicorn, and the reboot of Rugrats, and a slew of other voice and live credits to her name, it is high time the world gets to experience an hour of Nicole Byer’s stand-up. In her new special she touches on the political without being overcome by it; she’s poignantly observational and occasionally prescriptive without ever being lecturous. Byer discusses the emotional toll of life in the pandemic and popular response to COVID-inspired recommendations and regulations, chiefly through anecdotes about her own experience. Her performance is highlighted by incredible voice work, including utilizing yelling and screaming in an effective way that reminds one just a bit of the Sam Kinisons of the world, though it’s always an accent and never a crutch.—Kevin Fox, Jr.

4. Naomi Ekperigin: The Standups


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On the rather uneven third season of The Standups, Naomi Ekperigin quickly boosts the mood with her frantic energy and penchant for yelling to punctuate jokes. She’s a familiar name for fans of Broad City, which she wrote for, and the podcast 2 Dope Queens, on which she’s often appeared. Ekperigen’s infectious enthusiasm for Nancy Meyers films and curmudgeonly attitude towards Los Angeles make for a delightful combination. With her singular, turned-up-to-11 cadence, the whole half hour feels like a tonic for the soul.—Clare Martin

5. Hannah Gadsby: Nanette

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Brilliantly named for the woman that it isn’t about, Nanette’s central preoccupation is Hannah Gadsby’s exhaustion with the idea of using comedy to process pain. Her idea is that a joke must end where it is funniest, rather than where the story actually ends, and as such, communicating the trauma of her life through comedy has actually ended up bottling up that trauma at the midpoint and causing even more damage. It’s an idea that comedians and comedy fans regularly balk at: that comedy might not be the best solution to a given problem. But it’s irrefutable here.—Graham Techler

6. London Hughes: To Catch a Dick

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The real draw of this special is London Hughes herself. Charisma doesn’t even begin to describe how magnetic and electrifying her presence is. The opening skit before the special starts shows her basking in Meg Stalter-like overconfidence, and she regularly brings that same energy throughout the special as she declares herself “Comedy Beyonce” and “The Female Richard Pryor.” She’s one of those rare people who seems to have been born with a mic in hand.—Clare Martin

7. Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning

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On her first-ever Netflix comedy special 3 in the Morning, Same Jay hones her reputation as a hilarious truth-teller, but this time regarding the world around her rather than herself. She begins in familiar territory, talking about what it’s like to be a Black lesbian and reworking old bits. The special leaves you walking away with more questions than answers, which is exactly what Jay is trying to do. Subject matter aside, careful directing choices, like a heavy use of close-ups and on-the-beat cuts, make this special feel more lively than most Netflix comedy specials. Jay isn’t afraid to make a special that’s funny yet challenging, proving herself one of the most intriguing voices in comedy today.—Clare Martin

8. Leslie Jones: Time Machine

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Unlike most comedians featured on the streaming giant, Leslie Jones goes all-in on crowd work from the start, sloughing off the sterility of some specials. At one point she leads a Tevin Campbell singalong, at others yelling into audience members’ faces about their perceived faults (namely, having a dick or not enjoying their 20s enough). The latter situation results in some of the most laugh-out-loud moments of the whole special, with Jones’ good-natured jokes trumping any initial awkwardness. Crowd work in televised sets tend to be one-offs to audience members, who are briefly spotlighted and occasionally used for a callback. The barrier between the crowd and the comedian remains intact, invisible but distinctly separating the parties. Jones never half-asses anything, though, even clambering off the stage to address one man face-to-face. It’s a method that’s as hilarious as it is jarring, propelling her humor to new heights.—Clare Martin

9. 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, unfortunately, everything Jen Kirkman discusses are the sort of subjects that women are 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. As long as she can finally come up with a decent fantasy situation to masturbate to.—Robert Ham

10. Kathleen Madigan: Bothering Jesus

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Kathleen Madigan is one of the most reliable and warm-hearted comics out there. She’s the bawdy aunt that won’t mind if you take a drag off her cigarette or a sip from her wine glass while your parents aren’t looking. Her special Bothering Jesus has that same feeling of being a party to grown up, alcohol-fueled conversations that just happen to be funnier than most. Madigan has a lot of fun early on in the hour throwing her home state of Missouri, and the people in it, under the bus for their redneck-leaning ways, like the debate that went on for two weeks in the state senate about the legality of noodling (catching catfish in muddy rivers using just your hands). She spends some time elucidating her obsession with the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370. And, like most comics, she pokes fun at herself for her lack of a fitness regimen beyond lifting her arm to drink wine and fool her Fitbit.—Robert Ham

11. Ms. Pat: Y’all Wanna Hear Something Crazy?

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Ms. Pat’s led a rough life, to say the least—she had two children, fathered by a man eight years her senior who had sexually abused her since she was 12, and by age 15 and started selling crack to support them. She started making fun of her experiences onstage at age 30, after her caseworker suggested she try it. As a longtime fan of Ms. Pat, I was pleased to see her genuinely having a good time in this special, maintaining her consistent comedy thesis: “I don’t dwell on shit I don’t have control over.” Her special shines when she makes fun of herself or others with more power in a situation than herself.—Brooke Knisley

12. Tig Notaro: Happy to Be Here

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Tig Notaro, one of the true masters of deadpan, seems almost comfortable with her life on her special Happy to Be Here. Sure, she’s still self-effacing, to an extent, and still approaches her celebrity and success with a bemused distance, but she positively beams when she talks about her marriage and her two young twin sons. After all the grief that she mined for her career-making stand-up specials and sitcom, Notaro has more than earned the confidence and joy she shows in Happy to Be Here. Also fans of the Indigo Girls absolutely need to watch this special.—Garrett Martin

13. Natalie Palamides: Nate: A One Man Show

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Nate: A One Man Show is a daring farce about consent and machismo that’s often hilarious and always provocative. Don’t expect anything like a traditional stand-up show, which is one of its strengths. Natalie Palamides is far more outrageous and boundary-pushing than those jurassic stand-up bozos who act like racism, sexism and homophobia are somehow still shocking after being the standard for most of human history, and she raises serious questions about real issues along the way. It’s not as tense, transgressive, or hilarious as seeing it live, but it’s still one of the most unforgettable things you’ll watch on Netflix.—Garrett Martin

14. Amy Schumer: Growing

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Growing is a special that goes down very easy—a brisk sixty minutes that’s a nice antidote to the bloatedness that hinders a lot of Netflix specials that get a little too excited. It also basically eschews the rock star comedian treatment that can get a little exhausting and rob the special of its intimacy. Amy Schumer is letting her audience in, and giving them the chance to watch her while thoroughly in her stride.—Graham Techler

15. Iliza Shlesinger: Elder Millennial

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What I like about this special above all is that everything is just two degrees off from what you’re expecting. From the start, as soon as I begin to make those flawed, human assumptions about what I’m about to see, we learn that this special is set on a boat, and a dog is running onstage before Iliza (as she’s credited) even shows up. These splashes of performative weirdness extend to Shlesinger’s physical dynamism. “If I might divert from the stand-up to a TED talk about ornithology for about two seconds,” before impersonating several birds including a spot-on impression of a warbler (“I’m a warbler”).—Graham Techler

16. Jenny Slate: Stage Fright

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Jenny Slate commits from head to toe, which is to say that she moves like one of those inflatable advertising tubes outside of a car dealership. Her exaggerated physicality is matched only by her buzzing, infectious enthusiasm. Yes, Slate laughs at her own jokes, but you don’t mind because it feels like you’re listening to your funniest friend relay stories (just, you know, very casually under a spotlight). She may not exactly engage in crowd work but, as Slate puts it, she is essentially “[flirting] with 400 people.” She’s so damn excited to see the audience that it’s difficult not to radiate that elation back at her.—Clare Martin

17. Wanda Sykes: Not Normal

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Wanda Sykes has never been one to dance around a point, and lands many direct hits throughout Not Normal. The title refers to the state of the nation under Trump’s presidency—“It’s not normal that I know that I’m smarter than the president,” she says—and material about Trump dominates the first section of the hour. Trump’s presidency hasn’t aged him, she argues, but it’s aged us. Once past this material—as well as some glib content about the opioid crisis that starts off with some good points but slides off-course—the special veers into more personal and generally more specific territory with jokes and stories about Sykes’ family. Sykes avoids the abrupt shifts some comedians suffer from when trying to move from Trump material back into their set, and makes the entire special pretty seamless.—Graham Techler

18. Taylor Tomlinson: Quarter-Life Crisis


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Quarter-Life Crisis is a hilarious and easy watch thanks to Tomlinson’s self-assured cadence. Her physical comedy is slight, but effective: the occasional flourish here and there to punctuate a bit, but nothing ever too over-the-top. Storytelling-wise, she is a natural and feels more akin to comedians from decades past rather than her peers. Tomlinson manages to marry her self-deprecation and self-confidence well, never coming off as too pathetic or too cocky. She sticks to relatable, tried-and-true topics—online dating, fucked-up childhoods—but keeps the material fresh nonetheless. You could call her the Goldilocks of comedy, the way that she ensures that everything, from the set up to the punchline, is just right. Many a millennial comedian tries to deconstruct the traditional comedy formula; Tomlinson decides to work within that frame, but make it entirely her own with gut-busting goofs.—Clare Martin

19. Michelle Wolf: Joke Show

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In her Netflix special Joke Show, Michelle Wolf jumps into her set immediately—no introductions, no opening goofs to ease us in, just straight into an otter rape bit. It’s about as jarring as it sounds, but in Wolf’s seasoned hands, her most abrasive jokes are also the funniest. Part of why this works is her quick connection with the audience. She’s not necessarily going to hold our hands, but she’s ready with a flashlight to guide us through the dark places she’s taking us, and it’s always worth the journey (no matter how vaguely uncomfortable).—Clare Martin

20. Ali Wong: Don Wong

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The special is strung together by Ali Wong’s penchant for the lewd, whether she’s discussing the benefits of letting a man cum on your face or the state of her underwear. The dirtiness of her jokes is only matched by her creative use of language and enthusiastic physical comedy. Crude humor doesn’t get old with Wong because she always finds a new way to shock and entertain her audience, whether observing how a women’s bathroom is akin to a post-apocalyptic scene or comparing fingering to the Braveheart charge.—Clare Martin

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