The 10 Best Stand-up Comedy Specials of 2016

Comedy Lists stand-up
The 10 Best Stand-up Comedy Specials of 2016

In last year’s overview of the best stand-up of 2015, we talked about how much comedy exists in the world today. With more channels and streaming services and digital networks than ever before, there was a flood of content throughout the year. Somehow that’s even more true than 2016, which saw Seeso and its steady stream of stand-up specials join old stalwarts like Comedy Central, HBO, Showtime and Epix. We’re not complaining, though—the volume isn’t nearly as overwhelming as it is with TV, a situation that TV critics call “peak TV.” The variety of outlets just reinforces how strong the comedy industry is at the moment. The most surprising thing about it all isn’t that there are so many specials being released through so many different methods; it’s that there are so many talented and hungry comedians able to produce so much work without it ever feeling like an unnecessary surplus. We’re getting the comedy we deserve and in doses that are still manageable. 2016 was another great year, and here’s why.

10. Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping

Oswalt knows how good he is at his job. Good enough to thread bits of sociopolitical commentary in among other material about his failings as the man of the house and a pitch perfect closer that tells of the worst birthday clown of all time. He’s also smart enough to point the gun at himself throughout, telling us of his worst stand-up show and going off book to mock his propensity for perspiration.—Robert Ham

9. Michael Che: Michael Che Matters

At times Che seems simultaneously too guarded and too laidback, like he’s either too afraid to give a strong opinion or incapable of mustering one up. It can be especially obvious with the political comedy of his day job at SNL. On his Netflix special, though, he proves he works better when he has more room to play with. He works his way up to some pointed and insightful commentary about life today, and while it may not be as political as some would like, it’s still a strong perspective delivered with unique charm.—Garrett Martin

8. Laurie Kilmartin: 45 Jokes About My Dead Dad

This is exactly what the title says: an entire set where Laurie Kilmartin talks about her father’s death from cancer. It’s as hilarious as it is brutal, and cathartic not just for Kilmartin but for anybody who’s ever lost a parent or loved one. It’s a powerful reminder that there are multiple ways to grieve, and sometimes humor is one of the healthiest reactions to tragedy. One of the last comedy specials released in 2016, it’s also one of the best.—Garrett Martin

7. Aparna Nancherla: The Half-Hour

[Aparna Nancherla’s special] is the platonic ideal of your friends’ group DM. In this short time, I felt like she was on my side, that she was illuminating all the tiny ways that life sucks that we don’t want to talk about. It’s just the way things are, sure, but at least you can laugh at it.—Gita Jackson

6. 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

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5. Rory Scovel: The Charleston Special

Rory Scovel returned home for his first hourlong special, and proves that his true home all along was the stage. His absurd take on stand-up comedy is reflected through various meta jokes and the structure of the special itself, with title cards that appear almost in conversation with him. Scovel has the confidence to pull off his nontraditional stand-up in a traditional stand-up format without looking too precious or clever.—Garrett Martin

4. Jena Friedman: American Cunt

The provocatively-titled American Cunt is a powerful set of material. It’s rife with fiercely and unapologetically feminist material that worries openly how a healthy portion of our electorate “would rather see a tweeting asteroid crash into our country than let a woman lead it.” I hope that historians use American Cunt as a kind of running commentary about the weird and wonderful time we’re currently living in, cutting between this electoral insanity and Friedman’s cutting remarks about it in one glorious and hilarious montage sequence.—Robert Ham

3. Hannibal Buress: Comedy Camisado

Hannibal Buress is the platonic ideal of your extremely stoned friend. In Comedy Camisado, he rides the fame bump of outing a famous rapist to treat you to the searing specificity of his anger, be it towards the woman who wouldn’t let him check into a 2 and half star hotel without proper ID, or how 32 is a pointless age. He’s not dropping culture changing bombshells this time, but he’s still the guy you wanna smoke a bowl with.—Gita Jackson

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2. Reggie Watts: Spatial

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

1. Kyle Kinane: Loose in Chicago

Kyle Kinane is well on his way to greatness. He’s already one of the better joke tellers around, turning the conversational style of comedy into an artform. He’s the guy at the bar or at the party that you keep plying with drinks so he’ll keep telling stories. Not to get too high minded about it, but this special felt like jazz. Kinane set the foundation and then peeled off from it into these extended solos that felt like improvisation but have been honed and perfected after months of shows.—Robert Ham

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