The 10 Best Stand-Up Specials of 2013

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5. Maria Bamford – Ask Me About My New God!


Have you struggled with mental illness? Maria Bamford has, and she isn’t afraid to talk about it on Ask Me About My New God!. As she tells it, the worst part might be mental illness’s stigma. Applied to another disease by one of Maria’s non-Bamford voices, it plays as “Fuck off, we all have cancer…I have cancer pretty bad right now, but I get it taken care of.”

This album hits you with such dark moments throughout, yet it’s the opposite of a bummer. That’s because Bamford’s such a wonderful, brave, likable red flag factory, and because as much as she makes other people talk in ways that make your skin crawl, she’ll turn it around and show us herself falling apart under the reasonable questions of her little Mexican girl neighbor.

If you’ve only seen last year’s The Special Special Special, you’ve heard elements of her latest, but you haven’t heard it expanded, polished and perfected for a crowd that’s onboard from the get-go. Bamford’s writing takes unexpected turns without ever losing the tiniest bit of focus, and her range of voices has also never been better, in technical terms and as a way to get insta-partners on stage. It’s why this album is Bamford at the top of her game, a unique voice shouting at the darkness (in every voice she can), even as life keeps throwing her the equivalent of gas station tuna fish sandwiches. -Alex Schmidt

4. Kumail Nanjiani – Beta Male


It is hard to believe that Beta Male is Kumail Nanjiani’s debut hour special. From hosting his Nerdist podcast The Indoor Kids, performing The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail (a show that was picked up by Comedy Central for 2014) and having cameo appearances in multiple television shows, Nanjiani is a real comic’s comic. Beta Male gives a comedic perspective that American consumers are not well acquainted with: a Pakistan-born and former Muslim that has transplanted into the prosperous L.A. comedy scene. Nanjiani shares many tales of woe, a few examples being a battle between a monkey and a snake, getting a porno stuck in a VCR and seeing a homeless man putting pigeons in his pockets. Beta Male is the first big move in what is destined to be a prolific stand-up career for Nanjiani. -Bryan Wallace

3. Aziz Ansari – Buried Alive


Aziz Ansari’s take on marriage is one of the highlights of his comedy special Buried Alive. His breakdown is pretty spot-on as he invites the audience to imagine the process if there weren’t centuries of tradition attached to it: “I want to keep hanging out till one of us dies. Put this ring on your finger so people know we have an arrangement.” In his third major special, the Parks and Recreation star digs into some pretty standard comedy tropes for a guy who just turned 30—online dating, gay marriage, having kids… dick pics (I had no idea there was such a large percentage of women who have received photos of penises). In doing so Ansari strikes a perfect balance between charm and raunch, and he lets it fly like any good comedian should. I have to say the best moment of Buried Alive comes when Ansari asks a gentleman in the front row how he proposed. Turns out his wife didn’t immediately answer on account of the breadsticks arriving at the table of a “five-star” restaurant. Needless to say Ansari pounces on it like a pro. -Mark Lore

2. Louis C.K. – Oh My God


Oh My God just reaffirms what we already know: Louis C.K. is the best there is at making people laugh at anything. Anything. No matter how uncomfortable it might be. What makes him especially funny is that it never comes across as rehearsed. It’s as if C.K.—who looks like your best friend’s uncool uncle—comes home after a long day and just unloads. His stand-up is a mix of self-degradation and simple observations that can be immensely profound, and that have earned him our trust. On his latest HBO special, subject matter that normally might appear rude or crude comes across as astute analysis of the human condition, like laws being the only things keeping people from committing murder. “That’s a whole bunch of horrible thoughts right in a row,” C.K. says after describing a lawless world where parents kill their children for acting up in the grocery store. Horrible, sure. True? Most likely. Funny? Fuck yes. -Mark Lore

1. 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