The 10 Best Stand-up Specials of 2015 (So Far)

Comedy Lists

There’s probably more comedy happening in 2015 than at any other point in human history. From clubs and festivals to the internet to pop-up shows at weirdo spots like barbershops and laundromats, stand-up is creeping all over everything like kudzu. To get an actual special, though, be it on TV or an album, requires talent, dedication and a little bit of luck. Not every bozo can stroll up to an open mic after their day job and wind up with a record or TV deal. You have to put in the work, like all ten of these comics have done. The best stand-up of the year so far has come from some of the biggest and most experienced names of the industry, and also from relative unknowns. These comics share little in common other than that they’re funny and they put out something worth watching or listening to in the first half of 2015. Check ‘em out.

10. Sue Smith: Slutty Pretzel
Stand-up EP

On her debut EP Sue Smith references an episode of Girls, and it brings to mind an obvious comparison—if you dig Girls or Broad City or other honest depictions of twentysomething urban life, you’d probably like Slutty Pretzel. She’s talking about life, about reality TV and gluten allergies and butt stuff. It’s a great introduction to a promising young comedian.—Garrett Martin

9. Matt Braunger: Big Dumb Animal
TV special

Matt Braunger’s energy is high throughout Big Dumb Animal, and he definitely has a physical presence. He is indeed a big man, and he has a big voice to go with it, which is helpful when it comes to selling his jokes. He knows how to handle the flow of joke. Additionally, the direction on this special is particularly impressive. While it’s simple (the special is just a man on a stage, after all) it looks good, and the camera angles are eclectic and engaging, making the performance feel more dynamic and action-packed than it actually is. It’s a good hour or so of comedy.—Chris Morgan

8. Jim Norton: Contextually Inadequate
TV special

Jim Norton is unafraid to state his unfiltered opinions to anyone who listens, exposing his own weaknesses and failings with the same volume that he uses to highlight the hypocrisies of the world and defend free speech. In Contextually Inadequate he balances his time throwing himself under the bus with commentary on his weight loss and with a particularly raw bit involving himself and a prostitute wearing a strap-on. He also offers up his opinions on a pair of scandals that broke right before he was set to tape the show: the many rape allegations involving Bill Cosby and Sirius XM’s dismissal of Norton’s former radio co-host Anthony Cumia.—Robert Ham

7. Brooks Wheelan: This is Cool, Right?
Stand-up Album

On his first stand-up album, Brooks Wheelan proves he’s more than just that guy who got fired from that show. It’s a strong debut, with the Iowa-bred comedian sharing hilarious tales about his dad, his childhood, old jobs and that time he did ecstasy while watching Skrillex at Bonnaroo. He’s a smooth comedian and a natural storyteller, and his bountiful charisma ingratiates him to the audience without ever coming off as pandering.—GM

6. Nate Bargatze: Full Time Magic
TV special

Beneath Southern born Bargatze’s low-key charm and common guy demeanor lies a sharp mind and a keen eye for the life’s minor absurdities. And if that sounds like the liner notes to a stand-up album from fifty years ago, well, there is a bit of a throwback appeal to Full Time Magic. Bargatze proves you can be hilarious without working blue or fixating on sex, but it’s not like he’s a puritan or a moralist, or anything. He’s just an affable guy with great timing and some hilarious stories to share.—GM

5. Eddie Pepitone: In Ruins
Stand-up Album

In Ruins aired as a special in 2014, but the album was released in early 2015. The reason that Eddie Pepitone’s latest is so potent and cathartically funny is how deeply felt his material is. Whether that’s talking about his relationship with his dog, his anger at the ongoing Iraq war, or dealing with his ongoing insomnia, the raw emotional core of each bit is palpable.—RH

4. Kyle Kinane: I Liked His Old Stuff Better
TV Special

Kyle Kinane’s latest special provides some great evidence of how he is growing as a writer. Previous specials and standup appearances balanced out his look at life’s absurdities and the little moments of wonder/confusion that he stumbled upon. Here, the focus is almost entirely inward, digging out the moments of joy and sorrow and weirdness that he had a stake in.—RH

3. Louis C.K.: Live at the Comedy Store
TV Special

If you needed more reason to admire C.K.’s understanding of stand-up, especially for someone at the level of success that he remains at, it’s that he almost completely avoids talking about his work on a TV show or in films. The comedy remains focused on himself and his wily view of the world: his failings as a father and a human being (“I’m 47 now…which you don’t get anything for that. When you’re 18, you get to drive. When you’re 21, you get to drink. 47? You get to keep being out of breath.”), his small and large frustrations with people, and a wonderful bit at the end about the overacting of Ray Bolger, Jr. in The Wizard of Oz.—RH

2. Aziz Ansari: Live at Madison Square Garden
TV Special

Aziz Ansari reveals a vital new strength in this special. He can comfortably broach serious, depressing issues and cut right to the heart of society’s ills without ever growing strident. He retains his effortless charisma and youthful exuberance even when talking about how horrible men are to women all of the time. He’s a more fully rounded comic now, a wiser and braver performer whose material now matches his stature, and one who has grown comfortably into his role near the top of the current stand-up hierarchy.—GM

1. Jen Kirkman: I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)
TV Special

What makes this hour of material so refreshing is that everything Kirkman discusses are the sort of subjects that women are unfortunately 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.—RH

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