The 12 Best Stand-Up Comedy Specials on Amazon Instant Video

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If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you get free access to Amazon Instant Video, letting you stream thousands of movies and TV Shows. It also lets you watch a number of great stand-up specials, with several seasons of Comedy Central Presents and a bevy of stand-alone specials from some of the top stand-ups around. It can get a bit overwhelming, though, so let us help you out and point you towards the best stand-up Amazon Instant Video has to offer its subscribers.

12. Tom Papa—Freaked Out

The name Tom Papa might not inspire immediate recognition, but the comedian is a seasoned veteran of the late-night circuit, experience that shines on his most recent special, 2013’s Freaked Out. Smartly dressed and atypically clean for a contemporary comic, Papa’s on-stage persona is one of genteel affability, a demeanor that makes his often cheeky humor go down easy. More importantly, Papa’s road-tested routine is written and performed with precision that’s both extremely polished and very, very funny.—Hudson Hongo

11. Jim Norton—American Degenerate

Jim Norton is just asking for you to get offended. Literally. The title of his 2012 special is Please Get Offended. For its follow-up, 2013’s American Degenerate, Norton hasn’t pulled his foot off the gas one iota, and it doesn’t take very long for this realization to set in (i.e. his first joke is about wanting to have sex with Casey Anthony). For the next hour Norton goes into the creepy (and hilarious) details of his many sexual perversions, notes how impressive it was that John Travolta could “swing his asshole open like saloon doors” and, well, a lot more filthy, raunchy sex stuff that most people wouldn’t even dare to think about, much less discuss it in front of a theater full of people. It makes you recoil and laugh hysterically at the same time, and as long as the latter is true, Norton is doing his job. —Ryan Bort

10. Jim Jefferies—Fully Functional

Many comics praised for their “edginess” are closet conformists, using profanity to mask an agenda your grandfather would probably agree with, but Australian expat Jim Jeffries comes by his outsider status honestly, a foreigner happy to tell a room of Americans exactly why he thinks their they’re all fucked. The gleefully vulgar comedian’s 2013 special Fully Functional isn’t his most focused work, but it’s a raw and powerful performance.—HH

9. Robin Williams—Weapons of Self Destruction

Try to look past the depressingly prophetic title. Robin Williams’ 2009 stand-up tour reminded us of how vital a comedian Williams once was, before he decamped permanently into movies. He’s as antic, digressive and motor-mouthed as ever, even in his late 50s, hopping from pop culture to politics to sex, and opening up about his own struggles with depression, health problems and his personal life. It’s a fitting final look at one of the most beloved and singular voices in stand-up.—Garrett Martin

8. Ellen DeGeneres—Here and Now

It might be hard to remember now, but before she was a talk show host, sitcom star or animated tang fish, Ellen DeGeneres was an immensely talented stand-up comic. Recorded more than a decade ago, her 2003 observational comedy special Here and Now can come across as a bit dated today (covered topics: power car windows, Herbal Essences commercials, automatic flush toilets), but any weakness there is more than made up for by DeGeneres’ masterful delivery and infectious geniality. Add to that perfect timing and a surprisingly dry wit and Degeneres’ special becomes an object lesson in the power of craft—although most viewers will probably be too busy laughing to notice.—HH

7. David Cross—The Pride is Back

HBO might’ve canned Mr. Show in 1998, but they weren’t ready to completely get out of the David Cross business. The Pride is Back, his first hour-long stand-up special, debuted on HBO in 1999, introducing his stand-up to an audience that knew him best from his sketch comedy and his already burgeoning career as a go-to cameo guy for movies and sitcoms. It’s an angry, righteous set, railing against politics, religion and American culture circa 1999. Watching it today you might wonder how he survived the Bush years, when almost everything he complains about here became amplified. It’s an intelligent diatribe filled with equal parts truth and anger.—GM

6. Richard Pryor—Live and Smokin’

Although this wasn’t released until 1985, it was filmed in 1971, making it Pryor’s earliest stand-up special. It’s also his weakest, but it’s the only one available for free for Amazon Instant subscribers. There’s still brilliant work to be found within his scattershot performance, and bits like “Wino Preacher and Willie the Junkie” foreshadow his reign as the greatest American comedian of all time. If you’ve only seen his later, more celebrated stand-up movies, you owe it to yourself to check out his early work.—GM

5. Mitch Hedberg—Comedy Central Presents

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None of Hedberg’s stand-up specials are free for Prime subscribers on Amazon Instant, but his 1999 episode of Comedy Central Presents is. This was a pivotal performance for Hedberg, an introduction to many future fans who hadn’t already caught his distinctive stand-up on the late night talk shows. His persona was fully formed, and some of the same material that wound up on his first album, Strategic Grill Locations, can be found on this half-hour (minus commercials) special. Hedberg was a true comic genius, and this special captures him on the cusp of success.—GM

4. Lewis Black—Black on Broadway

As The Daily Show’s longest-serving contributor, Lewis Black has carved out a niche as America’s rabidly bleeding-heart conscience, a role he performs even more effectively when given a full, uncensored hour to work with. Fortunately, Amazon Prime has what’s arguably Black’s strongest set, the Bush-era special Black on Broadway. And even if you don’t agree with all his politics, Black rarely comes across as an ideologue or a scold. In fact, he’s closer to the opposite, a “plague on both your houses” iconoclast who’s something like Network’s “mad as hell” speech personified.—HH

3. Sarah Silverman—We Are Miracles

Sarah Silverman thrives not only on the reassuring discomfort of her audience, but on the old modes of comedy. She excels at the set up (“Don’t forget, God can see you masturbating”). She nails the out-of-nowhere punchline (“But don’t stop! He’s almost there”). And she seems to punctuate each joke with some dark aside (“I’m just kidding. There’s no God”). Her timing is impeccable as well—almost musical in fact, as though she were a jazz soloist. Even when a bit flops (confusing Kanye for Obama), she projects such a warm, mischievous magnetism as she makes her audience squirm.—Stephen Deusner

2. Zach Galifianakis—Live at the Purple Onion

Galifianakis is one of the most unique comedians of our time and this tour documentary shows him at the peak of his stand-up career. The Purple Onion was the perfect place for this to be filmed. It’s a small, intimate room and it gives Zach the freedom to be loose with his material. But what makes this film stand out are the scenes spliced in between the stand-up. Watching Zach travel, make his friend try on dresses and interact with a redneck is just as fun as watching him perform. Three short years before The Hangover films made him a household name this fascinating documentary shows a comedian on the rise. —Chris Donahue

1. Louis C.K.—Hilarious

As a divorced 40-something white man, Louis C.K. has made self-deprecating storytelling and socially conscious humor into an art close to poetry. With his 2009 stand-up concert Hilarious, he was in full stride, riffing about the differences between Hitler and Ray Charles, mocking the overuse of the word “genius” and sharing the special moment when he saw his three-year-old daughter take a shit in front of him. But nothing beats his tirade about society’s disgruntled relationship with technology, saying that all of today’s groundbreaking advances are “wasted on the shittiest piece of shit assholes.” He’s a genius—and I really mean that.—Dino-Ray Ramos

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