At the tender age of 10, I was plopped down in my Fathers car on the way home from dinner. My brothers leg jutted into my right knee, and we pushed against each other as the car swerved around corners, and cradled us over bumps in the asphalt. We were eagerly awaiting our return home; after all, the evenings were dedicated towards Comedy Central, consuming shows like Mind of Mencia, The Chappelle Show, and more. I could see the ears on my Dad perk up as we discussed who our favorite comedians were, and he prepared himself to shatter our expectation. Dad explained that sure, Mencia’s kind of funny, and Chappelle is the best comedian around today, but nothing he’d seen had come close to George Carlin’s stand up. The man was a virtuoso comedian, according to Dad, and when we were older, he’d show us some of Carlin’s records he had lying around. Then we rounded another corner, my brother forced an elbow into my ribs, and I punched him in the face.
Cut to present day, and much has changed. We now know that Mencia was a hack, that Dave Chappelle is one of the most legendary comedians of all time, and that yes indeed, George Carlin is a strong contender for ‘Best Comedian of all Time’. The way we consume media has changed too. As a kid, I listened to comedy albums either on record, or saw stand-up on TV, but nowadays you can access any good comedy worth listening to through the World Wide Web. The problem is deciding what’s good, and what’s shit; lord knows there are scads of stand-up specials out there, and most of them pedestrian at best. Lucky for you, I’ve been watching stand-up for years. I’ve seen nearly every Stand-Up special on Netflix, and I’d like to extend to you a list of the best stand-up specials on Netflix today.
To trim up this list, I’m only allowing one special per comedian. Otherwise we’d have a bunch of specials from –REDACTED- and no room left for the other talented comedians on Netflix. Cool? Cool.
15) Joe Rogan – Triggered
Rogan, known for his podcast, his commentary on wrestling events, and his time at Fear Factor, does a little bit of everything. He’s a curious man, and this has led him to all different kinds of places in life, including stand-up. His material started out brash and aggressive (See: Joe Rogan: Live) but has evolved to suit his multifaceted life. In Triggered, he riffs on everything from parenthood, to the Secret Service, to Caitlin Jenner. This is his strongest display of comedy yet, and it earns its place on this list.
14) Marc Maron – Thinky Pain
Maron is an interesting comedian. He’s an old, washed up hipster loser that knows it and makes his entire act a microcosm of his life. His whiny, meandering tone is reminiscent of a friend venting to you at the end of a long week. He’s got some strange bits that are well off the beaten path for your average stand-up special, and his character is one you both laugh with and at. Thinky Pain is the best example of his work I can think of, though his show is pretty alright as well. This is the perfect special to have on in the background, until it slowly steals your interest and involves you in the weird stories of Maron’s life.
13) Jim Jefferies – Bare
Jim Jefferies. You probably saw his bit on Gun Control floating around on Facebook, YouTube, reddit, etc. and shared it around. Maybe your roommate showed it to you, doesn’t matter. That little bit of comedy comes to us courtesy of Bare, Jefferies best, and most offensively entertaining special yet. Topics range from Gun control to Father’s Day to Strip-clubs. It sounds like your standard fare for a comedy special, but the path each joke follows is hidden behind raw motives and unspoken judgments. This is a great show, and I highly recommend it.
12) John Mulaney – New in Town
Similarly to Jim Jefferies, you’ve probably seen Mulaney’s bit circling around on social media. However, his approach to comedy is entirely different. Mulaney’s manner of talking is akin to a pastor telling jokes at Sunday School, and his clean shaven, spotless image betrays his seasoned comedic chops. He may look like a newbie, but his comedy is calculated to get a laugh out of anyone. New in Town was what made him big, and if you want some cleaner(er) comedy, Mulaney’s the person for it.
11) Hannibal Buress – Live from Chicago
Buress is one of my favorite comedians, and for good reason. He consistently puts out new material (just look him up on Netflix) and his conversational style of comedy leaves the audience unprepared for once he decides to close in on a punchline. Buress is also relatable; not in a Friends kind of way, but in a down-and-out manner covering everything from cocaine fueled sexual encounters to sneaking into comedy shows. Live from Chicago includes some of his best work to be sure, but I also strongly recommend Animal Furnace.
10) Joan Rivers – Don’t Start with Me
Rapid-fire. That’s what comes into my head when I think of the late Joan Rivers. I’m not much into titles or anything, but If I had to adorn someone with the title ‘Queen of Comedy’ it’d be her. Rivers parses no words in her set-ups. She can barely lay down the foundation of her joke before she starts hammering out jokes, one after another, as is evident in her special Don’t Start with Me. She sets them up and knocks them down at a breakneck pace, and it’s a truly brilliant thing to watch. But that’s not to say her jokes are low-effort, not at all. Each joke has multiple elements to it, and she’s amazing at improving on stage as well. Her special is in my top five, and she’s one of my top five favorite comedians as well. Check this one out.
9) Doug Stanhope – Beerhall Putsch
Okay, let me be upfront about this one. Stanhope is a dark, diseased comedian. His brand of comedy isn’t for everyone, as it will often leave you feeling depressed. However, if that kind of biting, deflating comedy interests you, you’re in for one hell of a ride. Stanhope talk extensively about his problems with drinking, his thoughts on assisted suicide, and the homoerotic nature of NFL in Beerhall Putsch, and his stories are milked for every laugh and cringe that you could possible extract. This is one of the most memorable bits of comedy on Netflix, and if you’re game, give it a watch.
8) Zach Galifinakis – Live at the Purple Onion
There’s a characteristic of Zach Galifinakis that never seems to pop up in any of his movies: his genuinely timid and human struggle. In movies like The Hangover, he’s called upon to say wacky things, and be an awkward imbecile when the writers clearly didn’t know how to craft a funny scenario. But he’s a completely different person when he’s pursuing projects where he has the most control. Most people have seen an episode or two of Between Two Ferns, but to me, his best work has been his comedy special Live at the Purple Onion. Galifinakis cuts between a comedy routine at the titular Purple Onion, and a series of skits with his twin brother, Seth, played by Galifinakis himself. The skits are funny to be sure, but the special shines when watching Zach cracks these brief, absurdist jokes while playing soft piano music at the Purple Onion. It’s a far cry from your standard comedy-special format, and it’s an excellent display of Galifinakis’ talents as a comedian.
7) Bo Burnham – what.
It’s hard to be a comedian. It’s even harder to be a musical-comedian. That subgenre of comedy is difficult to master; as the format of a song is limited, and comedy requires incredible set-up and timing already. However, if you’re Bo Burnham, you can make it look easy. Burnham started on the internet over 10 years ago, and today he releases stand-up specials, poetry books, and more. What makes him so riveting to watch is his stage persona. Both brash and sensitive, juvenile and mature, the whiplash of his comedy will get laughs out of anyone, and it’s all compounded by the excellent miming, timing, and rhyming displayed in his songwriting. what. is Burnham’s best special yet, and is full of songs, straight stand-up, short poems, and mimed musical performances. He’s a real treat to watch, and I thoroughly recommend giving what. a chance.
6) Norm Macdonald – Hitler’s Dog, Gossip & Trickery
It’s hard to describe what seeing Norm Macdonald’s stand-up is like. It doesn’t have a rhythm or a rhyme to it; it’s like a river that suddenly surges before collecting itself into swirling eddy’s and calm pools of iridescent water. Macdonald rambles on, and on, and on, and before you know it, he’s finished a joke he started telling 6 minutes ago that branched off into 8 sub-jokes, all of which stand on their own. He isn’t the only comedian to do this, but I’m not convinced that anyone does it better than him. His singular Netflix special, Hitlers Dog, Gossip & Trickery is an excellent slice of his talents, and encased in his classic folksy, laid-back demeanor. He covers a lot of material in an hour, so pay attention, or you’ll find yourself swept 4 miles downstream in no time at all.
5) Ali Wong – Baby Cobra
I had never heard of Ali Wong before this special, and that’s not unreasonable. Before Baby Cobra, she had a few gigs on television shows, and wrote for Fresh off The Boat. Blink once, and you’d miss her. But thank god, my eyes were open when I caught a glimpse of her. This special will knock you on your ass. Right out of the gate, Wong’s jealous, spiteful persona takes control, and sends you on a damn hilarious journey. It will make you laugh. No, not a half-hearted chuckle, or some deep exhaling out of your nose; you’ll belly laugh listening to this depraved and even poignant performance. Seriously. Check it out. This is hidden treasure.
4) Bill Burr – Let it Go
God, I love Bill Burr. I’m a bone-fide fan of his; I watch the Monday Morning Podcast every week, I follow him on Twitter, everything. The reason I’m such a big fan of his is because back in high school, I watched this special. I had never heard anything quite like it; he sounds like your shady uncle who comments on conspiracy forums all day, and the spills his beer on your dog. In other words, he’s lovely. He’s the guy who just want you to ‘hear him out’ and 30 minutes later is talking about how the world’s population needs to be cut in half. This isn’t stuff I made up, this is Burr’s material, and he wraps in a fiery yet friendly package that gets under your skin.
3) Dave Chappelle – Deep in the Heart of Texas
Did you miss Dave Chappelle? I certainly did. This magnificent comic has released two of what I consider to be the best specials of all time, Killing them Softly and For What It’s Worth. The Chappelle Show was my favorite thing on television growing up, and his absence in the comedy scene for over 10 years was heartbreaking to say the least. However, nowadays, things are looking up. Chappelle returned to showbusiness with not one, but two specials on Netflix. The first one is decent, if a little underwhelming, but his second release, Deep in the Heart of Texas, is comedy gold. Not only is it a return to form for Chappelle, but it’s some of his best material. The man is back, and his work is something you should look into.
2) Richard Pryor – Live in Concert
I don’t know what happened to Netflix’s collection of old stand-up. As much as they excel at producing new stand-up material from renown comedians for their platform, they’ve let the rights to older material slide several. That’s why there’s no George Carlin on this list, no Chris Rock, no Eddie Murphy. It’s a sad change, and I wish they’d bring a lot of the classics back.
However, I can’t be too mad, because at least one of Richard Pryor’s best specials is available to stream.
Pryor is a wild and sensitive, impulsive yet warm. He’s one of the most interesting people that has ever existed in comedy, up there with the likes of Lenny Bruce and Andy Kaufman. It’s hard for me too pen why Pryor is such a great comedian, but I think if you boil it down to one thing, it’s this: heart. Pryor’s comedic arsenal of jokes and observations serves as an extension of himself, and it shows because his performances have this nasty habit of sneaking into you, and surprising you with how deeply resonant his thoughts are. He’s a fantastic comic because he’s so human, and he astounds me to this day with his material.
1) Louis C.K. – Hilarious
Everyone knows Louis C.K. He’s inescapable. Yet it wasn’t that long ago when no one knew who he was, besides as that guy who was on The Late Show all the time. Then Chewed Up came out. It was so raw, and depressing, and true, that people started to peer into his world, checking out all his career moves. Two years after Chewed Up, there was more. A TV show called Louie, featuring solid writing, directing, and excellent scenarios for very grounded take on comedy. In addition, there was this little special that C.K. released called Hilarious, and, well, it’s my favorite stand-up special. Ever.
This is Louis C.K. at the beginning of his comedic prime. His jokes are like a wedding cake, with layers upon layers that you can dissect and think about for days after the fact. But it’s not like you have to understand that complexity to enjoy it- his multifaceted jokes will hit you where it hurts on the base level, making you laugh and cry. His delivery seems so nonchalant, yet it’s all a part of his plan to trick the audience. He lures you in, and body slams your senses once you’re within striking distance. I have seen this special…20 times? More? I’ve lost track at this point.
One thing is for sure though. Hilarious is not only the best stand-up special on Netflix, it’s one of the best of all time.
Well, thanks for reading my list! I hope I’ve given you a guide of sorts for the next time you’re bored and don’t know what to watch. Until next time, I’ll see you around.