The post The 10 Best Netflix Stand-up Specials of the Last 10 Years appeared first on Consequence.
A point of pride for many comedians — the evidence that they’ve truly made it — is when they can take material lovingly workshopped during dozens of live shows and turn it into a definitive expression of who they are as a comic… and maybe even as a person. The platforms for distributing recorded stand-up have evolved dramatically since the earliest days of media, with literal vinyl records now replaced by, increasingly, taped specials released on Netflix.
On November 1st, 2013, Netflix released its first stand-up special — Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive — and has since launched over 350 specials, along with the Netflix Is a Joke festival showcasing live performances (a 2024 edition is in the works). Other platforms for stand-up of course exist, but the streamer’s impact on the comedy world cannot be underestimated today; during his 2019 Netflix special One Show Fits All, comedian Gabriel Iglesias literally refers to Netflix as “the people that replaced Comedy Central.”
The below represents just some of the stellar voices who battle the algorithm to be funny for strangers, including perhaps some talents you might not be familiar with alongside the clear classics. This includes one honorable mention that may not fit perfectly with the idea of a stand-up special, but does represent how a Netflix special can be more than just comedy — it can altogether redefine how we think about comedy.
— Liz Shannon Miller
Senior Entertainment Editor
Ali Wong: Baby Cobra (May 6th, 2016)
From the beginning Netflix tried to bring huge stars to its stand-up roster, but it hadn’t produced a big breakout of its own until Mother’s Day, 2016. With the release of Baby Cobra, a seven-months pregnant Ali Wong went from a mostly anonymous writer on Fresh Off the Boat to the chapped, cramped, and horny voice of a new generation of moms. Whether she’s mining resentment at the easy life of husbands or yawning at how procreational sex becomes just another chore, her audience isn’t just laughing, they are wheezing with recognition. Everyone who watched Baby Cobra felt the truth in her filthy jokes, and Wong became a household name nearly overnight. — Wren Graves
Gabriel Iglesias: I’m Sorry for What I Said When I Was Hungry (December 20th, 2016)
The Fluffy-est comedian on this list (which is to say, the only comedian on this list whose nickname is Fluffy) often performs live shows that go for hours and hours. It’s an approach that works for him, because his fans love him. There are waves and waves of that love to be felt in I’m Sorry for What I Said When I Was Hungry, his first special for Netflix, and one that captures his intense gift for audience engagement, drawing a stadium-sized crowd into the most intimate details of his stories. The stories are fun, but it’s the ease with which he builds a relationship with attendees right from the start of this special which demonstrates how he’s become one of the world’s most popular stand-ups. — L.S. Miller
John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City (May 1st, 2018)
While John Mulaney has shared three really stellar specials on Netflix, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City is perhaps the best of the bunch. With extremely minimal set dressing and his favorite suit pressed, Mulaney took to the stage for an hour with a truly impeccable flow — it’s hard to even identify the points between bits and stories. With that being said, there are a handful of gems that still rise to the top, with “horse loose in a hospital” being one of the best pieces of comedy revolving around the Trump era. Populated with memorable, larger-than-life characters like Detective J.J. Bittenbinder and always underscored by Mulaney’s self-deprecating, observational demeanor, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City more than lives up to its name. It’s a thing of beauty. — Mary Siroky
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (June 19th, 2018)
The debut of Nanette was so seismic that for a little while there, people were fighting over whether it even counted as stand-up comedy. A few years later, no one is questioning Hannah Gadsby’s raw, angry, and yet still quite funny exploration of what it means to do comedy as an LGBTQ+ non-binary person. (Well, maybe some people are, but those are podcasts no one needs to listen to.) By speaking frankly about their own experiences, Gadsby pokes at the sort of sacred cows that stand-up itself was invented to explore, and while, yes, at times the humor is muted by the rage, it’s still a profoundly affecting special, by one of modern comedy’s most necessary voices. — L.S. Miller
Seth Meyers: Lobby Baby (November 5th, 2019)
Beyond just being a very smart, personal, and entertaining hour of stand-up, the Late Night host’s sole Netflix special to date played with Netflix technology in a surprising and wonderfully funny way. As one might expect, some of Seth Meyers’ material is political in nature, but because this special was released in 2019, Trump joke fatigue was very real. So a literal “Skip Politics” button appears on screen when Meyers reaches that point of his set, and it does quite literally skip you over a seven-minute chunk of the show. It’s worth watching those seven minutes, but it’s also worth hitting the Skip Politics button beforehand as well — because Meyers knows just how to incorporate it into the humor of the set. — L.S. Miller
Mike Birbiglia: The New One (November 26th, 2019)
Mike Birbiglia has become an expert at the type of show some comedic gatekeepers might deem “not real comedy.” Often highly focused, slightly theatrical, and performed at places like Broadway, works like The New One are sometimes dubbed more “one-man shows” than “comedy specials.” The obvious counter to this line of thinking is that Birbiglia is very fucking funny — he just so happens to be an extremely skilled, poignant storyteller as well.
A painfully honest account of the comic’s first bout with parenthood (and all of the chaotic, conflicting feelings that come along with such a journey), The New One finds Birbiglia doing what he does best: stripping his most vulnerable moments for nuggets of humor and universal truth. It’s comedy as theater, comedy as art, and — at risk of sounding pretentious — comedy as a true representation of life. Without dipping into hyperbole, it’s mandatory viewing for expecting parents and comedy fans alike. — Jonah Krueger
Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America! (December 19th, 2019)
Sometimes it takes an immigrant to really nail down the idiosyncrasies of what we consider everyday life. Enter Ronny Chieng, the Malaysian-Chinese comedian who moved to America to become one of Trevor Noah’s Daily Show correspondents. Four years later, he was on Netflix armed with all he’d observed about this country — and he had thoughts. His takedowns of the minutia, fallacies, and absurdities of US culture are so precise that you’ll never look at napkins the same way again. Chieng doesn’t hold back on his native customs either, balancing his foreign perspective on America with a ribbing of his own “outsider” heritage. The brilliance, however, is how it all comes together in that final story of his three-part wedding, where all those critiques reveal themselves to be extremes of what Chieng sees as the core beauty of America. It just takes playfully destroying the ridiculousness on the surface to get there. — Ben Kaye
Taylor Tomlinson: Quarter-Life Crisis (March 3rd, 2020)
There’s something about Taylor Tomlinson’s storytelling that gives the viewer the sense of being at brunch with a close friend. Quarter-Life Crisis takes common experiences, particularly those related to girlhood and being a woman in the modern world, and digs into the absurdity of it all. Tomlinson balances vulnerability with bubbliness, not masking the more painful points in her life by refusing to skate over details around trauma and heartbreak. Her delivery is often exaggerated, and there’s a joyful lack of restraint throughout the special that makes it that much harder to forget. — M. Siroky
Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning (August 4th, 2020)
Former Saturday Night Live writer Sam Jay exudes so much confidence in her debut Netflix special that it feels like the arrival of a stand-up star. Upon its release in August 2020, the world was in chaos mode, and Jay’s special could have easily slipped under the rug. Instead, Jay’s hilarious observational comedy, her raspy voice, her witty anecdotes, and occasionally profane details provided the perfect antidote. She brings you straight into the workings of her mind, skewering colonialism (on land and in outer space [looking at you, Elon]), poking fun at relationship and gender dynamics, and leaning often into full-on hyperbole. 3 in the Morning also served as an appropriate catalyst for Jay’s still-rising profile — she went on to create shows for both HBO and Peacock shortly after. — Paolo Ragusa
Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special (May 30th, 2022)
Norm MacDonald has long been hailed as one of the great comics of his time; following his unexpected passing in 2021, fans and fellow comics rightly celebrated MacDonald’s deep body of work and mourned the loss of what assuredly would have been many more years of boundary-pushing humor. Luckily, Macdonald had the foresight to record one last special, COVID be damned — he sat down in front of a camera and, in a single take, delivered what would become the posthumously released Nothing Special.
Despite the lack of an audience, stage, or any elaborate camera movement, Macdonald manages to maintain a remarkably fun, energetic tone throughout, even as fighting dogs or incoming phone calls interrupt his meticulously crafted jokes. His absurdist wit, knack for selling fully fabricated stories, and perfectly imperfect delivery (the comedian would often intentionally mispronounce words, David Spade points out in the retrospective epilogue), come through in spades. But it’s the quietest moments of Nothing Special that stand out the most, moments that, with hindsight, reflect an artist grappling with his own mortality. Ending the special with a loving (and frankly gut-busting) bit regarding his mother, Nothing Special is an impressive swan song for a comic who wielded the power of laughter like few others could. — J. Krueger
HONORABLE MENTION: Bo Burnham: Inside (May 30th, 2021)
Before the pandemic, Bo Burnham was planning on creating another stand-up special for Netflix. It’s fascinating to imagine a reality in which Inside doesn’t happen and Burnham’s hypothetical stand-up show does — would he have confronted himself, the world, the format of the Netflix special in the same way?
It was the extremity of the pandemic that forced Burnham to take the “Netflix Comedy Special” to a nuanced, transgressive place: “Should I be joking at a time like this?” he asks repeatedly to no response. Throughout Inside, Burnham transcends the traditional stand-up special by removing the live audience and interrogating you, the Netflix streamer, watching it at home. And all the while, he found a way to reflect on his own mental collapse in a way that’s both funny and deeply serious. There will never be anything quite like it again, and it serves as a profound, artistically riveting document of what we all went through during the COVID era. — P. Ragusa