Netflix has become the go-to place for standup comedy. Literally every week, a brand new standup special is released for streaming. They can afford to pump out as many as they want. The money men at the streaming giant praise the format for being the cheapest thing to make since porn. With the money spent on producing them being so minimal, they are free to spend the rest of their money on attracting the very best talent out there. Legendary comics like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Jerry Seinfeld, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, and Jim Gaffigan have made the leap to Netflix. The streaming service has rapidly overtaken every other standup comedy provider in the business, leaving HBO and Comedy Central way behind in their dust. There’s no stopping Netflix now. It’s a place for both standup legends to come home to roost and for up and coming talent to have their voices heard. You get the best of both worlds! And you’re never short of content. There’s a new hour of live comedy material along every couple of days to keep you amused and entertained, and if one isn’t your cup of tea, then don’t worry, because before you know it, one will come along that is. Netflix has amassed dozens and dozens of standup specials over the last few years. But that’s just the thing – there’s far, far too many for you to possibly be able to watch them all. You couldn’t find the time! So, we’ve distilled the entire Netflix standup comedy library down to the 10 very best ones. Enjoy!
10. Marc Maron: Too Real
Marc Maron has never been a mainstream comedian. His material is not universally relatable and you have to accept his skewed mental condition if you’re going to find his ramblings funny. But if you can relate to his mindset, he’s a definitive voice for the confused and the angry and the insecure and the self-deprecating. He’s kind of a god of the alternative comedy scene, but there’s an ugly connotation to that term, like it’s an alternative to being funny. Make no mistake, Maron’s funny. He plays on his own insecurities and neuroses, and it is really funny. If you’ve heard his podcast, surely you know he’s a good joker and he appreciates the art of crafting jokes from something real. That’s what he’s all about. If you’re familiar with Maron’s other specials like Thinky Pain, then you’ll notice that Too Real is one of the alt comic’s most animated performances, as he bounds across the stage during an extended bit about the melancholy of watching an aging Mick Jagger perform live, and it makes him even more of a joy to watch. And he may be in his fifties, but Maron is following the world and its technology the same way that millennials do – he jokes about iPhones and documentaries and Donald Trump and meditation. It’s great.
9. Ali Wong: Baby Cobra
Baby Cobra was the catalyst that turned Ali Wong from an obscure and little known comedienne to one of the most renowned and beloved performers working today. The USP of this special is that Wong goes on stage and performs the set while heavily pregnant, and that makes up a lot of what the material in her special is about. What’s great about Ali Wong – and the same could be said of another terrific female trailblazer in comedy, Amy Schumer – is that she doesn’t sidestep any details or leave anything out to save herself any embarrassment. She’ll tell the story of what it’s like to use the bathroom when you’re pregnant in graphic detail and not care what you think. She’s one of the most candid performers you’ll ever see – she talks about her Asian identity, her female identity, her thoughts on anal sex. Wong’s standup is so personal and unabashedly revealing. She talks about her miscarriage and her struggles with fertility very openly. This is the best form of comedy – it’s not an obvious topic for humor, it’s a difficult topic to talk about, she makes it hysterically funny, and also will help anyone in her audience who is going through these problems. Wong herself explained, “It really helped me when I had a miscarriage to talk to other women and hear that they’d been through it, too.” That’s what gave her the courage to get up on stage and talk about it (while pregnant with the next baby, mind you). Comedy brings good into the world by creating laughter – but with Baby Cobra, Ali Wong has brought even more good into the world than that.
8. Jim Jefferies: Freedumb
After his comments on gun control in his 2014 special Bare, Jim Jefferies became the guy who talks about the gun problem in the United States. That’s what made him famous. It sent his career skyrocketing. Suddenly, Jim Jefferies routines were being used to teach law in universities and he was one of the most talked about political comics on the globe. So, there was a certain expectation from his 2016 special Freedumb, which was performed, shot, and released at the height of gun-toting Donald Trump’s Presidential election. He was expected to address Trump and his policies and the explosion of fame and recognition that came after his previous political jokes – and he addressed all of those things in satisfying and unexpected ways. He starts off with the usual standup fodder, talking about marriage and his family life and the struggles of parenthood – and then he delves into what we’re all waiting for. Jefferies starts by explaining how his jokes about gun violence in Bare made him a huge star and were being used in real life law and ethics lectures – and then admits that some of his statistics were made up! In short, Freedumb is classic Jim Jefferies – it’s dark, it’s laugh out loud funny, and it makes you think.
7. Sarah Silverman: A Speck of Dust
Dark comedy can be hard to do. You always end up offending a huge chunk of people and getting written about with disgust and disdain on blogs and Twitter pages and Reddit forums. And it’s hard to get into the deep, personal stuff that makes standup great when your intentions are to shock and appal. In his special Thoughts and Prayers, Anthony Jeselnik (who counts Sarah Silverman among his influences) splits the dark stuff from the personal stuff – he does dark stuff for the first part of the special and personal stuff for the second part. It’s something truly special when you’re able to err between irredeemably dark material and deeply personal stuff, and Sarah Silverman is one of the best comics at it. Over the course of 25 years performing standup comedy, Silverman has cultivated the perfect balance of deadpan delivery and sarcasm to make her unabashedly grim sense of humor palatable to wider audiences. In A Speck of Dust, she’s on fine form, tackling her recent near-death experience, the Bible, and Donald Trump. She ends the set with some pornographic fan fiction about God and Abraham that ends with the perfect punchline: “I work in mysterious ways.” It’s comedy gold – and vintage Sarah Silverman.
6. Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive
By the time he shot his third standup special Buried Alive, Aziz Ansari was well on the way to marking his territory as the comic voice of his generation, which is quite a statement, but with Ansari, it rings true. Buried Alive shows us a more mature performer, who is coming to terms with the realities of adulthood, and the comedy is all the better for it. In his material, he touches on a number of the topics and themes that he touches on in his astounding Netflix series Master of None. Ansari himself explained the direction he headed in with Buried Alive: “This special is much, much different than my previous two. As I hit thirty, my material got very personal as I grappled with the gravity of the adult world – love, marriage, babies, and more. Do I really have to deal with all that now? Are my ding dong friends really getting married and having their own children? I couldn’t imagine having a kid right now. After I type this sentence, I’m gonna drink an apple juice and watch Jurassic Park – if that’s a guy that’s supposed to be ready to be a father, I’m very concerned. That’s what Buried Alive is about.”
5. Bill Burr: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way
Bill Burr is making a nice home for himself on Netflix. He’s got a few specials on there and he’s also got the terrific animated sitcom F is for Family. Of those specials, the finest is easily I’m Sorry You Feel That Way. It’s shot in black and white, which is unusual for a standup special, but it works, because it’s beautiful, it’s visually sumptuous, and it keeps it simple – the focus is on the material, as it should be. And the title is sarcastic, by the way – Burr doesn’t really care how you feel. He’s the undisputed king of rage comedy. He gets up on the stage and he just rants about things that have been bothering him recently, like what George Carlin did in his later years. Burr has honed the stage persona of that loud dude at the bar who spouts uninformed conspiracy theories and political grievances to anyone who will listen. It sounds simplistic, but the way he does it is actually quite masterful. As far as Bill Burr’s comedy goes, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way is the cream of the crop. There isn’t a single bit that doesn’t land – that’s rare for an hour of standup.
4. David Cross: Making America Great Again!
Audiences these days know David Cross as Tobias Funke from Arrested Development and the guy from the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies (he addresses this in the special when he notices the audience starting to turn on him), but comedy aficionados remember him as one of the quirky geniuses behind Mr. Show, who’s been pumping out one brilliantly scathing standup special after the other since the ‘90s. In 2016, every comedian was addressing the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump in their standup – Amy Schumer, Michael Che, Stephen Colbert, Jim Jefferies, Mike Birbiglia, everybody. David Cross made it the focal point of his Netflix special. Cross’ standup has a very particular brand of political satire. He talks about the soulless, terrible, inhumane nature of the Republican Party with a big grin on his face, laughing at their hypocrisy and greed. He presents abhorrent things like an ISIS terrorist attack with the kind of glee one would expect from a much happier subject. That’s where the laughs come from, and it also helps you to see just how awful these things really are – it worked to great effect in an earlier special, in which he discussed the state of Iraq following Bush’s unjust invasion. He uses this technique to spectacular effect all throughout Making America Great Again!, in which even the darkest of jokes (one where he claims that God allows children to die in school shootings so that dead terrorists get their 72 virgins in Heaven) land perfectly.
3. Patton Oswalt: Annihilation
Annihilation was Patton Oswalt’s first special since his wife’s tragic and untimely death, and he boldly faces the topic head on in a very honest and very raw way. Now, this does not sound like it would make for great comedy, but it does! He addresses his wife’s death and delves into the heartbreaking story of how it felt at the time and how awful it was to have to tell his daughter and how he helped her to deal with it and what her grief process was like, and he brings the laughter to a stop and actually brings the audience to tears – but then he makes you laugh harder than ever before with the best joke of the whole special. That’s the mark of a truly great comedian – to be able to take you into a deep, dark, personal pit of despair and still manage to bring it back around to the funny. It was a beautiful touch for Oswalt to end the set on a bit that he’s never been able to work out before but that always cracked his wife up. The fact that he made the joke work and performed it after talking about life after her is a touching tribute and a great way to honor her memory. He leaves us with some sage words that his wife always used to say: “It’s chaos. Be kind.” Those are four words we should all live by.
2. Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin
You may remember that during the production of the third season of his Comedy Central sketch show Chappelle’s Show, Dave Chappelle – who was arguably the biggest comedy star in the whole world at the time – disappeared off the face of the Earth and went into hiding in Africa to reconnect with his roots. Even when he returned from Africa, he left the glitz and glamor of Hollywood for the quiet suburbs of middle America. He was gone from show business for years – well over a decade – before finally heading back to the standup stage a couple of years ago and signing a deal with Netflix for four exclusive specials to be filmed and released over the next twelve months. He had clearly missed the thrill of performing, and had clearly never stopped writing new material, because in the first of his new specials, The Age of Spin, he charged out onto the stage and delivered one of the greatest, funniest, most riveting standup sets in recent memory. It was a hell of a comeback. There was a fear, naturally, with these specials coming up, that Chappelle might’ve lost it. Well, it became abundantly clear a few minutes into The Age of Spin that he certainly had not lost it, and in fact, might be an even better performer than ever. His magnetic stage persona, his amazing ability to tell jokes – it hasn’t changed a bit. Even his risqué material hasn’t changed in today’s PC era. Chappelle has never cared for political correctness, and just because the world became woke, thankfully, he hasn’t changed a thing about his style.
1. Bo Burnham: Make Happy
Comedy and music do not always blend together well. They’re both formats that make you feel strong emotions, but very different ones. Comedy makes you laugh at the little things in life and think about the big things. Music gives you a deep, otherworldly sensation that takes you out of the real world and into a trance. Now, obviously, it would be pretty hard to mix these two and accomplish both at the same time. Even the successful comedic musicians, like “Weird Al” Yankovic and The Lonely Island, can’t really make you think with their songs. But Bo Burnham is special in that he succeeds as both a comedian and a musician – and his music makes you laugh and think and feel. He’s a truly brilliant and talented individual, and Make Happy finds him at the height of his abilities. Songs like “Kill Yourself” and “Lower Your Expectations” and “Straight White Male” touch on big themes and ideas. They’re catchy, well-crafted, funny, thought-provoking – in short, brilliant. And finally, the last track of the show, “Are You Happy?,” digs deeper than all the rest. Burnham is one of the most reflective and contemplative and philosophical comics in the world – he talks about what it means to be happy and the psychology of needing an audience to enjoy your life. Make Happy is easily the best standup special that Netflix has ever distributed.