There’s a new standup comedy special appearing on Netflix every five minutes now, it seems. There are so many on there that it’s impossible to keep up. You can’t watch them all. There is simply not enough time in the world. But you do want to laugh. You do want to watch the good ones. So, how do you know which ones are worth watching? Well, comedy is subjective, so it’s hard to say, but here is a close enough estimation of the 10 best comedy specials that have been released by Netflix so far this year, to save you a bit of time.
10. Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity
This charity event organized by Seth Rogen and his wife Lauren Miller in aid of Alzheimer’s research has been put on annually for some time now. The fact that Netflix filmed it and released it on their streaming service has served two great purposes: bringing public attention to a worthy charitable cause and a terrific charitable organization, and bringing the incredible line-up of acts to comedy fans around the world. Among the legendary comics who appear on the Hilarity for Charity stage to deliver a short standup set are John Mulaney, Michelle Wolf, Michael Che, and Sarah Silverman. Also, about halfway through the special, an animated short by Justin Roiland comes on and it’s so much darker and more fucked up than you can possibly imagine, even by his standards. In fact, the whole special is worth watching just for that one short. There are other reasons, of course, like watching Sarah Silverman joke about the Holocaust and 9/11 in front of a crowd of stuffy old conservatives. Frankly, the only parts of the special that let it down are the sketches that Rogen himself appears in. He seems to have gotten lazy. But Mulaney, Roiland, Wolf, and the rest of the line-up certainly haven’t.
9. Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life
Steve Martin was formerly one of the most popular and successful standup comics in the world. However, when he realized that he couldn’t keep doing the same material anymore and he couldn’t write any more stuff, he reached a crossroads at which he decided to hang up the banjo and stop performing. But if you listen to him in any interviews or public appearances in the years since then, he clearly misses the thrill of performing live. This year, Martin returned to the stage with his close show business friend Martin Short for an hour of hilarity. Steve Martin and Martin Short are a pair of comedy legends, and seeing them perform on the same stage together, doing jokes and characters and bits and sketches and songs, is pretty much a dream come true for any comedy fan. The show begins with ten or so minutes of Martin and Short simply insulting each other, and since they’re such good friends, they can really cut deep, and it’s hilarious. And that’s before the show has even properly begun! The special has been nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards (for writing and directing) and it’s just a fantastic performance by a pair of true showmen.
8. Jim Jefferies: This Is Me Now
This is sadly not Jim Jefferies’ finest hour of standup comedy – far from it, in fact. That’s not to say that it’s not good or it’s not funny. It’s just that as he is becoming a bigger celebrity, he is becoming more detached from the common man. What made Jefferies such a delight in his early days was that he seemed like a regular guy. He was telling dark jokes about gender politics and gun control and homosexuality, which were funny, but what made him watchable and engaging was that he just seemed like one of the guys. However, he’s going down a road that a lot of comics do when they become famous, which is that all of their material becomes about being a celebrity or being rich. Every bit uses a name drop as a punchline. The final twenty minutes of this special is just an overdrawn story where the only point seems to be so that Jefferies can brag about mingling with Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio and Mariah Carey. But still, it is a Jim Jefferies special and Jim Jefferies is a funny guy. His jokes about his breakup with his partner and his relationship with his son are brilliant. The political stuff doesn’t quite land as well as it did before, but Jefferies’ comedy is still head and shoulders above most of the stuff out there.
7. Demetri Martin: The Overthinker
In a vast landscape of comics who are dirty and loud mouthed and angry, Demetri Martin has always been a breath of fresh air. This is particularly true this year. Every other comic’s new hour of material is about how much they hate Trump or how much they hate white supremacists. It’s so refreshing to hear the sweet, softly spoken voice of Demetri Martin joke about donut holes and celebrating Halloween as an adult. In this delightful hour of funny, fresh, intelligent material, the most political joke goes, “I wonder if robots will ever be such a regular part of our daily lives that it would be considered offensive to do the robot.” Martin’s style is evolving, too. There are plenty of his signature one liners and musical comedy, but he also talks more about his personal life and how he feels than ever before. It’s an interesting special, too. It’s not just a camera pointed at a guy on a stage. The editing plays around with the structure and Martin’s voiceover narration gets meta about where the set is going and the cutting between angles. He’ll say, “I wonder what it looks like from the balcony,” then cut to the balcony camera, for example. It’s brilliant, in true Demetri Martin fashion.
6. John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City
It is often said that with his relatively clean material, his well dressed look, and his sharp observational take on everyday life, John Mulaney is the spiritual successor to Jerry Seinfeld. While his semi autobiographical sitcom might not have been anywhere near as successful as Seinfeld’s, his standup comedy is just as successful, just as brilliant, just as keenly observed, and just as hilarious. In this special, Mulaney repeats a lot of the anecdotes and bits that he told in his interviews with Marc Maron and Jerry Seinfeld and their podcast and talk show, respectively, which is a little lazy, but his bit about the guy who came to his school when he was a kid to teach the kids how to protect themselves against pedophiles starts the show off strong. The funniest bit in the whole special is an examination of the college system – they make you agree to pay them inordinate amounts of money when you’re seventeen, then you proceed to spend four years not getting your money’s worth for a useless degree, and then they send you letters in the mail asking for more money. There’s no question that John Mulaney is one of the funniest comics out there right now – and this special only makes that clearer.
5. Tig Notaro: Happy To Be Here
Tig Notaro has been a comedy legend ever since she fearlessly took the stage at Largo to joke about her recent cancer diagnosis, so everything she does from now on is basically just gravy. As far as gravy goes, her latest standup special in Netflix is pretty damn great. It’s what all the best standup is: it’s funny, it’s personal, it’s honest, it speaks from the heart. The final bit of the special is a hilarious way to end the show. It’s not a joke or bit or gag in any conventional or traditional sense, but it is a thing that a standup comic does on a stage and it is hilarious – it’s just unlike anything that anyone has ever done before. She announces that it’s the end of the show and that there’s going to be a surprise appearance by the Indigo Girls. The audience gets riled up and then the Indigo Girls don’t come on the stage. She says that they are actually there and that it was just a joke and then the audience really gets going and she invites the Indigo Girls onto the stage – and then they don’t show up. This goes on for literally like ten minutes before, lo and behold, when everyone has lost their faith that the Indigo Girls are actually there, the Indigo Girls come onto the stage and start playing!
4. Chris Rock: Tamborine
This year, Netflix gave the legendary standup comic Chris Rock his first live comedy special in ten years. The title refers to a theory that Rock has about relationships, and how if a relationship is a band, sometimes you have to play the tamborine (in other words, support your partner). Rock is often praised as an intellectual successor to Richard Pryor, who became the greatest standup comic who ever lived by finding the humor in his pain. Rock finds the humor in his divorce settlement and child custody. He’s also as honest as Pryor about how his marriage fell apart. Rock’s material about Trump is more or less what you would expect Pryor to be saying about the sitting President. His jokes about how kids need bullying and what happens when you go on vacation to a resort in the middle of a dangerous area are all hilarious. As always, Rock sets up a premise that could be controversial and then proceeds to justify his views in the most hilarious ways. You’ll never have thought that you could agree that bullying is a good thing until you’ve seen Chris Rock talk about waking up his son in the morning with a punch in the face.
3. Ricky Gervais: Humanity
In his first live standup comedy special in eight years, Ricky Gervais brings his A game. The special gets off to a slow start as Gervais dwells on his Golden Globes hosting and jokes about Caitlyn Jenner’s driving, but after that, the show really takes off. A lot of great comics these days who have always been known for their offensive material have been having to dedicate entire chunks of specials to defending their own jokes and explaining what the target is and why they didn’t say anything that offensive. Dave Chappelle has done it, and now, Ricky Gervais is doing it, which is indicative of how the recent wave of political correctness and worrying over whether or not someone’s feelings might get hurt by a joke is killing comedy. Still, pros like Chappelle and Gervais are still able to make great jokes out of defensive material. A lot of the show is dedicated to Gervais telling the audience things that people have said to him on Twitter and things that he has said back to them, but the fact that he can make this genuinely entertaining shows that the guy is a true comic genius.
2. Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife
How can you possibly top your first standup comedy special, when that special was recorded when you were seven months pregnant with your first child and that became the gimmick that sold it to a wide audience? Where can you possibly go from there? What do you do next? Well, you record your second special when you’re seven months pregnant with your second child, of course! That’s exactly what Ali Wong did this year with her latest hour of material, which is just as raw and personal and honest and ballsy as her first. She talks about being married and having a baby and raising her daughter and the gender politics of parenthood. The first special made Wong an overnight sensation, but her second special solidifies her place as a gutsy female comic with a totally unique, empowered voice. Throughout the special, she champions a handful of feminist views and ideas in hilarious ways. She talks about everything that is involved in motherhood – maternity leave, breastfeeding, balancing time with your family and work, everything – in her brilliant, skewed, idiosyncratic comic voice. It is a spectacular hour of standup comedy that continues a winning streak for the always fantastic Ali Wong.
1. Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
Comedy club green rooms are abuzz right now with conversations about Hannah Gadsby. Her new special is a real game changer. The world of standup comedy will be remembered as having a period of time that came before Gadsby’s revelatory show and a period of time that came after it. The ironic thing is that Gadsby had been using the show as a way of giving up standup comedy with a bang, but the success of the show has meant that audiences are suddenly dying to see her perform and everyone in Hollywood wants to be in the Hannah Gadsby business. But if her claims are correct and she is in fact hanging up the mic, then she’ll be leaving behind one hell of a legacy and a high benchmark to beat when she goes. The material in this show is everything that makes great standup: it is personal and honest and raw and cutting edge and relevant and, above all else, hilarious. This standup special cannot be highly recommended enough. All of those critics who are saying it’s unlike anything they have ever seen before aren’t just saying that to sound progressive and liberal – it’s an accurate summation of this special.