Standup comedy is arguably the purest form of humor. It’s just a person up on a stage in a dark room with a spotlight on them, speaking into a microphone, trying to make a room full of strangers laugh at them. There’s no riff raff, no frills (even though certain comedians, like Kevin Hart, like to add in the riff raff and the frills). No other comedic medium compares to standup – not sitcoms, not movies, not humor books – and perhaps that’s why the streaming service Netflix is dedicated to posting a brand new standup comedy special every single week. They’ve had some really great ones on there. They managed to get Dave Chappelle out of hiding to create not one, not two, but four brand new comedy specials – the first two of which recently won him a Grammy Award. They brought Jerry Seinfeld back into the mainstream and they got Judd Apatow back out from behind the camera. Suffice to say, Netflix has taken over HBO and Comedy Central as the leading provider of filmed standup comedy. Most recently, Chris Rock aired his latest hour-long special, Tamborine, on Netflix. In the special, Rock candidly touches on a number of important topics – parenthood, racism, infidelity, and dating, to name just a few. The trend of brilliant standup specials on Netflix will continue this year, as many great comedians are bringing their newest hour-long sets to the streaming service. Here are the 10 best comics bringing new specials to Netflix this year!
10. Kevin James
Upon first glance, it may surprise you to see Kevin James more than three feet away from Adam Sandler, but he’s breaking away from his frequent collaborator for a new standup special – his first in almost two decades (his last one was 2001’s Kevin James: Sweat the Small Stuff). The new Netflix special will be filmed at the famous Beacon Theater in New York. New York is where James got his start – he began performing standup in the late 1980s in Long Island – so it makes sense that his career would come full circle and find him back in the Empire State. Kevin James has been enjoying something of a comeback recently. His early career was marked by popular standup performances (being ranked the 89th greatest comedian of all time by Comedy Central at one point), being the lead actor of a successful sitcom, King of Queens, and starring in hugely popular movies like Hitch and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. In recent years, he’s been clawing his way back up. Since just 2016, he’s starred in the action comedy True Memoirs of an International Assassin (also released on Netflix), as well as another successful sitcom in the form of Kevin Can Wait, and now, he’s putting back in the last piece of the puzzle: standup.
9. Marlon Wayans
The Wayans brothers were the leading voices in African-American comedy around the time of Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock’s meteoric rise to become comedy royalty. The Wayans brothers have made a bunch of movies and TV shows together, and it could be argued that Marlon Wayans is the most successful and accomplished one of the lot. Not only did he co-create the Scary Movie franchise and the A Haunted House franchise and star in both of them, as well as a surprisingly dramatic role in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, but he also has his own self-title sitcom on NBC that just got renewed for a second season and he still hasn’t left the standup circuit behind. Between hilariously silly movies like Little Man and Fifty Shakes of Black, Marlon Wayans has never been too far away from the standup stage, and this year, he’s back with a new special entitled Woke-ish. Based on the title, it sounds like Wayans will spend his hour-long set tackling the new age of political correctness in the 2010s ‘woke’ era. The fact that he’s being ‘woke-ish’ suggests that he might err on the edge of being politically incorrect, which would be in line with the signature Marlon Wayans style.
8. Gad Elmaleh
The much-loved Moroccan French standup comic Gad Elmaleh is often cited as being France’s answer to Jerry Seinfeld, thanks to his lighthearted nature, his sharp observations, and his natural performing style. This connection began to become clearer when Elmaleh was chosen to voice Seinfeld’s character Barry B. Benson in the French version of the DreamWorks Animation movie Bee Movie, which was also conceived and written by Seinfeld. And then he appeared as a guest on an episode of Seinfeld’s on-the-move talk show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which introduced him to a wider stateside audience. For the past few months, he’s been performing standup on various U.S. talk shows, including Late Night with Seth Meyers and Conan. And now, that’s culminating in a new standup special on Netflix that will incorporate the material he’s been using on those shows. Elmaleh said of the new special, “For a long time, I’ve seen my favorite humorists on Netflix. Today, this is a true honor to know that I’ll soon be among them. Netflix’s vision totally fits with mine when it comes to humor and creation crossing borders.” The special will be titled Gad Elmaleh: American Dream and it’ll be released in early March.
7. Russell Brand
Russell Brand is perhaps best known for his outrageous personality, which has made synergy across many different platforms possible. He poked fun at his past addictions and subsequent recoveries in the role of Aldous Snow in the Judd Apatow productions Forgetting Sarah Marshall and its spinoff sequel Get Him to the Greek. He’s also known for his books, like his autobiographical tale of drugs and debauchery My Booky Wook and its sequel, Booky Wook 2: This Time It’s Personal, as well as his most recent work, Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions. But he’s also a standup comic – that’s more or less how he got his start. He’s a master of observational and improvisational comedy in his particular brand (no pun intended) of blue humor. He has previously released the standup specials Russell Brand: Live, Russell Brand: Doin’ Life, Russell Brand in New York, and Messiah Complex. His newest special, Russell Brand: Re:Birth, will be released on Netflix later this year, based on his latest comedy tour, which began in April 2017 and will be running until November this year, with 75 dates in total (which is quite a darn tour). Brand says the show will be mostly about parenthood since the birth of his daughter, asking: “What am I going to tell my daughter about conformity and responsibility? What happens if she grows up to be like me? Or, worse, to date someone like me?” It’ll also be interesting to see Brand’s take on Donald Trump.
6. Yoo Byung-jae
South Korea has been in the news lately, thanks to the exciting Winter Olympics. But there’s another story from South Korea to consider. One of its very talented performers, Yoo Byung-jae, is bringing a standup comedy special entitled Yoo Byung-jae: Black Comedy to Netflix. Yoo is primarily an actor and writer, rather than a standup, but he’s always been focused on comedy. He was a writer and cast member on the Korean remake of Saturday Night Live for a few seasons and he also wrote and starred in a TV series called The Superman Age about a bunch of losers who are still virgins when they’re 25 and find that it gives them superpowers. A couple of years ago, Yoo became the first ever comedian to be signed as a client by the South Korean entertainment giant YG Entertainment, who said in a statement that he is “not just a talented actor with an outstanding comical wit, but also an asset to the company as a writer who brings creative content.” Yoo’s new standup special will be an interesting watch, because he’s a really funny guy with a voice from a minority community that we unfortunately don’t often get to hear.
5. Demetri Martin
Demetri Martin is coming hot off of Dean, the first movie he directed, wrote, produced, and starred in, and now, he’s back on the standup stage for a brand new Netflix special. Martin is famous for being unconventional in his standup stylings. He wants to make you laugh with jokes and one-liners, but he also wants to make an emotional connection. As he explains it himself, “I love one-liners, I love jokes…but I also want to talk about how I feel. I want to talk about below-the-neck stuff. It’s hard – if that’s not where your head goes, it’s hard to get comedy out of that…[But] I want to dig deeper, I want to connect in a different way with the audience.” He makes jokes about American culture and everyday life and his humor was influenced by that of iconic comedian Steven Wright. Martin says this new special will mark a change in his performing style: “I’m writing more on stage, trying to get more conversational and a little more personal. I still have one-liners, and I love my jokes – they’re the backbone of what I do – but it’s different now than just having a hundred jokes and that’s the special. It’s like, is there anything more here? Is there something a little deeper I can share, without oversharing like every other asshole who is going to tell you his life story out there?” We’ll just have to wait and see.
4. Jerry Seinfeld
We got Jerry Seinfeld’s first standup comedy special in over a decade last year in the form of an hour-long piece called Jerry Before Seinfeld. In the special, he told tales from his childhood growing up in New York, as well as his early career. It was a departure from his usual witty observations about the foibles of life. It was deeper and more personal. Hopefully that will continue with his next Netflix special, which is due out this year along with new episodes of his show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Netflix’s content boss Ted Sarandos said of Seinfeld, “Jerry is known the world over as both a great TV innovator and beloved comic voice. We are incredibly proud to welcome him to the Netflix comedy family.” Seinfeld himself is happy about moving both his show and his standup comedy to the streaming giant: “When I first started thinking about Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, the entire Netflix business model consisted of mailing out DVDs in envelopes. I love that we are now joining together, both at very different points. I am also very excited to be working with Ted Sarandos at Netflix, a guy and a place that not only have the same enthusiasm for the art of standup comedy as I do, but the most amazing technology platform to deliver it in a way that has never existed before. I am really quite charged up to be moving there.” We’re charged up too, Jerry.
3. Ricky Gervais
Taking a break from hosting Golden Globe Awards ceremonies, Ricky Gervais recently underwent a world tour where he performed brand new standup material, culminating at the Eventim Apollo in London, where he filmed the show for his next special, Ricky Gervais: Humanity, which will air on Netflix later this year. The comedian previously directed, wrote, and starred in the satirical political comedy Special Correspondents for Netflix, but this will be his first exclusive standup special for the streaming giant – but not his first standup special overall. He has previously released four other standup specials from previously nationwide tours: Animals, Politics, Fame, and Science. Humanity will be the first special that he has shot on a world tour that took him outside the comfort of the UK – so it’s fitting that it will also be his first to debut on an American media platform. Ricky Gervais: Humanity will drop on Netflix on March 13 this year, and Gervais’ deal with Netflix does not end there. They’ve also bought a drama series from him, as well as a second standup special, which he admits “I haven’t even thought about yet.” But until then, at least we’ve got Humanity to look forward to.
2. Ali Wong
It’s only fitting that Ali Wong’s second standup special should be a Netflix original, since her very first one, Baby Cobra, was also exclusive to the streaming service. Baby Cobra has left behind some pretty big shoes to fill. Wong performed the set while heavily pregnant and spoke very candidly about her changing body and the realities of marriage and parenthood and the fears of becoming a new mother. She also spoke very candidly (and with graphic descriptions) about the struggles of going to the bathroom when you work in an office with other people. In her spare time, Wong appears in guest roles on episodes of Inside Amy Schumer and makes small roles in great movies like Oliver Stone’s crime thriller Savages, and her day job is writing for the show Fresh Off the Boat, which brings representation to the Asian communities in America, just like Wong does with her standup comedy. In Baby Cobra, we got a glimpse into the life of a pregnant woman who had recently married the guy of her dreams. It’s now been two years since the special was released, and in her new material, we’ll get a sense of how she’s adjusting to motherhood and married life. Maybe she will have matured as a performer (but hopefully not, since her care-free and immature style is a huge part of her charm).
1. Ellen DeGeneres
Like Jerry Seinfeld and Dave Chappelle and Judd Apatow and Chris Rock before her, Ellen DeGeneres will be the next A-list comedian to be wooed back to the stage by the prospect of a highly publicized, beautifully shot Netflix special. It all started with a simple tweet. The official Twitter account of Twitter tweeted, “Looks like it’s been 15 years since you did a stand-up special, @TheEllenShow. How about one for Netflix?” And DeGeneres must have been pretty enticed, because she didn’t need much convincing. She tweeted back, “Let me think about it. Ok I’m in.” And that’s all it was. Now, her first live standup special in a decade and a half is headed to Netflix this year. The comic herself said shortly afterwards, “It has been 15 years since I did a standup special. 15 years. And I’m writing it now, I can’t wait. I’ll keep you posted when and where I’m gonna shoot my Netflix special. I’m excited to do it; I’m excited for you to see it. And now, each one of you, you get to Netflix and chill with me. How about that?” Well, Ellen, that sounds just wonderful! No word on the release date yet, but we should hear something soon, since this announcement was almost a year ago.