By Rick Marshall


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For most comedians, stand-up is revered as the purest expression of the art form.Though onstage comedy dates back to ancient Greece, contemporary stand-up has its roots in American vaudeville shows and the British music halls of the 19th century. From Mark Twain to Kevin Hart, talented orators: regardless of style, race, or gender: have entertainedaudiences with laughter across the centuries.

These days, you don’t have to buy tickets or DVDs to see good comedy:you can stream it straight to your brain from your internet pipeline. Netflix boasts an impressive collection of stand-up specials, and we’ve put togetherthis list (in no particular order) featuring some of the best stand-up on the platform.

For more laughs, try our picks for the best comedies on Netflix. If none of this piques your interest, check out this month’s new Netflix additions.

Hannah Gadsby: ‘Nanette’

Widely regarded as one of the most groundbreaking, unique, and powerful stand-up specials in recent years,Nanette might very well be the last performance we get from Australian comic Hannah Gadsby, who uses the show to deconstruct the very nature of stand-up comedy and the human experience. As hysterically funny as it is emotionally raw, the special debuted on Netflix in June 2018 to critical acclaim (it currently holds a 100-percent “Fresh” rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes) and almost immediately inspired countless think pieces celebrating Gadsby’s surprisingly layered exploration of LGBTQ issues, gender, mental health, and even art history. The brilliance ofNanette is best understood when you go into it without knowing too much about how the special unfolds, so we’ll leave it at that and hope to see you on the other side.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Jerry Seinfeld: ‘Jerry Before Seinfeld’

So, what is the deal with airplane food?Netflix threw a reported$100 million at Jerry Seinfeld for streaming rights to his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffeeseries and two stand-up specials, and the comedian’s first effort is a return to his comedy roots.Jerry Before Seinfeldexplores the comedian’s early stand-up career before he became an icon with his titular sitcomin the 1990s.The special is part documentary, part stand-up, and all hilarious confirmation that Seinfeld’s brand of humor is timeless. If you’re a die-hardSeinfeldfanwho can stand laughing for nearly an hour, Jerry Before Seinfeld needs to be in your Instant Queue.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Michael Che: ‘Michael Che Matters’

In his hourlong Netflix special, theSaturday Night Live comedian throws you into the most uncomfortable situations and guides you outalong a trail of jokes. The sullen face andsharp wit that power Che’s SNLWeekend Updatebits are on full display as he tackles racism, gun control, and the confusing theory that evil people from different eras go to the same hell. You know, all of the tough topics we all think about. Che’s subject matter: and his lack of political correctness: is definitely liable to offend some people, but we’d rather see him confront such issues than skirt around them.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Kevin Hart: ‘What Now?’

Anyone who told you that stand-up comedy and action films have nothing in common clearly never watched Kevin Hart’slatestspecial. Hart is as physically active onstage as anyone you’ll find, and the first 15 minutes of his 2016 performance sees him pissing Don Cheadle off during a game of poker, fighting evil henchmen with Halle Berry, and cleaning blood off himself before jettisoning from under the Lincoln Financial Field stage in Philadelphia. Once he starts, it’s an avalanche of humorous tidbits about his son being afraid of a glow-in-the-dark Batman, a scary experience while viewing The Conjuring, and what exactly a “preemie week” is.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Aziz Ansari: ‘Buried Alive’

Aziz Ansari’sexplosive energy and excellent comedic timing help make this special one of our favorites, and he supplements hisnatural comedic tendencies with a real dedication to research and writing. Though fans ofParks and Rec know Ansari best as the hyperactive Tom Haverford, his stand-up specials: and his popular scripted Netflix seriesMaster of None:display the diverse writing chops that go along with his natural talent. Whether he’s in the middle of a well-rehearsed monologue or takingquick-witted jabs at the spectators in the front row, he always seems within himself and on top of his game.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Tig Notaro: ‘Happy to Be Here’

If you’re unfamiliar with Tig Notaro, get familiar, because she’s both a wickedly funny comedian and an inspiration to cancer patients everywhere. In 2012, following a breast cancer diagnosis, Notaro took to the stage to air her grievances in a legendary set at L.A’s Largo club. Later, despite the fact that Louis C.K. sold copies of that Largo performance to raise money for Notaro, she used her series One Mississippi as a platform tocall upon women to make their voices heard, prompting investigations that submarined C.K.’s career. InHappy to Be Here, as the title implies,Notaro is more jovial than ever, happily joking about her gender identity and performing bits of goofy physical comedy without any hint of hesitation. It’s both hilarious and heartwarming, and if you like comedy, you should see it.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Fred Armisen: ‘Standup for Drummers’

Rarely (if ever) will you see a stand-up special targeted toward such a niche subject or group of people. Fred Armisen: he ofSaturday Night LiveandPortlandia fame: doesn’t care. As the drummer and bandleader for Seth Meyers’ late-night house band (and, formerly, Chicago punk outfit Trenchmouth), Armisen is uniquely equipped to write drumming-related jokes, which he does with expertise and aplomb. The special is also definitely funny for the drumming impaired, thanks to Armisen’s incredible physical comedy abilities and his generally hilarious vibe, but most of the jokes will land better for those who hit stuff with sticks for a living.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Bill Burr: ‘I’m Sorry You Feel That Way’

This black-and-white Netflix exclusive is amicrocosm of Bill Burr’s comedy: Simple, honest, and straight to the point. Burr dispenses with the preshow theatrics that dot many contemporary comedy specials, and gets right down to business. In this case, “business” is 80 minutes of Burr saying whatever he wants, and it’s absolutely hilarious. Despite the title, Bill reallydoesn’t care how you feel about, well, pretty much anything. He’s uniformly unafraid of broaching topics like how local weather affectsinterracial relationships (his wife is black), and his borderline-arrogant attitude works to drive the show forward. Burr is simultaneously approachable and intimidating, with a fast-paced New England accent that perfectly underlines his comedic style.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Chris Rock: ‘Tamborine’

The first of two comedy specials Rock will produce for Netflix as part of a very lucrative deal,Tamborinecombines the kind of social awareness we’ve come to expect from contemporary stand-up performances with some more intimate, sensitive material. The first half of the program sees Rock skewering the “All Lives Matter” movement and commenting on the experience of being black in contemporary America; he hits mostly familiar notes, but with the same verve and vocal affectations that shot him to stardom in the first place. Later, he considers his personal shortcomings, exploring the many reasons behind his marriage’s failure, including admissions of a borderline porn addiction and a tendency toward arrogance. It’s an uneven show (directed by Bo Burnham), but if you like Rock’s comedy, it should hit home.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Sarah Silverman: ‘A Speck of Dust’

While Sarah Silverman hasn’t completely abandoned the shock-value jokes that put her on the map: and, let’s be real, she probably never will: A Speck of Dust sees the now-40-something comedian slowing her roll a bit, mixing some charm and sincerity into the acid vat. Silverman’s newest offering touches on a litany of personal subjects, including the death of a beloved pet, and imbues some of her routines with a biting sense of self-awareness that effectively serves new material while deconstructing the old. If you’re here for the gross-out punchlines, they’re still around, but it no longer feels like the focus of her comedy, and we appreciate it.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Dave Chappelle: ‘The Age of SpinandDeep in the Heart of Texas’

Nearly 17 years after taking the comedy world by storm with his legendary special,Killin’ Them Softly, Dave Chappelle returned to the stage with two hourlong stand-up performances released exclusively through Netlix. The specials, which constitute Chappelle’s first televised comedy work in more than a decade, prove that one of America’s funniest and most iconic laugh miners still has “it.” InThe Age of Spin, recorded at the Hollywood Palladium, Chappelle details his four encounters with O.J. Simpson and riffs on the Bill Cosby scandal.Deep in the Heart of Texas, on the other hand,sees the unpredictable comic tackling more controversial topics, like gender identity and racial tensions, as only he can. Across both specials, the message is clear: Chappelle doesn’t care what you think, and he won’t neuter himself for the sake of political correctness.

Watch themnow on:

Netflix

Jim Gaffigan: ‘Mr. Universe’

Jim Gaffigan Mr. Universe

While Jim Gaffigan’s first stand-up specials,Beyond the PaleandKing Baby, focused more on his eating habits,Mr. Universe sees the affable comic switching gears to talk more about … uh … his eating habits. Gaffigan, who was oncenamed “The King of Clean” by the Wall Street Journal for his family-friendly subject matter, returns to the stage with more than an hour of jokes that fit seamlessly into his wheelhouse.Mr. Universe does achieve more balance than his previous shows, however, with Gaffigan leaning less on his famous “voice” (a soft falsetto he uses to criticize his own material as it’s performed) and showcasing material that’s more diverse than ever.The show closes with a riotous bit wherein Gaffigan speaks to an American Expressrepresentative over the phone, while continually breaking the fourth wall.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Jim Jefferies: ‘Bare’

If you’re sensitive about coarse language, you might want to skip this one. Australian comedian Jim Jefferies is no stranger to offensive comedy: hewas even onceassaulted onstage by an angry fan. The attack didn’t deter Jefferies, though: it simply propelled him to new levels of popularity and vulgarity.Bare, Jefferies’ sixth stand-up special, features some of his finest and most deplorable work to date. His liberal use of certain volatile expletives lends a certain edge to his comedy, as does his subject matter.Bare runs the gamut from typical stand-up material (relationships and sex) to outlandish jokes centered around Paralympic pariah Oscar Pistorius, who was famously convicted of murdering his girlfriend. You might not agree with Jefferies or even like him, but you have to respect hischops.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Anthony Jeselnik: ‘Thoughts and Prayers’

Anthony Jeselnik mines laughs by making fun of things that many comedians consider to beoff limits. His Comedy Central series,The Jeselnik Offensive, routinely tackled taboo topics in hilarious fashion (and received positive reviews) before being canceled in 2013 due to low ratings. Jeselnik’s solo outingThoughts and Prayershit Netflix in 2015 with a bang. The show finds Jeselnik in rare form, as he makes the audience laugh at jokesin about such taboo subjects as theBoston Marathon bombing and 9/11. Jeselnik’s sneering visage and confidence-bordering-on-arrogance persona serves him well, as he tells the audience, “I’ve had shows go very, very badly … Doesn’t matter to me at all.” Luckily, if you hate him, you can just move on.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

John Mulaney: ‘Kid Gorgeous at Radio City’

John Mulaney Kid Gorgeous at Radio City

Following the overwhelming success of his first two specials: New in Town andThe Comeback Kid: former SNL writer John Mulaney hit the big-time, as evidenced by the sellout crowd packing New York’s iconic Radio City Music Hall for his third taped performance (the second made specifically for Netflix). This time around, age has begun to catch up to Mulaney, who laments his body’s transformation into the “gross” period of life while acknowledging that he still kinda looks like a giant child. Thanks in part to some other comedic ventures that registered as both successes (Big Mouth) and failures (his short-lived sitcomMulaney), the comic is sharper than ever here, mixing swaths of new subject matter in with his trademark self-deprecation.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Trevor Noah: ‘African-American’

If you only know Trevor Noah as the host of Comedy Central’sThe Daily Show, you might be surprised by his stand-up chops. While Noah’s patient, punchline-driven comedic style is consistent with his on-screen persona, his onstage material toes that line more than it ever does on live television. Predictably, Noah spends the majority of the show opining about race relations in America. The very act of being “black” is a curious thing for Noah,a product of his mixed-race identity and emigration from South Africa, who crafts a patchwork on-screen identity based uponthe many different aspects of “blackness” that he encounters in the United States. Unlike themore nihilistic jokesters that pepper this best-of list, Noah makes his living with observational comedy that fits his relaxed demeanor.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Todd Glass: ‘Act Happy’

Let’s get this out of the way: Todd Glass’ style of comedy is not for everyone. The oddball comic’s first Netflix special opens on his tour bus, as Glass addresses his “band,” encouraging them to treat the tiny Lyric Theater as if it were a … slightly less tiny theater. Glass’ show is half super-scripted, Bo Burnham-style performance art and half car-crash ad-libbing. He’s unafraid to go on ridiculous tangents and improvise wildly, involving the crowd in ways that few comedians even attempt. Glass’ subject matter ranges from the extremely mundane (a woman’s candy-eating habits on a plane flight) to the extremely personal (his struggles with sexual identity and his heart attack), but it’s all infused with the same unbridled energy that makes him a joy to watch perform.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Richard Pryor: ‘Live in Concert’

Richard Pryor Live in Concert

Pryor’s no-holds-barred, profanity-laced comedic style influenced an entire generation of actors and stand-up comedians, as did the legendary stand-up filmLive in Concert. Pryor’s physical, high-energy brand of comedy brings his jokes to life, as the troubled comic all but jumps off the screen.Live in Concert plays far better on a screen than it does through a set of speakers, as Pryor’s hyper-dramatized facial expressions truly bringhis jokes to life. His manic mimicry is at its best when he’s joking about his own life, from snorting cocaine in front of grandma to stepping in the ring with Muhammad Ali. Nearly 40 years later, Pryor’s classicset holds up.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

Ali Wong: ‘Hard Knock Wife’

As you might have guessed by reading this far, women are depressingly underrepresented both in stand-up comedy as a whole and in Netflix’s library. Reprising her extremely-pregnant role fromBaby Cobra, the 2016 Netflix special which shot her to stardom, Wong riffs on the difficulties of pregnancy and parenting with no regard for the stomachs of her audience. “Motherhood is a wack-ass job,” she tells us while primed to pump out kid No. 2 at any second. She’s similarly uninterested in riding the fence of political correctness, addressing questions of race and gender with brutal honesty befitting her high-octane style. Her comedy isn’t for everyone, but it’s undeniably powerful.

Watch it now on:

Netflix

‘The Standups’

This might be cheating, but we couldn’t in good conscience leave The Standups off our list. Rather than a single special from one comedian, this is an episodic show: two six-episode seasons are available to stream: that showcases a new comic for 30 minutes a stretch. Some are better than others, but they’re all worth watching, and they require a significantly shorter time commitment than the majority of our picks here. In particular, the episodes with Kyle Kinane and Aparna Nancherla are highlights of season 2, while Dan Soder stands out in the first season.

Watch it now on:

Netflix


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