Perhaps the crowning achievement of any stand-up comedian is the comedy special, the definitive recording of their jokes, style, and reception at a particular time and place in their lives. Simply put, the comedy special is where careers are made. And with stand-up comedy bigger than ever in 2018, they’re important: In troubled times, the stand-up comic is equal parts judge, priest, and police officer. They've made it their jobs to stop the issues in their tracks, expound on them to a congregation, and ask their audiences, basically juries of their peers, for a final verdict.
Although they employ absurdity, hyperbole, and can sometimes be downright vulgar to make us laugh, comedians' greatest goal is to provide a space in which we can reflect on our individual lives and share in the experience of being human. Full of poise, energy, and a heaping helping of swear-words, here are the best stand-up comedy specials on Netflix (US) right now:
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
Look no further than this historic 1979 performance, shot in Long Beach, California, for evidence of why Pryor was one of the greatest of all time. No subject was safe, from his fans to himself, and the energy in the room is palpable. To his credit, Pryor earned a fifth-place nomination for Best Actor from the National Society of Film Critics for this one.
Bill Hicks: Revelations
The late Bill Hicks is at his zenith in this 1993 special. Though the Georgia-born, Houston-raised cult hero was not long for this world his impact is still felt today, from his enlightened, apocalyptic preacher-man swagger to the fact that he may or may not have faked his death and returned as Alex Jones.
Jim Gaffigan: Beyond the Pale
Though the special itself was released in 2009, Gaffigan’s Beyond the Pale album came out in 2006. People who know this one absolutely love it. Gaffigan’s particular brand of hyper-self-aware comedy works because it gets inside your head: He riffs, then riffs on what the audience might be thinking about his riff, then finds a way to fully break the fourth wall by meta-riffing on the riff-riff relationship.
John Waters: This Filthy World
Jeff Garlin directed this 2006 stand-up special/documentary from the pied piper of perversion himself, filmmaker John Waters. The writer/director of Hairspray, Cry-Baby, and so much more here reflects on his career, celebrity, and sin itself. Younger viewers may need a reference book, but no matter if you’re a new or old fan, it’s worth it to witness the legend himself exploring the state of pop culture in the mid-aughts.
Zach Galifianakis Live at the Purple Onion
Three long years before he would become the weird guy with the baby from The Hangover, the weird guy with the baby from The Hangover sat down at a piano in San Francisco and showed everyone present exactly why he was destined for stardom. Impressions, one-liners, and “performance pieces” ensue. As a bonus, check out The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie, also on Netflix, a hybrid docu-comedy special that was nothing short of a revelation for its subjects Galifianakis, Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, and Maria Bamford.
Kevin Hart: I’m a Grown Little Man
Now one of the biggest stars in stand-up and across the silver screen, Hart’s 2009 special didn’t see him at the height of his career, but it did capture his comedic chops in an unforgettable way. Don’t let the one-note height jokes in his specials’ titles dissuade you—they’re just entreés for a mainstream (read: uncreative) crowd. The dude is stupid-famous for a reason.
Gabriel Iglesias: I’m Not Fat… I’m Fluffy
Some people thumb their noses at the kind of everyman comedy Iglesias revels in, the same way it’s now so easy to call someone basic for being into Family Guy. Chuck your pretenses to the wayside: Iglesias, a.k.a., Fluffy, is one of the biggest-hearted dudes in the game.
Leslie Jones: Problem Child
About four years before her herculean success in turning around a stale and flailingSaturday Night Live, Jones appeared on stage in Hollywood and showed audiences just what she was made of. Both Ghostbusters fans and haters should take note: Jones simply doesn’t pull any punches.
John Mulaney: New in Town
The 35-year-old Mulaney is already America’s funnyman, but with the very recent release of his new Netflix stand-up special, Kid Gorgeous, he’s just getting started. With New in Town, witness the Comedy Central stand-up special where it really all began.
Iliza Shlesinger: Confirmed Kills
Shlesinger’s only gotten funnier since her 2008 victory on Last Comic Standing. Case in point is her 2016 Netflix special, which sees the Texas-born comedian skewering everything from sexual harassment to your shitty party habits.
For the picky, or for people who prefer college ball to the big leagues, this Netflix Original Series has it all: two seasons of 30-minute segments from future-superstars including Fortune Feimster, Aparna Nancherla, Kyle Kinane, and Nikki Glaser.
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