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If you’re looking for Black comedy on Netflix, your best bet is going to be its deep catalog of standup specials, which includes some of the biggest names in comedy. In the past few years, Netflix has invested heavily in its originals series, commissioning exclusives from established A-listers likes Chris Rock alongside rising stars DeRay Davis and W. Kamau Bell.
There’s still room for growth. You’ll note that there are not nearly enough women on this list, and that needs to change soon. (Hilarious Saturday Night Live vet Leslie Jones does have a special available, but frankly, it’s not a very strong outing.)
The specials featured below convert agonies and ecstasies into hilarious and often-provocative takes on the nuances of the African-American existence. Here’s the best Black comedy on Netflix.
Black comedy on Netflix: The best standup specials
Editor’s note: Dave Chappelle’s comedy specials have been removed from this list. Upon further consideration, we feel the negative impact of his commentary on the trans community outweighs the potential benefit of his insights into modern America.
1) Richard Pryor, Live in Concert
All the evidence suggesting Richard Pryor is the greatest standup comedian of all time can be found in his 1979 Live in Concert film, recently restored and brought to Netflix. Pryor mines a lifetime of personal tragedy—poverty, addiction, abuse—for comedic gold, always circling back to the topic of race. He’s so whip-smart and acidic that it’s hard to tell if you should be baffled, offended, or amused. You’re going to laugh regardless. —Bryan Rolli
Chris Rock’s first special in 10 years finds the comedian in a more contemplative mood. He offers up his thoughts on police brutality and racism, but these bits have a different weight now. Rock is a father, and the jokes filter through that lens. Tamborine is a more intimate special, and while not all his insights hit, he does open up about his life and his past mistakes in a way that balances comedy with vulnerability. —Audra Schroeder
3) Eddie Murphy, Delirious
The actual quality of Eddie Murphy’s 1983 debut feature standup film somehow feels less important than the fact that he uses the word “fuck” 230 times throughout its 70-minute runtime. Delirious is a gut-busting tour de force of profanity, as a leather-clad, hyperactive Murphy addresses AIDS, Reaganomics, and racism, and delivers spot-on impressions of Michael Jackson and James Brown. The superstar’s comedic timing and physicality are on full display in his “ice cream” bit, which remains one of the greatest gags in standup. Delirious suffers from rampant homophobia, for which Murphy has since apologized, but the rest of the special is still comedy gold. —B.R.
Not Normal is Wanda Sykes’ first Netflix special, and while it should have happened much sooner, it’s worth the wait. Sykes applies the title to Trump’s presidency and tries to make sense of our new normal, but the special picks up momentum when she gets into the intricacies and absurdities of motherhood, aging, feminism, racism, and reality TV. It’s a solid hour and a perspective we need. Give us the Wandaverse. —A.S.
5) DeRay Davis, How To Act Black
DeRay Davis’ long-overdue streaming special places the raw and unapologetic comedian on a course for stardom. Refreshing and honest, the comic takes on his Hollywood adventures and breaks down race, police violence, the nuances of relationships, and even Harambe. —Kahron Spearman
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6) W. Kamau Bell, Private School Negro
W. Kamau Bell wants you to know the president is certifiably racist in his new one-hour Netflix standup special, Private School Negro. The comedian Bell has no problem choosing his words, and it’s refreshing to hear someone in the entertainment industry not dance around the themes being played out in the headlines daily. Bell uses that friction as a foundation to explore topics like Blackness, fatherhood, and what it’s like to be expecting a third child in the current political climate. But then he fires up an impromptu singalong or chats with audience members. In the end, his inclusive set proves a welcome reminder that it doesn’t take very much for us all to get on the same page. —Christine Friar
7) Gina Yashere, The Standups, season 2
Gina Yashere’s 28-minute set is one of standouts from season 2 of The Standups, Netflix’s showcase of up-and-coming comedians. Born in London but now based in the U.S., Yashere has a unique vantage point for the current state of affairs. But her blistering set eviscerates more than just Trump, tackling American TV shows, high school prom, the South, and the difficulty of being a Black woman in Hollywood, auditioning for “ghetto hoochie no. 3.” Netflix needs to find more voices like hers to spotlight. —Austin Powell
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8) Hannibal Buress, Comedy Camisado
If you didn’t know who Hannibal Buress was before 2014, you definitely learned his name after his explosive Bill Cosby routine went viral, causing the media to more closely investigate the myriad rape accusations levied against the star. Duress addresses the Cosby incident during Comedy Camisado, but he doesn’t dwell on it. Instead, he works through material about zippers and the family benefits of steroid use with a bemused and leisurely drawl, possessing the quiet confidence of a comedian who’s honed his craft for years and has earned his newfound fame. —B.R.
9) Reggie Watts, Spatial
Watts’ standup is typically part existential exploration, part beat-making, but in this special, we even get a surreal play that will make you never want to cohabitate again. Watts switches streams often but always keep the humor absurd. “This is an experimental show,” he remarks. “You might not even see this on Netflix.” –A.S.
10) Michael Che, Michael Che Matters
Michael Che found his groove as an anchor on SNL’s Weekend Update, and he’s at his best when he’s being honest and flipping expectations. He expands on that in his first Netflix special, breaking down racial slurs, musing on language that’s gotten him in trouble, and imagining being friends with Donald Trump. –A.S.
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11) Tracy Morgan, Staying Alive
There are some jokes that wheel back to others, but the special ends up being a therapeutic session for all to see. He’ll make a wildly filthy zinger about Caitlyn Jenner: “I’ll fuck the shit out of her—I’ll get her pregnant!” Then in an instant, he’s making you laugh about his deep depression, and his wife, Megan, pulling him through the darkness. Through the vulgarity, there’s a new softness and understanding. Morgan finds humor riffing about men being emotionally stunted. He says it in a way that’s more cautionary life lesson, and it’s powerful. —K.S.
Kevin Hart treads familiar territory in Irresponsible, his first Netflix special following a string of successful theatrical releases. His self-deprecating approach to most of his jokes still works, and his penchant for repeating phrases until they wear you down is as sharp as ever. The comedian presents himself as an open book, mostly talking about his family and sprinkling in stories where he puts himself in a ridiculous situation that gets progressively more absurd. Hart has fine-tuned his technique and writing style over time, but he’s more or less the same guy in Irresponsible as he was in 2009’s I’m a Grown Little Man. —Eddie Strait
13) Trevor Noah, Afraid of the Dark
The Daily Show host’s first Netflix special finds him in New York City, offering up quick and dirty observations on his adopted city. The South African comic uses comparisons of his home and New York for foundational, scene-building material, but he really shines when he breaks out of that formula and gets a little more political. Noah’s personal history informs this as well, and his musings on Trump, immigration, racism, and tolerance urge us to think globally—and outside our bubble. —A.S.
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14) Katt Williams, Great America
In Katt Williams’ Great America, “it’s fucked up” is his mantra, and it also describes America’s state of affairs. But this is nothing new to Williams. As a 20-year veteran of standup, his routines have become synonymous with a brutally honest Black perspective. It’s tragic yet hilarious. —Adam Weightman
15) Lucas Brothers, On Drugs
The Lucas delivery method is something like improv; they’re always yes-anding each other, adding affirmations after delivering a line. That makes the flow of the set more conversational and applies some dramatic tension to a joke about bringing the movie Scream to a Black Panthers party, and being stopped by a cop with a gun who, it turns out, just wanted a selfie. “So we took the picture with him,” comes the punchline. “Because he had a gun.” —A.S.
Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Kahron Spearman is a music and film critic whose work can also regularly be regularly found in the Austin Chronicle.