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Finding the best standup specials on Netflix all depends on your mood. Do you want dark? Political? Mainstream? Jeff Dunham?
In the past few years, Netflix has stepped into the standup market with its own original comedy specials, but it’s still home to dozens of must-see classics and more contemporary offerings to fit any mood. If you need a quick laugh, start here. Here are the best standup specials on Netflix.
The best standup specials on Netflix
1) Sarah Silverman, A Speck of Dust
Silverman’s debut Netflix special finds her in a contemplative mood: She explores a near-death experience, losing people she loves, a whopper of a question about God, and the slow erasure of women’s rights. Yes, there are poop jokes, too. —Audra Schroeder
2) Ali Wong, Baby Cobra
Wong filmed this Netflix special when she was nearly eight months pregnant and devotes a good part to addressing taboos and double standards regarding women and pregnancy. Nothing is off limits, from sexuality to stereotypes, but Wong also drives home a point about women in comedy, and where motherhood fits in. –A.S.
3) Hasan Minhaj, Homecoming King
Minhaj’s first Netflix special is a touching, incisive, and physical experience. The Daily Show correspondent riffs on immigration, family, and the emotional heft of 9/11. He covers every inch of the stage and eschews a mic in favor of eye contact, making the special more of a one-man show in which he addresses the audience and beyond. —A.S.
In her new Netflix special, Nanette, Hannah Gadsby isn’t serving one-liners; she’s often setting up arguments and theories or braiding personal and observational. She reassesses her self-deprecating style, especially as someone who already exists in the “margins,” and questions whether it’s time to quit comedy. Gadsby constantly tests the joke structure that rests on setup-punchline and attacks those ingrained ideas about how comedians must turn pain into jokes. Nanette doesn’t end on a joke or big laugh; this is Gadsby “controlling the tension,” but also her story. —A.S.
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. —A.S.
Hard Knock Wife is a lot of things: an exploration of fame; an indictment of American healthcare and its lack of maternity leave; an illustration of the body horror of motherhood. But this is Ali Wong’s take, so she’ll tell you up front that sometimes, when you’re breastfeeding, a duct will become clogged, resulting in “a kidney stone in your titty.” It’s a line that might make you involuntarily grab your own, and a good portion of Hard Knock Wife explores the intricacies and indignities of motherhood. She unravels the fantasy versus the reality; being a stay-at-home mom is not ideal when you’re in “solitary confinement” with a “human Tamagotchi.” She likens joining a new moms’ group to linking up for survival in The Walking Dead. Breastfeeding is “chronic, physical torture,” and her daughter is the bear in The Revenant. She deftly plays the two sides of being told she’ll need diapers after giving birth—for herself. Wong isn’t ragging on motherhood for laughs; these are things she and so many other women learned on their own, through trial and error, and Wong subtly plays up the loneliness, confusion, and despair of being a new mom. —A.S.
7) Norm Macdonald, Hitler’s Dog, Gossip & Trickery
Hitler, suicide, the moon landing, dogs: Macdonald’s special has it all. The comedian is a master of the blunt-force punchline and his material can be divisive, but here we see Macdonald older and more introspective. “I’m trying to be a better person,” he says towards the end; then he uses that line to launch into a joke about murdering his family. The journey from A to B is part of the thrill. —A.S.
8) Bill Hicks, Sane Man
Bill Hicks’ standup has been picked apart for its prescience about politics and stupidity, but his 1989 special looks very much of the time, filmed in Austin, Texas, just as Hicks was starting to ascend. Sane Man is a bit experimental, which only adds to Hicks’ passionate bits about drugs, smokers’ rights, porn, hijacking a plane, flag-burning, and how Dick Clark is the antichrist. —A.S.
Live from Radio City, John Mulaney delivers his fourth special. Mulaney has proven himself to be reliably and consistently funny, and Kid Gorgeous feels of a piece with prior specials The Comeback Kid and New in Town. Mulaney riffs on the silliness of school assemblies, college, and recalls his time as a writer for Saturday Night Live. After being a darling of comedy nerds for nearly a decade, Mulaney is proving that the hype is justified. —E.S.
10) Colin Quinn, The New York Story
Quinn delivers the story of his hometown like a caffeinated history teacher, checking off decades and boroughs and ethnicities. It’s an immigrant story, but also a look at New York City’s ever-changing landscape. The standard setup/punchline combo does not apply here. –A.S.
11) Amy Schumer, The Leather Special
In her first Netflix special, a leather-clad Schumer muses on fame, male and female anatomy, body image, and gun control. She also compares part of her anatomy to the Upside Down from Stranger Things. —A.S.
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12) Jen Kirkman, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)
Jen Kirkman’s 2015 Lance Bangs-directed Netflix special explores divorce, childlessness, and aging, but there’s no bitter aftertaste. Kirkman adds her unique viewpoint to every story, and expertly builds up and tears down a joke, poking holes in supposed norms about marriage and family. She’s just holding a mirror up to society, man. —A.S.
13) The Standups, seasons 1 and 2
Over the last year Netflix has debuted a run of specials from marquee comedians, names that are big enough to warrant multiple specials and often, on the backend, critiques about their worldviews and ideologies. The Standups proposes a different kind of marquee. The second season showcases mid-tier acts with smaller fanbases and gives them 30 minutes to work with. Filmed last fall in Los Angeles, the second season spotlights Aparna Nancherla, Joe List, Rachel Feinstein, Gina Yashere, Brent Morin, and Kyle Kinane, comedians who each have their own audience but could overlap audiences too. It also feels more timely than other marquee Netflix specials. —A.S.
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. —A.W.
15) 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
The title of Tig Notaro’s first Netflix special could have a few different meanings, but that’s probably by design. Notaro’s comedy has always leaned on wordplay and language; Happy to Be Here could be referencing the traditional standup greeting or it could be applied more broadly to existence. Filmed in Houston, Texas, and executive produced by Ellen DeGeneres, Happy to Be Here is Notaro’s first standup special since 2015’s special Boyish Girl Interrupted. She again plays with words and meaning, admitting early in the set that she’s mistaken for a man once a week, but she now has an equalizing retort. A bit about talking to her cat goes on a thrilling linguistic journey and abruptly turns a corner when her wife, fellow comedian and actor Stephanie Allynne, warns her not to accidentally hang the cat while playing with it. These situations might seem unremarkable, but Notaro finds the glimmer of absurdity within each. —A.S.
17) 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.
18) Maria Bamford, Old Baby
It’s segmented into standup sets in living rooms and bookstores, on sidewalks, and in front of her husband, artist Scott Marvel Cassidy. With no traditional stage, Bamford is able to fold her natural surroundings into the sets. She discusses making it in Hollywood and the struggle of true love and acceptance next to a fluffy tree, which she later hides behind. That scene segues into a living room, as Bamford enters like it’s a sitcom. It’s two Marias, separated ostensibly by one wall. —A.S.
19) Garfunkel & Oates, Trying to be Special
The musical duo (Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome) goes meta. Trying to be Special is a special about funding a special, and in between, there are songs about pregnant women, handjobs, and egg-freezing. —A.S.
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21) Neal Brennan, 3 Mics
Broken up into three segments, Neal Brennan’s 3 Mics is a master class in storytelling, emotional arcs, and one-liners. The Chappelle’s Show co-creator talks about depression, family, success, failure, and swings the mood wherever the set takes him. —A.S.
22) 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.
While you might be familiar with the comedian’s work from her roles on The Kroll Show or Brooklyn Nine-Nine, what you might not know is that Peretti is a “direct vessel of god.” In her Netflix special, Peretti takes her absurdity to the next level with legendary jokes that deal with ego and hot girls who use the hashtag #nomakeup on Instagram. —Greg Seals
24) Iliza Shlesinger, Confirmed Kills
Shlesinger is a Netflix favorite, and her confirmed specials now sit at three. In Confirmed Kills, she offers observations on body image, feminism, and party goblins. She’s a physical comic, and her dizzying rainbow of voices is on full display. –A.S.
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25) 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.
Harith Iskander is Malaysia’s “godfather of standup.” His work, which made him the Laugh Factory’s Funniest Person in the World in 2016, is an extension of personal and cultural experiences as an outsider. This is a good introduction—a mix of crowd work, goofy observational bits, and personal stories. He has the easy confidence that comes with over 25 years of experience. There’s an extended bit about “Singaporeans do it like this, and Malaysians do it like this.” The crowd guffaws at the light cultural jabs, and you’ll laugh at how universal his stuff can be. —Eddie Strait
Comedian Hari Kondabolu will tell you up front that his comedy “isn’t for everyone.” In his debut Netflix special, it’s not so much a warning as a challenge, as he invites the audience to hear him out about race, representation, and how South Asian people love mangoes. Though some of his bits and stories meander or don’t offer much pay off, one story about being heckled by Tracy Morgan offers some insight about his own comedy. —A.S.
28) David Cross, Making America Great Again
It would certainly be interesting to see how this special would shake out if filmed after the election, but Cross doesn’t hold his tongue. He goes after Trump’s America, gun lobbyists, and Republicans’ stance on immigration, and ties it all up with a bit involving a Restoration Hardware catalog that will really rile you up. —A.S.
Netflix’s recent standout standup special, Mo Amer: The Vagabond, features the emergent Palestinian-American comedian (full name: Mohammed Amer) in full bloom and in full command of his talents. The Dave Chappelle-approved comic tackles identification, code-switching, and “Mohammed” keychains, and he revisits his viral run-in with Eric Trump—which resulted from a flight upgrade. The Vagabond features a rising comedian who’s put in the work and is ready for the bright lights. —K.S.
30) 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.
31) Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Before Seinfeld
Jerry Before Seinfeld is dated by default, as the comedian revisits the material he crafted in his first five years of standup. Anybody even vaguely familiar with his record-smashing eponymous sitcom should recognize his bits about men being magnetically drawn to other men working on things in the neighborhood, or arbitrarily deeming the middle finger an offensive gesture. (“I try to remember I’m only one finger away from a compliment, so it’s not that bad!”) But the special’s biographical nature also allows Seinfeld to weave the story of his own beginnings into his time-honored gags, as well as several fascinating cutaways that give viewers some insight into the comedian’s upbringing. —B.R.
32) Anthony Jeselnik, Thoughts and Prayers
Jeselnik caught flak for tweeting out a joke the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, so he devoted his Netflix special to exploring the refrain we’ve seen in the wake of countless tragedies, especially from politicians: My thoughts and prayers are with ______. “Do you know what that’s worth?” he asks. “Fucking nothing.” Jeselnik’s line of attack is slow and controlled. —A.S.
33) Aditi Mittal, Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say
Mittal’s the first Indian woman to star in a Netflix special, and for many in America, it’s an introduction to the comedian. She confidently holds forth on Bollywood, dating, Indian culture, stereotypes, family, and feminism; she goes bilingual and slips into character for the second half. Mittal gets to say whatever she wants here. —A.S.
34) Russell Peters, Almost Famous
Don’t let the title fool you. Peters is a legit success, and he uses this special to look back at all the stamps on his passport and offer up his observations. Peters is known for his crowd work, but he’s perfected it here, riffing on stereotypes and occupational hazards. —A.S.
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35) Tom Segura, Disgraceful
Tom Segura is by no means a political comic: He spends most of his time focusing his recent weight loss, becoming a new dad, and buying porn for his friends back when he was an old-looking teen. But he also seems acutely aware that in 2018, an American comedian can’t really upload a one-hour performance to a major streaming service without addressing our broader cultural climate in some way. Like Dave Chappelle did in his own Netflix specials earlier this month, Segura seems tickled at how quickly our standards of behavior can change. But #MeToo has created a set of circumstances that can be powerful for comedy in the right hands, and he’s leaning into the challenge. —Christine Friar
Filmed in Montreal over the summer, The Return finds Apatow back onstage for the first time in 25 years, and he certainly has more experience to pull from. Apatow has that “Melissa McCarthy shitting money” now, so he can comfortably regale his audience with stories about desperately trying to make President Obama laugh. This is 50. —A.S.
37) 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.
38) Bo Burnham, Make Happy
You’re right to be wary of the label “musical comedy,” but Burnham’s sense of humor expands beyond that. With Make Happy, Burnham takes aim at fragility with “Straight White Male,” trolls with the searing “Kill Yourself,” and muses on the life of Kanye. –A.S.
Netflix continues shifting the sands of the hourglass with The Comedy Lineup, which sees 15-minute sets from eight comedians: Michelle Buteau, Sabrina Jalees, Tim Dillon, Jak Knight, Ian Karmel, Taylor Tomlinson, Phil Wang, and Sam Jay. The program feels more timely than many hourlong specials, and with four women on the lineup, there is more pronounced commentary on sexual assault and #MeToo. Michelle Buteau assures men that “nobody wants to see your dick,” while Sabrina Jalees addresses the predator purge via a squirrel analogy. Karmel gets especially meta when he challenges one idea about the structure of a comedy show, telling the audience that he knows a set has to end with some “really big joke” because that’s the “social contract” we’ve all entered into. But is that really what you want? —A.S.
40) Carlos Ballarta, El Amor es de Putos
Do you know about the intricacies of public transportation in Mexico City? Carlos Ballarta explains it well. In his hourlong special, the Mexican comedian holds forth on relationships, national identity, the mechanics of riding the bus, and why Trump’s proposed wall will fail. His vibe is a bit reminiscent of Mitch Hedberg, but he’s more of a storyteller, dude. —A.S.
Patton Oswalt’s follow-up to 2016’s Talking For Clapping starts off with some jokes about Trump, but it doesn’t linger there. He adds in jokes about robocalls and genetic testing, but Patton Oswalt: Annihilation takes its time getting to the true annihilation. Oswalt uses the second half to explore grief and loss after his wife’s unexpected death and opens up the special beyond just setups and punchlines. The filthy closing bit is a beautiful tribute. —A.S.
The three-part special, taped in Austin, Texas, last November, finds Moshe Kasher and Natasha Leggero musing on impending parenthood as well as the extended honeymoon phase of their marriage, their upbringings, and Leggero’s conversion to Judaism. After individual sets by Leggero and Kasher, they reconvene for the third act of the show, which involves them roasting couples as a (very informal) form of therapy. —A.S.
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43) Todd Glass, Act Happy
Todd Glass keeps his energy up, jumping from topic to topic, often starting a joke and abandoning the punchline in favor of a new one on Act Happy. He covers house-flipping shows, flossing, pigeons, and admits he has a song prepared in case he doesn’t have enough material. It appears he does have enough material, but sometimes a lack of focus hinders the delivery. Two highlights: He does a spot-on Brian Regan impression in a bit about man caves and channels Rodney Dangerfield doing Mitch Hedberg jokes, which I could have watched for another 15 minutes. —A.S.
44) Jim Jefferies, This Is Me Now
The title of the special could be broadly applied: This is a comic at 40 looking at his place in life. But a story about parenting his 4-year-old son provides another application. Elsewhere, Jefferies addresses his battle with depression and how it also affected his father, balancing out the more button-pushing jokes. However, he manages to tie his gun control bit into a story about performing at a birthday party for Mariah Carey’s boyfriend James Packer with such precision, you almost don’t see it coming. —A.S.
45) 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
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. We have also removed Louis C.K. in light of his history of sexual harassment.
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.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.