While the past decade has brought an exponential rise in streaming services, none compare to Netflix’s catalog of stand-up specials. The streamer has become the go-to destination for the most popular comedians in the world. Its ubiquity has made watching stand-up easier than ever and helped launch comedy stars like John Mulaney, Hannah Gadsby and Ali Wong with high-profile specials.
But like the rest of its content, it can be hard navigating the field with so many great offerings. So if you’re in need of a laugh while scrolling through Netflix, here’s a list of some of the best stand-up comedy specials streaming right now.
Every John Mulaney special has at least a few bits that will never leave your head but “Kid Gorgeous” is a collection of some of his best. This is the special that put Mulaney on the path of comedy culture domination. Whether it’s the life-saving advice of Detective J.J. Bittenbinder or comparing the 45th president to a “horse loose in a hospital,” Mulaney’s expressive delivery in “Kid Gorgeous” solidified him as one of the defining comics of his era.
There is no way to overstate Richard Pryor’s impact on the evolution of comedy as an artistic medium. “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert” was Pryor’s first taped specials, and it’s also one of the greatest stand-up specials ever performed. Pryor jumps from topic to topic with ease, covering everything from racial tension to his own health problems. It set the template for stand-up today and it’s hard not to see how his use of physical comedy and voice work made him an inspiration for countless comics since. “Richard Pryor Live in Concert” is a masterwork of observational comedy and a true historic gem hidden in Netflix’s catalog.
While more known for her acting performances and her recent turn as the voice of Marcel the Shell, Jenny Slate’s special “Stage Fright” introduces a whole new side to the comedian. Part documentary and part stand-up special, “Stage Fright” allows Slate to depict herself as both an artist and a human being. It’s an impressive display of vulnerability pulled off by someone who knows how to find the humor in her own life but doesn’t always choose to.
To call “Inside” a stand-up special seems slightly erroneous but it fits better in that category than any other. After blossoming to fame online with his meta parody songs about life and art, Burnham returns from a five-year stand-up performing hiatus with an expertly crafted show created in his guest house during the COVID lockdown. Sometimes “Inside” is a laugh-out-loud evolution of Burnham’s comedy skills, other times it’s an exquisite film about anxiety and loneliness. The end result is Burnham’s best work and a true cultural touchstone of society’s unravelings during the pandemic.
Michelle Wolf is a comedian with some of the sharpest delivery in the business, and “Joke Show” is the ultimate testament to her skill as a writer and performer. After breaking out on the comedy scene from hosting the 2018 White House Correspondents Dinner, “Joke Show” proves Wolf has a voice that commands any room. Vulgar in all the best ways, “Joke Show” pokes laughs out of the audience the whole way through.
“Repertoire” is not just one great stand-up special; it’s four, presented in episodes, combined into one perfect set. British comedian James Acaster delivers 4 different specials that interconnect in surprising and always funny ways. Acaster knows how to grab onto a joke and never let go, whether it’s turning his undercover cop recordings into a podcast or ending an episode by playing “Auld Lang Syne” on a Stylophone without any introduction. He wanders through his sets like he never knows what’s coming next, turning every bit into a wonderful surprise.
Patton Oswalt is such a fixture in the last decade of comedy TV and stand-up that it feels like he could churn out a great special in his sleep. “Annihilation” contains some of Oswalt’s best work, written and taped in the wake of his wife’s sudden death. Oswalt finds the perfect punchline between chaos and tragedy, putting together a special that contains the best of his skills as a writer and performer.
“Nanette” put Hannah Gadsby on the international map, turning the Australian comedian into a prominent figure in the modern comedy scene. Gadsby’s special is a meditation on the performer’s relationship to comedy itself, questioning the act of making yourself the punchline and reckoning with telling jokes in an era that seems a bit too eager to laugh at marginalized people. “Nanette” is a philosophical comedy special that still finds humor in the not-always-noble pursuit of a laugh.
Chris Rock’s iconic delivery made him one of the most influential comedians of his era. He returns to stand-up for the first time in 10 years with “Tamborine,” his special expertly directed by Bo Burnham. “Tamborine” is filled with excellently crafted jokes and observations about race and parenthood with a refreshing new maturity from Rock. He puts himself in the center of his stories in a new way that proves the comedian has never stopped being able to apply his unique insights to the world around him.
“The Honeymoon Stand Up Special” is a collection of three stand-up specials featuring recently married comedians Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher. Separately the two perform according to their own strengths: Leggero’s deadpan delivery and jokes about being an expectant mother and Kasher’s chaotic and embarrassing tales of adolescence. The two come together at the end to perform a set that’s entirely crowd work where they give relationship advice to an audience member. “The Honeymoon Stand Up Special” is a fun twist on the stand-up formula that gives a chance for both comedians to take the spotlight and use their real-life chemistry to deliver some genuinely original comedy.
Hasan Minhaj rose to prominence on “The Daily Show” but in his first stand-up special he proves himself as an independent comedy talent. “Homecoming King” takes Minhaj’s experiences as the child of immigrants and turns them into a heartfelt and hilarious ode to growing up and defying everyone’s expectations. There are some brutal moments of truth hidden between Minhaj’s jokes but he crafts a consistently funny special around them. “Homecoming King” gives context to Minhaj’s political comedy by finding the human story that drives his well-crafted brand of commentary.
For an observational comedian, being an overthinker allows Demetri Martin to put out some of his best work. His wry comments and dissections are non-stop as he unravels threads you didn’t know could come undone. Interspersed with a meta internal monologue, musical interludes and his signature drawings, “The Overthinker” is everything Martin does well put into one tight and well-crafted special.
Adam Sandler might be the most well-known comedian in the world; he’s a figure that has transcended individual jokes to become a stand-in for his specific brand of comedy. “100% Fresh” is an eclectic and wonderful mix of songs, segments of stand-up and just general goofiness from Sandler. It’s one of the most chaotic and hilarious hours of comedy you will have the pleasure of watching. Sandler has managed to make a career off of having fun and there is not a single moment in “100% Fresh” when he isn’t comfortable on whatever stage he appears on.
Most people’s introduction to rising star and “Beef” headliner Ali Wong was through her first Netflix special, “Baby Cobra,” and for good reason. Performing while 7 months pregnant, the raunchy special proved Wong was a comedian to watch beyond just a gimmick. She has a voice that grabs your attention and her hilarious insights on feminism and motherhood are the work of someone who has carefully honed their craft for years to emerge as a true talent.
Introspective stand-up specials have come into fashion over the past 5 years but one of the best of the bunch is “Set Free.” English comedian and director Simon Amstell turns the format of a stand-up special into a unique space to tackle vulnerability and confront himself as a human being. Between his moments of introspection are bountiful jokes with a beautifully controlled delivery of someone who wants their audience to think while they laugh. “Are you just desperately filling the time so you don’t have to feel any more pain?” he asks of his crowd. “Well, you came to the wrong show.”
Sheng Wang delivers a joke like your funniest friend from college. He makes humor seem like a natural skill and his first Netflix special “Sweet and Juicy” is a great introduction to his relaxed style of comedy. He eases into his own maturity with the attitude of someone who buys pants from Costco. Wang is poised to become a break-out star and “Sweet and Juicy” proves that he can make laughs from any situation.
One-liners. Emotional stuff. Stand-up. These are the three sections that are interspersed in Neal Brennan’s special “3 Mics.” The co-creator of “The Dave Chappelle Show” alternates between three microphones to create one special that showcases his talent across several comedy techniques. Brennan has the delivery of someone not trying to be funny and manages to pull off vulnerability in such an insightful way that you forget it’s a performance. His ruminations on his life and career are fascinating and the format of “3 Mics” keeps the special constantly fresh.
“Legalize Everything” starts with a sketch of Eric Andrew dressed as a New Orleans police officer, ripping a bong he “stole from the evidence locker” in front of bewildered pedestrians. The ensuing special never lets up. Andre brings the energy of “The Eric Andre Show” to the stand-up stage in his first special, which is as chaotic and surreal as you would expect. “Legalize Everything” is a non-stop insane ride as Andre tells stories of his drug use while zipping and screaming across the stage. Andre takes to the new format well, solidifying his role as one of the most unhinged and unique comedians around.
“I’m not comfortable with who I am as a human being,” Daniel Sloss says at the top of “Jigsaw,” one of the two specials contained in “Daniel Sloss: Live Shows.” The Scottish comedian’s specific brand of dark humor is the product of someone who has learned to revel in taking things as far as possible while still being entertaining. It’s impressive to watch Sloss push his audience and always manage to come back, allowing people to laugh at those intrusive thoughts they’ve always denied.
Wanda Sykes has never been known to pull back and “Not Normal” is no different. The special serves as a reaction to the Trump administration and the way she sees society seem to accept a social and political climate that is anything but normal. While there are lots of easy jokes to be made at Trump’s expense, “Not Normal” is also a great display of Sykes’ incisive and well delivered jokes about her own family and America as a whole.
While not technically a stand-up special, “Middleditch and Schwartz” is one of the best pieces of live comedy on Netflix which unfortunately doesn’t appear on lists due to its niche classification. The series contains three episodes of live long-form improv comedy performed by Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz based on a story provided by an audience member. The result is some of the funniest comedy available to watch on Netflix and something truly unique that will have you dying laughing from the pure natural abilities of the two comedians. If you ever thought that improv comedy wasn’t for you, “Middleditch and Schwartz” may change your mind.