Because we can all use a few more laughs lately.
We could all spend a little more time laughing. And what’s better than unwinding in front of the tube and spending a night in with some amazing comedians? Luckily you no longer need to scour Comedy Central lineups or invest in a premium cable subscription to find some top-shelf comedy specials. Some of the best comics in the game have their acts streaming now on Netflix and we’ve picked some of our favorites.
There are plenty of fresh faces on tap, like Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, whose breakout show Nanette has been heralded as a redefining moment for the traditional comedy special, and Hasan Minhaj whose heartfelt Homecoming King touches on the pain and promise of growing up as an American of color. Of course, there’s a bevy of acts from some well-established greats who have been bringing down the house for decades. Chris Rock’s latest set Tamborine has everything that made viewers fall in love with him in the first place — his energy, his charisma, his biting racial commentary — and a contemplative look at aging and parenting, while Norm Macdonald bids a last farewell in Nothing Special, a set Netflix released after the stand-up legend’s death, which was filmed during his fight with cancer.
There’s a little something for everyone in the mix. Looking for some truly dirty humor? Try Ali Wong’s 2016 special Baby Cobra. Or want something the whole family can watch? Check out Jim Gaffigan, the so-called “king of clean” comedy’s Cinco. In the mood for something a little more fringe, a bit more experimental? Stream Bo Burnham’s pandemic-era masterpiece, Inside.
Browse our picks for the best in stand-up along with a look at why these sometimes eye-opening, occasionally provocative, and always remarkably hilarious specials are worth a watch. So sit back, relax, and prepare to laugh your asses off.
10 Best Stand-Up Comedy Specials Streaming on Netflix Right Now
The former SNL writer is at his best here, performing in front of a fully engaged audience at Radio City Music Hall. Kid Gorgeous captures all of Mulaney’s charm — his self-effacing style, his often bitter (and always funny) observations on everything from aging, alcoholism, and ghosts. “For my money, he’s the funniest person in America,” Seth Myers said of Mulaney after the 2018 release of the film, which earned the stand-up an Emmy.
There’s no debate about the brilliance of Richard Pryor. His energy onstage, his gift with voices, his searing commentary on race, and his ability to mine tragedy for comedic gold all made him a complete original. Eddie Murphy once called him simply “better than anyone who ever picked up a microphone” and many other great comics would agree. In 1979, when Pryor filmed Live in Concert, he was largely considered at the peak of his powers and this special would act as a blueprint for generations of future comics. Pryor reflects on some painful subjects (a near-fatal heart attack, police brutality, an ugly domestic dispute) and spins each into a truly hilarious monologue.
There hasn’t been a comedy special that’s made such a splash or launched the career of a comedian as swiftly since the debut of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. When it was released in 2018, it was immediately heralded as a revelation, a remarkably fresh set that as Vox put it “upended comedy for good.” The special begins following fairly conventional lines — Gadsby tells us about growing up gay in conservative Tasmania and pokes fun at the homophobia that dominated the region — but she swiftly veers into new terrain. The result will force you to laugh, cry, and think about power dynamics, abuse, and how our culture views those who “exist in the margins.”
If you haven’t seen Baby Cobra by now, you’ve probably at least seen photos of Ali Wong onstage — seven-and-a-half-months pregnant in a clingy mini dress gripping a mic. It’s an image that sticks with you, because as Wong says in her remarkably raunchy Netflix special: “It’s very rare and unusual to see a female comic perform pregnant.” And it’s thrilling to see a comic as filthy and irreverent as Wong come into full bloom as an artist while also fully embracing motherhood. But, as fellow comic Bill Burr has said about Baby Cobra, “everybody is making a big fucking deal that she was pregnant,” but what mattered was that “she was fucking original.”
The late, great comedian gives his final farewell in Nothing Special, which was released early this year after Macdonald’s death in September 2021. The set was filmed at Macdonald’s home just before the comedian was set to undergo a procedure for cancer. Nothing Special was recorded for posterity, a final glimpse of the comedian’s iconic, off-kilter brand of humor “just in case things went south,” a caption before the show reads. The program contains about an hour of Macdonald performing while seated at a desk, talking straight into the camera, followed by a roundtable discussion of his friends and admirers, including fellow SNL alums David Spade and Adam Sandler, as well as David Letterman and Dave Chappelle.
Nothing Special is not Macdonald at his best, but it is a wholly unique project that provides a rare view at a legendary comic’s attempt to, as the Guardian put it, use his craft to “both process and defy, his imminent mortality.”
Bo Burnham’s Inside is at once a comedy special, an experimental film, and as the New Yorker put it a “virtuosic one-man musical extravaganza” — all of which is to say it’s by no means traditional stand-up. The 90-minute show, which was filmed exclusively in Burnham’s Los Angeles home, captures the isolation and listlessness of quarantine, along with meditations on love, grief, and internet culture — and has gone down as a high point in pandemic-era art.
In Homecoming King, Hasan Minhaj provides a deeply funny and intimate portrait of his childhood, growing up Muslim, the son of Indian immigrants, alongside “a bunch of Ryan Lochtes” in California. Like other second-generation comedians, The Daily Show alum discusses race (and a sickening incident of racism) and spends much of the special exploring the cultural chasm that exists between himself and his parents for laughs — and pathos. Homecoming King is hilarious, heartfelt, and offers a perspective from what Minhaj calls a “New Brown America.”
Patton Oswalt has appeared in nine comedy specials over his decades-long career. He won an Emmy and Grammy for his 2016 special and comedy album Talking for Clapping and followed up with an even more memorable performance. The comedian released Annihilation in 2017 after the sudden death of his wife. The hour-long set begins like most of his others, but about midway, it becomes more of an exploration of grief and the random nature of life. Annihilation is both funny and moving and, we think, well worth a watch.
Looking for a special the whole family can watch (and that won’t offend grandma)? Look no further than Cinco, Jim Gaffigan’s 2017 hit. Comedy’s so-called “king of clean” returns to some familiar topics in this special — food, the Midwest, the cultural expectations of fatherhood, and his Catholicism. It all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable 74 minutes of humor.
When Tamborine was released in 2018, it was Chris Rock’s first live special in a decade. But Rock does not seem to have lost any of the youthful energy and charisma that had initially made him a star — both on SNL and as a stand-up. Rock riffs on police brutality and the special is stuffed with racial commentary, which has served as the comic’s bread and butter for years. But in Tamborine (spelled without the “u” because, as Rock told fans, it’s how Prince spelled his song of the same name), he also opens up about the end of his marriage, his infidelity, and his search for redemption. For fans familiar with his work (and even for younger viewers who may only know Rock for voicing the zebra in Madagascar or more recently his involvement in “the slap”) this is one to watch.