You guys know I’m a comedian. No need to mention it. One question I get a lot is, “who are your favorite comedians to watch?” Given that I’m not in Atlanta this week, that I was left behind like Macauley Culkin, that I’m marooned in our office with the other castaways who don’t “add value” and “would be a liability,” I figured I’d knock together a list of some of the best standup specials I’ve seen recently. Some of these go back a couple years, so understand that the list is just a random compilation of shit I’ve watched in the last month. It’s fucking hard to keep up, honestly. Netflix released like 59 specials in 2018.
What made me enjoy these specials was that the comedians performed jokes I’d never heard before; their material was super original. At least once during each of these specials, I had to pause it because I was laughing so hard that I was missing the next joke. Sometimes, I’d go back and watch the joke again because it was so intricate that it deserved a second look. That’s a level of mastery that is extremely rare.
I’ve picked some pretty mainstream choices here. I don’t care. I’m not an alt-comedy, underground snob. If James Cameron or the Backstreet Boys puts out work, chances are I’ll like it.
I’ve posted the trailers, but don’t watch them… just watch the special.
1) Theo Von: No Offense
Theo Von is nuts. The density of jokes in his act is almost overwhelming. From the moment he starts, he puts his foot on the gas and never lets up. The imagery and metaphors he uses to describe people are second to none. Sometimes they don’t even make sense, but somehow that makes them even more hysterical. He also inserts God and Jesus into his act at random moments in a way that is both charming and absurd.
Favorite joke: the spanx women/refrigerator roll comparison.
Also, check out his This Is Not Happening story about cocaine:
2) Tom Segura: Disgraceful
Tom came in for KFC Radio, but Kevin was out so I stepped in to interview him with Feits. Not only is he probably the nicest dude in comedy, he’s also relentlessly consistent. He’s done three Netflix specials, and each one was an improvement on its predecessor. His most recent, Disgraceful, is my pick of the bunch. I paused this one on three separate jokes.
Favorite joke: the disabilities run (specifically, the bit on Tourette’s).
3) Ellen Degeneres: Relatable
This special makes you realize why Ellen is the most successful woman in the universe. She’s fucking hysterical and so likable. The first five minutes will hook you, trust me. It would seem impossible for someone this wealthy and successful to be relatable and self-deprecating, but she does exactly that (hence, the title). Given that she hadn’t performed standup for 15 years, I’m sure a lot of people weren’t even aware that she started out—and blew up—as a standup comic. I haven’t seen much of her old work, but I can tell you that this new special is absolutely brilliant.
Favorite joke: bathmat scooching
4) Dave Chappelle: The Bird Revelation
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen this special. Watch it again. I’ve seen it three times and it’s like watching Inception: I learn something new every time. It’s the second part of his most recent release. Equanimity, the first hour, is your more traditional standup special. It’s shot in a big theater, the jokes follow the set-up, punchline delivery, and it’s what made us love Chappelle’s standup. But the Bird Revelation is something entirely new, at times unsettling, at times piercing. When it ended, I kinda sat there feeling a huge mixture of emotions. But the more times I watch it, the more I think it’s the most impressive stand-up special I’ve seen this year. That’s not a hot take, obviously. Every comedian I know points to this special as the seminal piece of the year.
Favorite joke: Iceberg Slim story, obviously.
5) Nate Bargatze: The Standups (Season 1)
I’ve included his most recent Fallon set because it’s one of my favorite late night sets ever, and because I can’t find the trailer for his Netflix half-hour. Nate Bargatze is one of my favorite comics right now, and he’s right on the verge of becoming MASSIVE. If you’ve got a long car ride coming up, listen to his album “Full Time Magic.” His delivery is disarming, and his easy, southern drawl lulls you into a place where you don’t see the punchlines coming at all. All of his jokes are somehow surprising; he never seems to telegraph anything. He has a full-hour special coming out sometime this year, but definitely check out his half-hour set on the Standups.
Favorite joke: the group that looks like it’s going down in a plane crash.