At this point, Netflix has proven itself to be one of the most fruitful entertainment portals around. While most choose to focus on original fare like Stranger Things, 13 Reason Why and more, the streaming service has slowly but surely built up an impressive array of comedy specials for those not wanting to commit to 10-plus hours of entertainment.
Although Netflix has seen a number of television shows and movies disappear once they became more viewed as a content creator than content aggregator, there is certainly no shortage of both original Netflix comedy specials and humorous, hour-long sets that were created for other platforms.
With names like Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Louis C.K. and Bill Burr leading the way, here are the 35 best comedy specials you can watch on Netflix right now.
Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’
If there were such a thing as a Mt. Rushmore of standup comedy performances, Eddie Murphy’s 1983 performance, Delirious, would surely find itself etched into the granite.
Clad in an all-red, leather ensemble that screamed “excess of the 1980s,” Murphy was only 22 at the time and three years into a tenure at SNL which ultimately propelled him to superstardom.
From the very outset, one has the understanding that political correctness wasn’t something a standup comedian even considered during that era – beginning with a rude and crude message for any gay people in the audience – “I got rules. Faggots aren’t allowed to look at my ass while I’m onstage,” before launching into an additional 15 minute bit about the AIDS epidemic in America where he feared if “Mr. T is a faggot” and pondered if Ed Norton fucked Ralph Cramden on The Honeymooners.
While some would argue that the special has aged poorly, there are still classic bits that stand the test of time from the 70-minute set – including his “Dad getting drunk at the family BBQ,” and an impression of James Brown that hinted at his brilliance as a performer.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
As the first full-length standup concert film, Richard Pryor’s Live in Concert from 1979 illustrates brilliantly that the comedian was a master at everything from impersonating animals to delivering both comedic and gut-wrenching autobiographical elements from his own life – recalling that his father died while having sex – stating, “I’d like to die like my father died. My father died fucking. My father was 57 when he died. The woman was 18. My father came and went at the same time.”
“Every comedian will tell you that is by far the greatest piece of standup ever done,” said Chris Rock. “It’s actually Richard Pryor’s best movie. It’s actually one of the best movies ever. I was a kid when I saw it—probably when I was 10, 12 or whatever. But I couldn’t understand it until I became a man. It was kind of too dense for a kid to understand. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, you’ve got to live some life to know what the f-ck he’s talking about. This is some grown-people sh-t. It’s vulnerable. It’s political. I wish I could do one half that good. Every comedian will tell you: there’s nothing even close.”
Louis C.K.: Chewed Up
March 1 holds a special place in the comedy community because it not only marked the recording of Louis C.K.’s special, Chewed Up, but also marked the final performance by legendary showman, George Carlin, who would later pass away in June of the same year.
Chewed Up is often thought of as Louis C.K.’s break into the mainstream. Prior to the special, he had primarily been known as a writer for the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Dana Carvey Show and The Chris Rock Show.
With jokes like, “You can figure out how bad of a person you are by how soon after 9/11 you masturbated, like how long you waited. And for me it was between the two buildings going down,” there was fearlessness and “every man” style to C.K.’s humor.
Bill Burr: ‘Let it Go’
Known as one of the most prolific ranters in all of Hollywood, Bill Burr isn’t merely a mouthpiece with a thick Boston accent – evidenced by his 2010 special, Let it Go.
As the title of the special suggests, Burr has a hard time letting anything slide off his shoulders – angered by Oprah, stay at home moms, heaven, how people eat, and how people literally make food for him after a restaurant informed him that he could put his own mayonnaise on his sandwich.
“I just gave you 100 percent of the money to make 100 percent of the sandwich!”
Mike Birbiglia – ‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’
Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend isn’t your traditional standup set and plays almost like a one-man show meets a therapy session around a campfire as he discusses his disenchantment with modern romance and relationships.
Filmed at Seattle’s Intiman Theater, Birbiglia interweaves tales about his first kiss, first girlfriend and his first slow dance as it leads up to meeting his wife.
For those expecting slapstick, Birbiglia never strays into that territory. But as a storyteller, he delivers themes with absolute substance.
Bill Hicks: ‘Revelations’
Comedian Bill Hicks tragically passed away at only 32 years old from pancreatic cancer only a year acting filming his Revelations special in London – leaving many from the younger generation unfamiliar with his musings and brilliance.
A member of the “Texas Outlaw Comics troupe” which consisted of himself, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Ron Shock, Steve Epstein, Carl LaBove, Riley Barber, John Farnetti and Jimmy Pineapple, Hicks’s Revelations touch on issues including American foreign policy and advertising which he urges those in the field to “kill yourself.”
“There’s no rationalization for what you do, and you are Satan’s little helpers.”
In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 13th on its list of the 50 best standup comics of all time
Louis C.K.: ‘Hilarious’
Louis C.K.’s 2010 special, Hilarious, continued his upwards trajectory and served as a compliment to the comedians self-titled show which would debut on FX the same year.
He begins his special on a particularly somber – albeit spot-on critique – about how the majority of people on this Earth are dead.
“Out of all the people that were ever here, most of them are dead,” before adding, “you’re all just dead people who haven’t died yet.”
Building off this theme, he then explores how the very nature of death actually unites us – stating that it’s actually something that Ray Charles and Hitler have in common.
From this early outset, you see that C.K.’s comedy may seem informal, but every word he uses is for comedic effect.
Bill Burr: You People Are All the Same
Bill Burr’s third TV special found the irritable comedian waxing unpoetically about the various bits of everyday minutia that register for him like major atrocities against his sanity.
As curmudgeonly a tone as Burr can take, he also manages to quell any notions that his machismo is rooted in old-world thinking. Although the setup of a joke relating to violence against women suggests a different outlook – “Where are all those old-school women you can just take your day out on?” – he pivots and states bluntly, “I can give you seventeen reasons off the top of my head [to hit a woman]… you just don’t do it!”
Louis C.K.: ‘Live at the Beacon Theater’
Much in the same way that streaming services revolutionized the way we consume entertainment and music, Louis C.K. changed the way comedy specials were released with Live at the Beacon Theater by eschewing major outlets in favor of a fee fans could pay directly through his website.
Shortly thereafter, other like Jim Gaffigan, Bill Burr and Aziz Ansari all released specials with a similar business model.
Packed with an array of jokes he refers to as “brushback pitches” – where there’s a mix of laughter and audience members going, “Oh, Jesus!” – one of C.K.’s best moments is when he settles into the notion of finally being above the common man thanks to his ability to fly first class.
Doug Stanhope: ‘Beer Hall Putsch’
Most comedians want a comedy special to feel like a completely polished work of art that shows no signs of the years of failed jokes that went into crafting an hour’s worth of material. But such is not the case with Doug Stanhope’s Beer Hall Putsch – named his special after Adolph Hitler’s failed coupe attempt.
Stanhope seems particularly motivated to incite an unsavory reaction at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square by insulting the Yankees and predicting that the blues legend with whom the club is named for would soon pass away.
But that was merely casual banter. He continues this quest for awkwardness by essentially catering to a sole woman in the front row who he didn’t think was engaged enough.
“I need you to love me,” he said. “I don’t like me, either, if that helps.”
Despite the confrontation, there is real brilliance on display during a set where he touched on topics relating to Occupy Wall Street, Toys for Tots, breast cancer awareness campaigns, and a particularly sentimental bit about his mother asking him for help in ending her life after battling emphysema.
Katt Williams: ‘The Pimp Chronicles: Pt. 1’
Filmed for HBO in 2006, The Pimp Chronicles: Pt. 1 finds Katt Williams opening his special speaking to Snoop Dogg who tells the comedian to channel the likes of Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor in order to “tell it like it is, not like how it was.”
Touching on the locale where it’s filmed – Atlanta – where “your dreams can come true at Magic City or you can get killed at a stoplight,” and how there is a chemical in weed called “fuck it,” Williams is profane, honest and hilarious in equal doses.
Bill Burr: ‘I’m Sorry You Feel That Way’
Eschewing color for an old school, black and white vibe, Bill Burr continued his ascent as one of the most talented comics in the industry with his Netflix special, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, at Atlanta’s Tabernacle Theater.
One of the best bits of the performance finds Burr commenting on the ridiculous spectacle that is the NFL draft – mocking that people watch round after round – and compares it to “like going to a graduation ceremony where you don’t know anyone who is graduating.”
Not one to simply look outward at other people’s personal shortcomings relating to religion, politics and political correctness, Burr also touches on his own diet – and trying to abstain from eating meat twice a week – saying, “Something has to die every day in order for me to live. Something’s got to get its beak chopped off, feathers yanked, and upper cut to its jaw, just in order for me to survive.”
Tom Segura: Mostly Stories
From the very outset of Tom Segura’s Netflix special, you get the understanding that he is totally self-aware and that he wants to invite viewers on a ride to unlock the various bugaboos that come along with being a standup.
“I love being a standup comedian,” the voiceover begins. “It’s the best job in the world. And I love being an LA comic. As a comic, what you’re supposed to do is live your life and report it. I love the whole process. Writing. Performing. Figuring out how to make a joke work. It’s the best. Most of all, I love meeting the people of this city. They always inspire me. I love them. They have nothing but admiration for me. And I just know there’s no stopping us.”
And then the punchline hits, “Fuck this city. I’m reshooting this whole thing,” and we’re transported to the new backdrop for the special: Seattle, Washington.
Segura’s entire set is noteworthy – famously musing on things like body piercings, the “Area 51” of men’s bodies, and a notable interaction with Mike Tyson on an airplane which he uses to close out his show to great comedic effect.
Jim Jefferies: ‘BARE’
Australian comedian Jim Jefferies’ Netflix special, BARE, felt particularly topical as he addressed two major issues affecting all Americans: gun control and Donald Trump.
The first instance he illustrates brilliantly by dismantling the rationale that most gun owners use for having weapons: they’re for protection.
“There’s one argument, and one argument alone for having guns: ‘fuck off, I like guns!’ It’s not the best argument, but it’s all you’ve got.”
As a comedian, he works the crowd like a seasoned trial attorney – using sound logic and firm examples to prove just how ludicrous things have become.
Bo Burnham: ‘Make Happy’
Viewed by many in the industry as a comedy wunderkind, Bo Burnham released his debut comedy EP, Bo Fo Sho, in 2008 when he was still only 18 years old which combined his impeccable timing with his love of music.
While one could rest on their laurels after garnering success at an early age, Burnham continued to hone his craft and delivered his best special to date when Make Happy landed at Netflix.
With both a comedy and musical pedigree, his strongest material in the special often found him trying to make sense of various different genres – ranging from trap music, to bro-country, to inspirational pop – where he ultimately breaks into a song urging audience members to “kill themselves.”
Gary Gulman: It’s About Time
The title for Gary Gulman’s It’s About Time not only references that this was his first special since 2012, but also a nod that the comedian had spent 20 years in the business and this could potentially be construed as his “arrival” despite countless appearances on The Tonight Show along the way.
Comedians are always looking to refine their jokes. To possibly mark the struggle for the perfect word choice, Gulman illustrates the point by referencing a friend who couldn’t think of a synonym for “atrocity” and is thus forced to refer to Hitler’s genocide in Europe as “shenanigans.”
Neal Brennan: ‘3 Mics’
The unique premise for Chappelle’s Show co-creator, Neal Brennan, 3 Mics comedy special is that he literally has three different microphones; one for one-liners, one for traditional standup, and one for “emotional stuff” which he calls a “a fuller picture of myself.”
Cut from a similar cloth as Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend which spoke to an hour’s worth of narrative elements, Brennan stated, “I feel like we’ve reached peak standup in that there are so many hours — I think Netflix is releasing four or five hours in January alone — and a lot of funny people. I was looking for a way to do something that stood out a little more and wasn’t just me talking. When I’d do podcasts, people would say how much they appreciated when I’d talk about depression or personal stuff, and I had so many one-liners just from being on Twitter for so long that I wished I could repurpose. It basically comes down to that I didn’t want to be another comic being a glib know-it-all onstage.”
While the show is ripe with laughs, there is a poignant bit about his relationship with his father that he admits choked him up every time he performed the show.
Chelsea Peretti: ‘One of the Greats’
Chelsea Peretti’s special has a decidedly “meta” feel to it thanks to the opening intro which mimics the cold opens that often tell the arduous tale a comedian has embarked upon in order to finally “arrive.” This only continues with audience cutaways that get decidedly more ridiculous – think people actually asleep and dogs in chairs – as the show goes full steam ahead.
This absurdist viewpoint is where Peretti is most confident as she tackles ideas like what it would be like to wake up a man, Instagram filters, texting with pets, tourism advertisements on Vine, and Breaking Bad.
Ali Wong: Baby Cobra
Along Wong performed in her standup special, Baby Cobra, while seven and a half months pregnant, so it seemed only natural that she touch on it directly and to great comedic effect, saying, “It’s very rare and unusual to see a female comic perform pregnant, because … female comics don’t get pregnant. Just try to think of one. I dare you. There’s none of them. Once they do get pregnant they generally disappear. That’s not the case with male comics. Once they have a baby, they’ll get up onstage a week after and be like, ‘Guys, I just had a fucking baby, that baby’s a little piece of shit, it’s so annoying and boring!’ And all these other shitty dads in the audience are like ‘That’s hilarious! I identify!’ And their fame just swells, because they’ve become this relatable family funnyman all of a sudden. Meanwhile, the mom is at home chapping her nipples, feeding the fucking baby, and wearing a frozen diaper because her pussy needs to heal from the baby’s head shredding it up. She’s busy!”
While some have speculated that this was a direct shot at Louis C.K., Wong doesn’t linger on the pregnancy too long and continues to up the ante and raunchiness with bits on butt play, scatology, aging and Asian-American identity.
Jen Kirkman: ‘I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)’
Jen Kirkman’s special, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) is best when she turns her observational style inwards and examines her own life as a divorcee with no children – a subject that she approaches with honesty and fearlessness even when it makes her look anything but glamorous.
Touching on memorable, personal moments like finding her first grey pubic hair to attending a wedding of a woman marrying her cat, Kirkman is truly one of the finest comedians working today.
Russell Peters: Notorious
Russell Peters’s 2013 special, Notorious, at the Allphones Arena in Sydney, Australia – in front of over 14,000 fans – holds the distinction of becoming the first original standup comedy special for Netflix.
A rare talent who can talk about issues of race and immigration without seeming like he is taking sides, his own Indian upbringing is expunged upon while also generalizing – to great comedic effect – how Arab men will never use the word “no,” or the phrase, “I don’t know.”
Anthony Jeselnik: ‘Thoughts and Prayers’
Despite not taking that major “leap” that everyone thought he would after starring on a number of Comedy Central roasts, Anthony Jeselnik’s Netflix special at the Fillmore Theatre in San Francisco reveals a comedian who has way more than insults in his arsenal.
The theme of the night revolves around political correctness and Jeselnik trying to assess whether his material is going to offend the crowd. But while some use jokes as a litmus test, instead Jeselnik uses it was a warning; you might not like what I’m going to say, but I’m going to say it anyways.
“I get really mad when people get sensitive about comedy,” he states. “If you’re sensitive about comedy it’s the dumbest thing you can do. I call them the Joke Police. They always have one rule. One rule they have! You can’t make fun of this right now. After a couple of years, they move on to something else. Which is why it’s so hypocritical. Like the thing today? The thing right now you can’t make fun of? Thing it’s too sensitive of at this moment? Transgendered people.”
“Death. Child molestation. Animal cruelty. Serial killing. Catholic school. Childhood cancer. Guns. Domestic violence. Neglect. Poverty. 9/11. Racism. Finding dead bodies. Shutting down abortion clinics. The Challenger space shuttle. Hitler. More death. It’s OK. You can get mad at me. You can hate me. You can hate me and still laugh at me. That’s how talented I am. And I’m used to it.”
Aziz Ansari: ‘Buried Alive’
As his Netflix show, Master of None, suggests, Aziz Ansari is a hopeless romantic who continues to be befuddled by the hiccups that occur while dating in the modern age.
In one of his best moments from his 2013 special, Buried Alive, he examines the very nature of courting a person and inevitably proposing – making the entire thing sound weird and unnatural.
“I want to keep hanging out with you ’til one of us dies,” he says. “Put this ring on your finger so people know we have an arrangement.”
Worth Your Time
Sebastian Maniscalco: ‘Aren’t You Embarrassed?’
Much in the same way you know what to expect from Bill Burr when you hear him utter his first words with his think, Boston accent, so too does Sebastian Maniscalco’s Chicago-area accent provide context for the type of material he is going to cover. However, Maniscalco is the rare, blue-collar-style comedian who doesn’t really ever steer into profane territory.
Rather, he uses his physical talents – contorting his body to great effect to land home jokes about airport security and his family so that normal, four-word indignation still comes across without him having to swear.
John Mulaney: ‘New in Town’
Although the idea of the “man child” is not a new premise in the comedy realm, John Mulaney’s approach feels particularly genuine because he manages to get across a sense of child-like naivety with jokes literally relating to looking like “An America’s Most Wanted aged photo of someone.”
In one of his strongest bits of the special, Mulaney recalls getting into a confrontation with a homeless man who he then questions about his tact as a pan-handler after ending his woeful story with, “I’m new in town.”
Hannibal Buress: ‘Animal Furnace’
As one of the most noteworthy alternative comedians working today, Hannibal Buress’s 2013 special, Animal Furnace, found the comedian focusing less on the minutia of his every day life like in his 2010 debut album, My Name Is Hannibal, and more self-aware of the people around him.
Focusing on cops, TSA, a peculiar woman in Scotland, and more, one of his best lines of the night comes at the expense of rapper, Young Jeezy, who he mimics the lyric, “My rooms got rooms.”
“Nah Jeezy, those are closets,” Buress cracks.
Kevin Hart: ‘I’m a Grown Little Man’
It’s hard to believe that Kevin Hart presented his very first comedy special only eight years ago given the fact that he is ascended to the pinnacle of the craft in less than a decade’s time.
Decidedly less grandiose than his 2016 special, Kevin Hart: What Now? – which registered like a Michael Bay-esque explosion in contrast to I’m a Grown Little Man – even his earliest material suggested he was a unique talent.
One of his best jokes of the evening recalled why he stopped working out at the gym after realizing that people continued to pack on muscle for tasks and jobs that didn’t require a beefy frame. While the joke itself isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it’s the way that Hart sells it that makes it utterly hilarious.
Eddie Griffin: ‘You Can Tell ‘Em I Said It’
Eddie Griffin doesn’t need any major intros or self-referential innuendos to begin his 2011 special, You Can Tell ‘Em I Said It. Rather, he takes the stage and begins the assault as if telling the audience, “I don’t even need to warm up to bring the house down.”
Opting instead for a cigarette, Griffin gets right into it: “I wanna fuck Michelle Obama. I need her on my team. I need Obama to fuck up.”
It’s with this confidence that he could actually do it, that Griffin dives into topic of family, education and discipline.
Dave Attell: ‘Road Work’
Before Anthony Bourdain was serving as the cool – albeit aloof – tour guide to cities and nightlife around the world, Dave Attell carried that torch with Insomniac – a Comedy Central show which was strengthened by his certifiable standup chops.
In Road Work, Attell is back at home in five different small clubs in New Jersey, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Massachusetts and New Orleans that harkens back to his Insomniac days – as opposed to the larger venues one has been accustomed to seeing when watching a comedy special.
It’s this authenticity that transports the viewers inside the venue and gives the impression of a real set – not something overly polished. In turn, Attell can make regional jokes and muse on what is tangibly happening in front of him instead of stock material that plays wherever other comedians might be playing on any given night.
Maria Bamford, ‘The Special Special Special’
While artists are often times seeking out the approval of their parents, Maria Bamford puts this notion to the test with her special as she literally performs an intimate set for the people who raised her. This “at home” vibe is further cemented with respite’s that include giving her dog medicine and taking cookies out of the oven.
As The New York Times noted in their coverage, “Great artists don’t necessarily need the right audience to challenge them. They can do it themselves. In this case by performing for her parents Ms. Bamford finds a new way to use her family as raw material that suits her peculiarly dark comedy.”
Donald Glover: ‘Weirdo’
Nestled between his turn as Troy on Community and a burgeoning rap career as Childish Gambino, Donald Glover released his 2012 special, Weirdo, which hinted at just how talented this multi-hyphenate really was.
If Glover’s standup comedy has a calling card, it’s his usage of logic when trying to convince the audience why a joke can be both funny and thought-provoking. Specifically, he reasons why he’d rather contract AIDS than have a child, matter-of-factly stating, “I’d much rather have AIDS than a baby… They’re not that different at all. They’re both expensive, you have them for the rest of your life, they’re constant reminders of the mistakes you’ve made and once you have them, you pretty much can only date other people who have them.”
Zach Galifianakis: ‘Live at the Purple Onion’
While he has gone on to make a name for himself in film and TV, Zach Galifianakis’s road to stardom came via a path paved by his standup comedy.
In his special, Live at the Purple Onion, you get the awkwardness, brilliance and his willingness to carry out a joke to the nth degree with daring one-liners, portrayals of a twin brother, and musical interludes that make it feel more like a one-man show than traditional special.
Paul Mooney: ‘A Piece of My Mind’
To older audiences, Paul Mooney’s name is recognized for crafting jokes for Richard Pryor and for writing on Good Times, Sanford & Son and Saturday Night Live. For a younger generation, Mooney served as the recurring character, Negrodamous, on Chappelle’s Show.
Recorded when the comedian was 72 years old at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, Georgia – marking his seventh official special – Mooney showed no signs of slowing despite his advancing age, tackling issues relating to race in America from the very outset with the same biting criticism he showcased when he first started crafting jokes in the ’70s.
As Dave Chappelle put it best, ““You don’t fuck with Paul Mooney. You don’t fuck with his writing, his material, his sketches … and you certainly don’t tell him what to do! Trust me, I’ve learned.”
Colin Quinn: ‘Unconstitutional’
Continuing the precedent he established with his special, Long Story Short, which tackled a sole subject, Colin Quinn’s Unconstitutional also found the comedian focusing all of his energy on a singular aspect that dictates society: the U.S. Constitution.
Calling the 1787 Constitutional Convention “a four-month drunken pub crawl,” Quinn figures that’s why the preamble reads like “a drunken, delusional promise.”
Equal parts history lesson as it is observational humor, Quinn rattles off one quip after another as he questions the four-page document.
Jim Gaffigan: ‘Beyond the Pale’
With Chicago’s Vic Theatre serving as the backdrop, Jim Gaffigan delivers an hour of comedy accessible to everyone thanks to his everyman appeal and clean sense of humor which relies more on the anatomy of a joke and his talent for voices than profanity.
Some of Gaffigan’s best moments come when admitting his shortcomings as a man as it relates to his food choices, saying, “I’m a pig. You ever get so hungry watching a commercial and then realize it’s an ad for dog food? Yeah, those are savory chunks of beef. Rich, creamy… Why are they giving it to the dog?! Thank God for packaging.”
For more comedy on Netflix, check out our review of Dave Chappelle’s latest special.
- Lead Image: Everett Collection / REX