Comedy nerds regularly debate which platform is the best for stand up comedy specials. The stand up comedy boon really got its first start in 1980s as new cable channels began to emerge to give club comedians TV exposure. Tradtionally, comedians would develop their comedy acts and hope to get on Tonight Show w/ Johnny Carson or Late Night with David Letterman. By late 1980s, Arsenio Hall entered the late night arena with his popular urban appeal talker that dominated most of the 1990s.
Also around this time HBO and Showtime added fuel to the comedy fire by offering hour long unedited stand up comedy specials that enabled not safe for primetime comedians to get their exposure.
20 years later starting from 2010s to present, Bloomberg reports profiles Netflix as they discovered that that stand up comedy is a cost-effective way to build a large content library featuring celebrities around the world that would help the streaming company grow their subscriber base. Now, Netflix is refining their content strategy and starting to look at different forms of comedies like sketch comedy and perhaps different formats. This year Netflix streamed about 30 comedy specials so far this year compared to last year where it offered 50+ at this point last year.
Having said that Netflix is still far and away the biggest financier and distributor of standup comedies among all the major TV networks. Some of my favorites (in no particular order) from this list.
Dave Chappelle, The Age of Spin In less than a year, Chappelle dropped four stand-up specials on the streaming platform in one ear. All are good but my favorites is Age of Spin and Equanimity because I think they best showcase his brilliance.
Hasan Minhaj, Homecoming King Former Daily Show correspondent, Hasan Minhaj weaves an intricate and hilarious account of his life as a son of Indian-American immigrants. Truly relatable to fellow Indian but other Asian Americans born and raised in the US.
John Mulaney, Kid Gorgeous At Radio City Mulaney brings his self-effacing humor with this comedy special. The guy’s still a tall, lanky, baby-faced, squeaky-clean dude who can bring the funny in familiar and baffling norms of society
Richard Pryor, Live In Concert Many comedy aficionados would argue this Pryor comedy special is the blueprint that has influenced many of the stand up comedy specials we see today. Live in Concert was the first feature-length film to entirely focus on a stand-up comedy routine. Eddie Murphy has described Pryor as “the single greatest stand-up performance ever captured on film.”
Aziz Ansari, Right Now This is Ansari’s first Netflix special after allegations of sexual harassment hovers over this performance. This experience has given Ansari time to really ponder the current wokeness culture, importance of family, and #MeToo controversy. This is an honest and rare look at Ansari’s willingness to peel back the layers of fame and his own self-preservation in this new era.
Wanda Sykes, Not Normal Filmed in D.C., Sykes takes everything on from Trump to aging to body image. She brings her irreverent and very relatable experiences on full display in this special.
Chris Rock, Tamborine This is by far one of his most personal and best performances. We get to see a more grown up Rock. His last special was on HBO in 2008 (just ahead Barack Obama’s first election win.)