Stand-up comedy on Netflix: the best streaming specials

Finished ‘Stranger Things’? Delve into Netflix’s huge live comedy library. We round up the best stand-up comedy on Netflix
By Ben Williams |
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If you really want to laugh in your living room, give stand-up comedy on Netflix a whirl. After all, DVDs are, like, so 2011, right? Who wants a DVD box clogging up valuable shelf space, where you could display your collection of Marvel action figures or Fabergé eggs?

Comedians love the internet. They’re recording comedy podcasts, becoming Twitter kings and showing off their stand-up comedy on Netflix. There are heaps of excellent (largely American) stand-up comedy specials on the streaming service, and quite a few shockers, too. So, where to start? Here are our picks of the best comedians on Netflix.

The best stand-up comedy on Netflix

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
© Netflix

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette

2018. 69 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? It’s probably the most talked-about Netflix special out there. Australian comic Hannah Gadsby’s extraordinary ‘Nanette’ won the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2017, and the Barry Award at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. But when it hit the internet, she was rocketed to a global superstar. The show focuses on Gadsby’s experiences and the pain she felt growing up gay in Tasmania. It’s an incredibly powerful hour of autobiographical stand-up – it’s moving, complex and stays with you.

Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh
© Netflix

Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh

2018. 73 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? Who’d have thunk it? The goofball comedy superstar – who stand-up fans scoff at for making high pay cheque family movies and low-brow comedies – has produced a really good stand-up special, seemingly out of nowhere. Spliced together from various gigs in clubs and theatres, it shows off Sandler’s physicality, observational-writing and musical comedy skills.  

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James Acaster: Repertoire
© Netflix

James Acaster: Repertoire

2018. 50 mins, 52 mins, 49 mins, 52 mins and 60 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? Not one, not two, not three but four specials for the price of one. James Acaster is a master at writing intricately -woven hour-long stand-up shows, and all of these four specials show off his skills wonderfully. But, as is revealed in the fourth ‘episode’, there’s an over-arching narrative to ‘Repertoire’ as a whole, all set in one world, with recurring characters and themes. 

Demetri Martin

Demetri Martin: Live (At the Time)

2015. 61 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? ‘I’ve got a lot of jokes, so I’m just gonna start telling them.’ Demetri Martin keeps things simple in his latest special, letting his low-key, almost mathematical one-liners speak for themselves. And it’s a treat: there’s barely a dud in his relentless stream of jokes, covering prune juice, elevator pranks and why there are holes in cream crackers. Martin loves to explore language in his offbeat one-liners, examining the strange things about our native tongue that we hardly notice. (Can you say ‘hot regards’ instead of ‘warmest’, for instance?) And, Martin fans, don’t worry, the hour rounds off with a trademark guitar-accompanied finale. How satisfying. 

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Todd Barry
© Mindy Tucker

Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour

2014. 69 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? All the joy of spontaneous audience interaction without the fear of being picked on! Low-key comic Todd Barry (who pops up in Louis CK’s sitcom ‘Louie’) went on the road with no material whatsoever, and this is the result. A microphone is passed around the crowd (clips are spliced together from seven US shows), and Barry is razor-sharp in his responses. The 51-year-old comic coaxes fascinating stories from some punters, others live up to the stereotypes of their towns (especially in Portland), and a few just need to say something stupid for Barry to spin spontaneous, laidback laughs. It’s a treat.

Dave Chappelle
© Lester Cohen

Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin

2017. 67 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? Netflix apparently paid Dave Chappelle a pretty penny to lure him into recording two stand-up specials. It was worth the cash, though – the first of the double-special series, ‘The Age of Spin’, is a hard-hitting hour on racial and social politics, with silly stories thrown in, and a line-treading routine on Bill Cosby.

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Maria Bamford: The Special Special Special

Maria Bamford: The Special Special Special

2012. 49 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? ‘I see there’s a loving couple in the audience tonight,’ says Maria Bamford as she looks at the man and woman in the front row of this recording. But she knows the couple personally. They’re her mum and dad. And they’re the only two people in the audience. Yep, this is no shiny-floored theatre taping: Bamford’s special is an intimate, intense offering filmed in the comic’s own front room. It’s a strange experiment as much as a stand-up show, with Bamford stopping for pee breaks and to welcome the pizza delivery man in between her talking openly about her own anxiety and performing material about her parents as if they're not there. It’s dark at times, but mostly lighthearted and very silly.

Eugene Mirman
© Brian Tamborello

Eugene Mirman: Vegan On His Way To The Complain Store

2015. 64 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? Mirman’s a stalwart of the New York alt-comedy scene, and he’s in full-on complain mode here. But instead of getting furious about feeling victimised, he fights back with silliness. Like when he was fined for ‘being parked in the wrong direction’, so took out a full page ad in the town’s magazine to express his anger. Or, when he was sick of the annoying emails inviting him to join LinkedIn, so gave in and signed up: he’s now the ‘Senior VP of Pee-Pee at Verizon’.

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Bo Burnham
© Robert John Kley

Bo Burnham: What

2013. 60 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? Missed Burnham’s UK tour in 2013? You can watch the mind-blowing show, ‘What’, here on Netflix. Burnham’s ridiculously smart, intricately woven ideas focus largely on comedy itself, playing with what’s expected of the form and subverting stand-up clichés. He constantly keeps you guessing, and there’s even a neat joke about video editors just for the audience at home.

Bill Burr: I'm Sorry You Feel That Way
© James Kronzer for Netflix

Bill Burr: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way

2014. 80 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? Boston’s Bill Burr (who you might recognise as Kuby in ‘Breaking Bad’) has been dubbed ‘the new Louis CK’ and ‘one of the best stand-ups in America’. He lives up to the hype, too. No one does an angry rant quite like this vein-popping 47-year-old. This slick special combines a touch of class (it’s filmed in black and white, with the pipes of the Atlanta venue’s organ as the backdrop) with Burr’s vitriolic rage and unfiltered, uninformed opinions, and it’s a wonderful juxtaposition. If there’s a message, it’s ‘go fuck yourself’.

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Mike Birbiglia
© Joan Marcus

Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

2013. 75 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? While most stand-up specials are in-ya-face – ‘Cleveland, how y’all doing? Make some noise!’ – affairs, Birbiglia’s is more laidback. A charming, confessional storytelling show, taped at an intimate Seattle theatre. One for a Sunday afternoon.

Anthony Jeselnik

Anthony Jeselnik: Thoughts and Prayers

2015. 59 mins. Watch here.

Why watch? US comic Anthony Jeselnik is one of the finest joke-writers around. His slow-paced one-liners are dark, depraved and deliberately ‘offensive’. But Jeselnik – telling these gags with an arrogant, high-status persona – is always the butt of the joke. 

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