Netflix has been bringing the funny all year long.
During the 1970s & ‘80s, stand-up comedians’ main goal was to perform on the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson with the hopes of being asked to the couch. Then in the ‘90s, nothing was bigger than having an HBO stand-up comedy special. As the millennium came and went, Comedy Central established itself as the new go-to for fresh comedians on the rise. And most recently, streaming giant Netflix has carried the torch as the latest and furthest-reaching vehicle to present a stand-up comedian’s most memorable work – the hour-long special.
From the beginning of the year to now, Netflix has released over 30 different stand-up comedy specials and series, ranging across five languages, featuring some of the world’s most famous comedians, as well as relative unknowns performing their first specials. Netflix has done more for the stand-up comedy special than any other person, channel, or service to date and it should be commended for its contribution to modern comedy. We here at HNHH have decided to look back on the year in stand-up by celebrating, in no particular order, the 10 Best Netflix Stand-Up Comedy Specials of 2019.
Did your favorite make the cut?
Bill Burr: Paper Tiger
In 2012 veteran comic Bill Burr released You People Are All the Same, the very first Netflix exclusive comedy special. While Netflix didn’t release another stand-up special for nearly a year after, Burr would forever be remembered as a comedy pioneer all because he was willing to take a risk on a new company interested in releasing his special. Little did he know he’d be establishing the new model for stand-up comedy specials in the streaming era.
Directed by Mike Binder (Billions, Nashville) at Royal Albert Hall in London, England – Paper Tiger is as polished as Bill Burr screaming at a crowd for an hour comes. Tearing into topics like white women, Michelle Obama, outrage culture, Colin Kaepernick, male feminists, and rage – Burr shares his abrasive brand of comedy with a theater full of fans across the pond. Seven years later, Bill Burr is still releasing comedy on Netflix. The difference is Bill Burr and Netflix are now household names. I wonder what another seven years will bring?
Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones
Dave Chappelle released two specials over the first 25 years of his career. His latest special, Sticks & Stones, marks Chappelle’s fifth stand-up special for Netflix in three years. Dave is currently treating the general public to a rare occurrence in comedy – a comedian at the top of their game prolifically releasing new material.
Since the release of Sticks & Stones there has been plenty of controversy surrounding Chappelle’s material on Michael Jackson’s latest accusers and the Jussie Smollett situation. While audience reviews appear to be mostly positive, with some going so far as saying it’s his best special since Killin’ Them Softly, the special has received mostly negative reviews from critics. The one joke that does seem to resonate within Chappelle’s new hour is his take on Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. You’ll definitely be thinking about it days after watching the special. Filmed in Atlanta by Stan Lathan, director of all seven Chappelle specials, other hot topics Dave speaks on include R. Kelly, the LGBTQ community, the opioid crisis, and Louis C.K. For any fan of Dave Chappelle, Sticks & Stones is a must watch. But if you’re easily offended – maybe sit this one out.
Aziz Ansari: Right Now
Right Now is Aziz Ansari’s third stand-up special for Netflix, and by far the most mature and true-to-himself hour of comedy the 36-year-old comedian has released to date. The special’s shift in tone is primarily due to the sexual misconduct controversy Ansari found himself immersed in around January 2018. Following a year out of the spotlight, Ansari returned to stand-up and toured in preparation for what would become his new special, Right Now.
Filmed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music over three nights and shot on 16 mm film by Spike Jonze, in his stand-up special directorial debut – Aziz Ansari: Right Now strips the artifice away from the performative Aziz we knew, and finally presents him as his most natural and exceptionally funny self. Swapping out his trademark suits, which he wore for his first four specials, for a vintage Metallica t-shirt and faded jeans, Ansari opts to speak in a more soft-spoken tone than the screaming tenor fans have come to know and love. In Right Now, Aziz is less cocky and more self-examining. When telling jokes about his MeToo moment, family, white people, or even R. Kelly, he’s more careful with his words. He’s still hilarious, but quite vulnerable. This is the new Aziz. Times change. And people grow. But funny will always be funny. It’s great to have Aziz’s comedic voice back in this crazy world.
Whitney Cummings: Can I Touch It?
After two stand-up specials at Comedy Central and one at HBO, Whitney Cummings made her Netflix hour-long debut earlier this year with Can I Touch It? Filmed at the Sidney Harmon Hall in Cummings’ hometown of Washington, DC, Whitney commands the crowd like a 50-year comedy veteran. Directed by Marcus Raboy (Anthony Jeselnik: Fire in the Maternity Ward), in Can I Touch It? Whitney discusses her fiancé, gender dynamics, and why she believes we shouldn’t be afraid of sex robots. By the end of the special, viewers will feel closer to Whitney than they’d ever imagined, with a much better idea of the sex doll industry. If I haven’t already piqued your interest, this might not be the stand-up special for you.
Kevin Hart: Irresponsible
Keeping him in our thoughts following his spine-injuring car accident in early September, Kevin Hart stands as one of today’s biggest (no pun intended) comedians in the world. This superlative is immediately backed up by the fact that his latest Netflix special was filmed in front of a sold out crowd of over 15,000 people at London’s O2 Arena. That’s right; over 15,000 people in England went to see a 5’4” comedian from Philly talk for an hour. That’s how massively popular Kevin Hart has become over the years. And boy does he bring the funny for his latest hour-long special, Irresponsible. Not so subtly hinted at in the title, Hart’s newest batch of jokes delves into his recent public cheating scandal, skewering himself to the hilarity of his fans. Kevin Hart: Irresponsible is a redemption story full of laughs and lessons learned. I’m sure he’s already writing new material for his next special as he recovers from his latest setback. Stay strong, Kev!
Sebastian Maniscalco: Stay Hungry
Kicking off 2019 with Stay Hungry, the 5th comedy special of his career, veteran stand-up comedian, Sebastian Maniscalco, has been enjoying a year full of new opportunities. Beginning with a co-starring role in the Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Green Book, Maniscalco has also appeared in not one, but two episodes of Jerry Seinfeld’s hit webseries-turned-Netflix show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee; he hosted the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards; and come November he will appear alongside acting legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci in the latest Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman.
Filmed during one of Maniscalco’s sold out performances at New York City’s prestigious Radio City Music Hall – Sebastian regales his fans with jokes and stories about his Italian heritage, pregnancy photo shoots, and spin classes. If you’re a fan of any of his first four stand-up specials, either of his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee episodes, or you just discovered him while waiting for Lizzo’s performance on the VMAs – Stay Hungry is a great addition to Maniscalco’s fast-growing oeuvre.
Anthony Jeselnik: Fire in the Maternity Ward
One of the darker stand-ups to rise to stardom over the years – to say Anthony Jeselnik is an acquired taste would be just the tip of the offensive iceberg. Filmed during a pair of shows at The Town Hall in New York City for the New York Comedy Festival, Fire in the Maternity Ward is as jaw dropping as its title suggests. Littered with jokes like, “I’ll never forget the one time I saw my dad’s penis. I said, ‘Dad, don’t text me shit like that,’” you’ll either laugh yourself to tears, or turn it off within minutes.
Always delighted by the task of getting away with telling jokes other comics would never dare say on stage, Jeselnik is a true comic’s comic. He almost prefers his audiences cringe and gasp than laugh. Directed by Marcus Raboy (Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life), Jeselnik’s third stand-up special and second for Netflix covers a range of topics like dropping babies and having to inform his elderly neighbor with Alzheimer’s every morning that his wife is dead. Standard joke fare, for Jeselnik at least.
Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho
Originally titled, Ken Jeong:First Date, the physician-turned-comedian’s debut stand-up special, You Complete Me, Ho is a love letter of sorts to his wife of fifteen years, Tran Ho. Directed by Jon M. Chu of Crazy Rich Asians fame and filmed at The Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, California – You Complete Me, Ho puts Jeong somewhere he’s never been before: center stage, all on his own. Best known as the scene-stealing drug kingpin, Leslie Chow, in The Hangover trilogy, as well as the lead in ABC’s sitcom Dr. Ken, and panelist on the breakout hit singing competition show, The Masked Singer – Ken Jeong has built his brand on being hilarious in small doses. But that all changes when he takes the stage for his first hour-long special. Appropriately released by Netflix on Valentines Day, Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho is full of jokes about success, Asian stereotypes, and being married to a woman named Ho.
Nate Bargatze: The Tennessee Kid
Following his breakout debut stand-up special Full Time Magic on Comedy Central, countless appearances on Conan and Fallon, and the inaugural episode of Netflix’s The Standups – Nate Bargatze has enjoyed an incredible run-up to the release of his second hour-long special, The Tennessee Kid. Directed by Ryan Polito (Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity, Tracy Morgan: Staying Alive) and filmed at Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Georgia – Nate Bargatze: The Tennessee Kid is the hour of comedy Nate Bargatze fans have been clamoring for. Presented through his trademark Southern drawl, Bargatze runs down a range of topics including air travel, college football, chocolate milk, and the daily struggles that come with ordering a cup of coffee. Nate Bargatze has been a known comedian on the rise for years now, but with the success of his first Netflix hour-long special, film and television projects appear to be on the horizon.
Joe Koy: Comin’ in Hot
Fresh off winning the “Stand-Up Comedian of the Year” award at the 2018 Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, Joe Koy released Comin’ in Hot – his fourth hour-long special and second for Netflix. Popularly known for his regular appearances on Chelsea Handler’s E! late night show, Chelsea Lately – Koy has gained a passionate following, regularly touring and consistently selling out venues. Directed by Shannon Hartman (Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj), the Filipino-American comedian’s new special was filmed in front of a sold-out crowd at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center’s arena in Honolulu, Hawaii. Fun fact, that’s the same venue as Elvis Presley’s “Aloha from Hawaii” concert.
Koy’s new hour covers topics ranging from how to raise a millennial to specific Filipino customs like how his mother taught him to make perfect rice. Comedy and cooking tips, what’s not to like?