News

The 10 Best Stand-Up Comedy Specials Of 2021

0
Please log in or register to like posts.

The pandemic really put a damper on live stand-up comedy, and by extension, the stand-up comedy special.

Much more than any preconceived notion of “cancel culture,” the idea of sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds or thousands of strangers to expel laughter, while millions died around the world from an airborne virus, well, that didn’t quite sit right with many in the comedy industry, even with their “the show must go on” because it’s show business mentality. While enough comedians had filmed hours by mid-March 2020 to fill much of last year’s streaming calendar, so many more specials got postponed or canceled.

And while the end of the 2010s saw an embarrassment of riches when it came to consuming streaming stand-up, at a certain point over the past year or so, what remained became more than slightly embarrassing.

Netflix had dominated the industry. But this year, not so much? Sure, the big N released both the most daring as well as the most trolling works of comedy, thanks to Bo Burnham and Dave Chappelle, respectively. The rest of the streaming giant’s slate left room for some other platform to pick up the slack and make a play for your viewing pleasure.

Could it be Peacock? NBCUniversal got into the game in 2021, starting with Maz Jobrani’s Pandemic Warrior, and following up later in the year with an eclectic group of NYC-based comedians playing with the format of what a special could be. HBO/HBO Max and Showtime, the old standard-bearers for comedy specials in the 1970s and 1980s, leaned the most into diversity. Both cable networks gave more space to women and performers of color than to straight white guys, while also letting stand-ups explore their sketchy ideas (Ziwe on Showtime; Sam Jay and Michael Che for HBO Max). Meanwhile, Comedy Central and Amazon Prime Video both seemed to beat hasty retreats. Comedy Central and Paramount+ all but forgot about stand-up while rebranding toward movies, or some such? Can anyone even figure them out on the comedy front? Amazon, on the other hand, tried to make a big splash in 2019 with multiple acquisitions, only to find their biggest headliner, Jim Gaffigan, returning to the Netflix fold with a solid hour at year’s end in Comedy Monster.

But it turns out anyone can film and upload their specials to Prime Video. Or YouTube. Or anywhere else. 2021, baby! On that note, let me now mention honorably some of the comedians who put out works this year that might not have made my Top 10 but nonetheless should entertain you fully should you click their way. Among them: Nicole Byer, Brian Regan and Theo Von on Netflix; Shane Gillis on YouTube; Rosebud Baker on Comedy Central’s YouTube; and Chris Gethard and Sam Tallent on Prime Video. Yes, we’ve got an unusual list here, so let’s get to it!

10

‘David Huntsberger: Big Nothingness’
YouTube

The folks at 800 Pound Gorilla Records did more in 2021 than get in a big ol’ fight with Spotify over streaming audio residuals. They also helped produce and release multiple great comedy specials for free this year to YouTube!

Huntsberger, a former co-host of the Professor Blastoff podcast with Tig Notaro and Kyle Dunnigan who now hosts his own podcast called Space Cave, delivered a visually striking hour that also manages to fill your pandemic-era need for the biggest questions about life and where we fit in the universe. Why are we here? Are there banana people? Do we end up going to Heaven, Hell or the Lobster Void? If you’re so committed to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s idea of the multiverse so much, then this is the comedian and the comedy special for you. MCU superheroes not included.

Watch David Huntsberger: Big Nothingness on YouTube

9

HBO Max

Speaking of Notaro, she’s back with a new special that animates some of her older routines, and by doing so, casting her in a new light. Or 11 new lights, as a variety of animators put their own spin on Tig. All of which makes her stories even more memorable than they already would be. From two bloody trips to the hospital, to a retelling of her cancer treatment and other medical emergencies via a long-running dialogue with comedian and actress Jenny Slate, her fandom of Eddie Van Halen and Dolly Parton, and her wonderment over the backstory of the Kool-Aid Man, who began breaking through walls in TV ads in the mid-1970s. (Read my full review)

Watch Tig Notaro: Drawn on HBO Max

8

‘Chad Daniels: Twelfth Night’
YouTube

This is not a Shakespearean reference. Rather, Chad Daniels, who released a half-hour for Comedy Central back in 2008 and has released several albums since then, decided to record his 12th night of performing in this calendar year, just because that’s how crazy 2021 was. That’s not to say this isn’t a solid hour of material. In fact, it’s another demonstration of his superior stand-up skills. Managing to mock toxic masculinity without ever having to utter those two words, Daniels also skewers our political, religious and cultural divides, all while reading the room like the consummate professional he is. After one declaration, he notes: “I don’t need you to laugh at that, i just need you to hear it.” You will hear it, and you will laugh, indeed.

Watch Chad Daniels: Twelfth Night on YouTube

7

Netflix

Netflix announced a deal with Mo Amer to develop a sitcom with him when they put out this special, and that’s one of the smarter decisions the platform made this year. One of Dave Chappelle’s frequent opening acts on tour the past two years, Amer is doing a lot more healing and joke-telling in his hour than Chappelle is. Which is the good kind of awkward? (Read my full review)

Watch Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas on Netflix

6

‘Jackie Kashian: Stay-Kashian’
YouTube

Jackie Kashian, another opening act for a living legend (in her case, Maria Bamford) who’s more than ready for the spotlight herself, proves it with her new hour, filmed at Acme Comedy Co. in Minneapolis. She opens by sharing with us how the pandemic has forced live comedy to adapt to the times, then shifts gears into jokes about how some people and some generations aren’t quite so willing to keep up with progress. Her self-awareness is charming and refreshing in an era when so many comedians are making straw-men arguments. And her stories about her elderly father need to be green-lit by a studio, pronto.

Watch Jackie Kashian: Stay-Kashian on YouTube

5

Vimeo

Even though he filmed this special in 2019 and first released it as an exclusive livestream in 2020, there’s no denying James Acaster a place in 2021’s discussion of the best comedy. From his opening bombast, which you undoubtedly came across via social media, slagging his colleagues for being edgy and challenging. That’s only the first few minutes of more than two hours of solid storytelling that dissects the problem with Brexit, losing your girlfriend to Mr. Bean, and becoming a meme already thanks to a disastrous British Bake-Off experience. It’s all gold.

Watch James Acaster: Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999 on Vimeo

4

Peacock

The feel-good special of the year! I could’ve would’ve easily binged a six-episode series about Jo Firestone and her elderly students, but I’m grateful that they cut it down to 50 minutes so we only see everyone at their best. It’s a great lesson to anyone out there taking life or themselves too seriously. It’s healthy and good and downright necessary to have a laugh. (Read my full review)

Watch Good Timing with Jo Firestone on Peacock

3

Netflix

Title of his special aside, Nate Bargatze might just be the greatest affable American, so adept that he makes the most of moments that could derail lesser comedians during the taping, turning them into ad-libbed conversations with his outdoor audience that endear them even more to him. He also continues to poke fun at himself, with great material about learning as much if not more than his third-grader while helping with homework, about meeting his wife while working at Applebee’s, and reveals an amazing true life-saving story from his youth in Tennessee. You can’t help but laugh and want to hear what comes next. (Read my full review)

Watch Nate Bargatze: The Greatest Average American on Netflix

2

Comedy Central

Joke for joke, Roy Wood Jr. might be the best stand-up comedian working today. It’s a shame he’s almost hidden away from most viewers thanks to the bizarre programming decisions at ViacomCBS, Paramount+ and Comedy Central.

When he opens with “I hope you’re OK” but refusing to ask you if you were really are — there’s not only a joke in there, but also a word to the wise for aspiring comedians not to ask too many unnecessary questions of your audience. Wood takes the renewed focus on Black Lives Matter from the past year, and without resorting to lecturing or clapter, frames our race relationships in a much more accessible and funny way for even the most casual viewers to keep paying attention. Wood’s idol, Chris Rock, might rightly get a lot of the attention for his quarter-century body of work in stand-up. But over the past six years, Wood’s work has brought him right up there in the conversation for elite status. As funny as he is, Wood’s not putting on an act, even if he’s put so much thought into the writing and structure of his material. It still just feels as though he’s having a conversation with us, speaking to the collective audience as if we’re all his friend or potential ally, sitting across the table from him. He’s come a long way from making prank phone calls on morning radio in Birmingham, Ala. (Read my full review)

Watch Roy Wood Jr.: Imperfect Messenger on Comedy Central

1

Netflix

Not only the best creative work I’ve seen about the pandemic, but also perhaps the best commentary on comedy and also on social media, all wrapped up in one. Bo Burnham basically hits the Venn diagram on this one. And of course, there are Venn diagrams and charts and graphs and so many musical bangers in this special that the Grammys didn’t know what to do with it. The Emmys knew to reward Burnham handsomely. (Read my full review)

Watch Bo Burnham: Inside on Netflix

Did anyone actually enjoy this movie??? ...
Create A Video Marketing Campaign Using Canva

Reactions

0
0
0
0
0
0
Already reacted for this post.

Reactions

Your email address will not be published.

GIF