Oh, how you spoil us, the internet. Watching a comedian’s latest show used to involve waiting for one of about eight comics to release a VHS/DVD or, gulp, leaving the house. Today, we hold the whip hand. Such is our desire to sit around watching standup in our pyjamas, streaming services can’t get them out fast enough. Netflix is our most deep-pocketed and reliable dealer, pumping out no less than 45 original shows in 2019, up from one in 2012. But there are other providers, notably Amazon Prime Video, iPlayer, and smaller outfits such as NextUp and Go Faster Stripe, which do a fine job of mopping up lesser-known comics and hidden gems.
To the bean-counters at Netflix et al, the appeal of these “specials” is obvious: they are cheap to make compared with sitcoms and films, but they still attract a lot of eyeballs. And to the ambitious comic, it can mean the difference between national and international success. This has led to little outbreaks of creativity here and there, as comedians embrace the format’s increasing dominance. Maria Bamford’s decision to record her show The Special Special Special! in a living room, in front of an audience of just two (her baffled but supportive parents), was inspired and in keeping with her unorthodox act. In his BBC series Comedy Vehicle, Stewart Lee literally spoke down to the audience at home through a camera at the side of the stage. The streaming services are starting to experiment now, too, with shorter, snackable shows of just 15 to 30 minutes, as a way of showcasing rising stars. All of which means that the humble TV viewer might require some help to hack through this jungle of options. So, in that spirit, we have put together 50 of the best standup specials you can find online. PF
Baby Cobra Netflix
Baby Cobra didn’t just give us Ali Wong, she of the death stare and the dead-on observations; it also created a sub-genre of special: the heavily pregnant ones. You haven’t seen physical comedy mastered until you’ve seen a woman, seven-and-a-half-months pregnant, writhing about, re-enacting some moves she “learned in Atlanta”.
Best bit: “I don’t want to ‘lean in’ OK? I want to lie down.” EEJ
America’s premier purveyor of pussy gags has a new shtick: she’s pregnant! This provides enough amusing material to fill the hour, even if it doesn’t leave space for Schumer to address her recurrent career controversies, from joke-stealing to oblivious “white feminism”.
Best bit: On joining a protest of Brett Kavanaugh’s supreme court confirmation: “I want to be able to tell this kid I did everything I could … And DC, I heard, has the best cocaine.” EEJ
Asian Network Comedy
Edinburgh Festival BBC iPlayer
A half-hour from the 2019 fringe featuring Eshaan Akbar, Arnab Chanda, an outre Shazia Mirza set on hot jihadis, and master of deadpan Sumit Anand with a bulletin from the frontline of Indian culture and creativity.
Best bit: Mirza: “A few days after Brexit a friend of mine was abused on the street in Birmingham. She was wearing Asian clothes, so it was her own fault.” BL
I’ll Be Bec LIVR.co.uk
After the viral success of her lo-fi flipcharts, the irreverent Aussie’s terrific new special – an ingenious time-travel tale – is only available in VR. Sign up for a free headset and all you need is a decent smartphone to jack in.
Best bit: A daffy Lord’s Prayer remix from the future: “Owl father, hoo …” GV
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way Netflix
A bullish comic taking on complaint culture and over-sensitivity could be a bad combination, but Burr is no orthodox reactionary, and his delivery is often more aggressive than his message. He also looks at his own religious background and notions of masculinity.
Best bit: His adoption oneupmanship. PF
Hicks’s final release before his death showcases the power of his nihilistic truth-telling. The Iraq war, smoking/drugs and gun control all get the treatment. He is remembered for his political stances, but this is a reminder that his evangelical oratory made for brilliant comedy.
Best bit: The military weapons catalogue. PF
An Audience With Amazon (£1.89)
Look past the 1980s optics – Connolly’s flouncy zebra shirt, Sir Clive Sinclair in the celeb crowd – and this is a righteous celebration of the Big Yin’s livewire wit, from his days as a Clydeside welder to finding his first grey pube.
Best bit: An incontinence pants routine that will leave you requiring them. GV
Make Happy Netflix
Teen musical comedy prodigy-turned-standup superstar, at 25 Burnham made Make Happy: casually brilliant, abundant in smarts, cynicism and aggressive misdirection, and fraught by his tortured self-hyperawareness. He went on to write and direct the movie Eighth Grade – but his comedy is a must-see.
“A lesser comedian would have milked that for four verses. And a better comedian wouldn’t have done it at all. I’m right in the sweet spot!” BL
Stand Up for Her Netflix
One of the decade’s great standups, combining clowning and campaigning comedy to sublime effect. This brings together her biggest-hitting feminist material: on sexist advertising, old-school chauvinism and “vintage vaginas”.
Best bit: Her Bic for Her routine: “Look, I can write down a list of things what ladies want … Chocolate! Jewellery! Abortion!” BL
Rock’s first special for a decade includes some bitter ramblings of a recently divorced dad (“Housewives are the most gangster motherfuckers”), but also his trademark insight into American racism – updated for the Trump era – plus an introspective vulnerability that’s all new.
Best bit: “Bad apple? That’s a lovely name for murderer.” EEJ
Comedians of the World Netflix
This globetrotting strand showcases 47 comics from more than a dozen territories performing polished half-hours in their native language (roughly half are in English). UK/US talent includes sly satirist Nish Kumar and saucy Nailed It! host Nicole Byer, but venturing further afield reveals the irks and quirks that animate standups from Brazil, India, the Middle East and more.
Iranian-German comic Enissa Amani biting the hand that feeds by slagging off sub-par Netflix subtitles. GV
It’s true, late-era Chappelle is sometimes guilty of lazy provocation, but a comic of his skill always entertains. Even the way he puffs on an e-cig between punchlines is funnier than most standups on their best night.
Best bit: “It’s easier to ruin an orgy than you think. All you gotta do is wait for it to get kind of quiet and then go: ‘Eww.’” EEJ
No Place Like Home NextUp
One of comedy’s most uncomfortable watches broadcasts from his home town of Bisbee, Arizona, with off-colour, orthodoxy-baiting material on global poverty, mental health and beheading videos. Often brilliant, often hard to stomach.
“Isis is using social media to recruit disenfranchised, angry youth. And that’s what I do! That’s my demographic!” BL
Raw Amazon Prime
It’s still the highest-grossing standup film of all time, but Murphy has admitted parts of his 1987 special now make him cringe. The homophobic slurs have certainly dated, although Raw’s Cosby mockery seems prescient. And the purple leather outfit? Timeless.
Best bit: Murphy’s impression of his stepfather angrily misremembering Motown lyrics must be appreciated in full. EEJ
Flight of the Conchords
Live in London Now TV
The best musical comedians in the world toured in 2018 with this blissfully entertaining show, stuffed with old favourites, beautifully wrought newbies and deadpan banter. As this Hammersmith Apollo recording proves: age does not wither them.
Best bit: “You just never know how love will end / But never ever introduce her to your handsomest friend” from the song Father and Son. BL
This is the hour that brought a small-town Tasmanian global recognition. Others deconstruct the form, do biting satire or emotional vulnerability, but few combine all three. Plus there is something here that none of those “Kings of Comedy” could muster: Gadsby’s invaluable perspective.
Best bit: “I may as well come out now … I identify as tired.” EEJ
Comedy Camisado Netflix
Buress became notorious in 2014 after his Bill Cosby routine reignited legal interest in the sex pest. This 2016 special touches briefly on that fallout but mostly explores the Chicago standup’s appealingly languid interests.
Best bit: “I don’t have fuck-you money, I’ve got strongly-worded-email money.” GV
Live in London NextUp
Good luck working out what’s going on when Teeuwen takes to the stage. Here as elsewhere, the in-yer-face Dutch absurdist keeps you perpetually off-balance as he tinkles the ivories, bellows a Scandinavian war song and recounts sex with a water buffalo.
Best bit: The improving on Mozart number. BL
Patriot Act Netflix
A blend of standup and TED talk, this series seems to annoy all the right people, including the US military, Hindu nationalists in India and Duterte supporters in the Philippines. Minhaj’s earnest optimism might be American, but his reach is truly global.
Best bit: “There are over 10,000 apps for mental health. That fact alone gives me anxiety.” EEJ
The Planet Is Burning Amazon Prime
Ignore that earnest title, the broad from Broad City isn’t about to bend your ear on climate change. Instead, it’s the same twerk-tastic, sexually confident energy we’ve come to love in her TV alter ego, with added Hebrew school anecdotes.
Best bit: “The Amazon is on fire and my special is on Amazon …and it is fiiiiire.” EEJ
A suite of four standup shows, bringing TV viewers up to date with his live career. Recognise, Represent and Reset are as they were originally intended: tall tales of being an undercover cop, a juror and a criminal mastermind-turned-snitch, respectively. Recap is a new show set in witness protection. The shows are puzzles, rewarding and precisely constructed, and he finds new perspectives on the most mundane subjects. He’s dry, absurd, awkward and utterly brilliant.
Best bit: His dissection of he/she/they. PF
Serious Black Jumper Amazon Prime
Jayde is on a mission to be taken more seriously, Bristolian accent and all. The solution? A Steve Jobs makeover and this set, which disco-dances on the limits of celebrity feminism, like one of her drag queen pals of old.
“I don’t even run in my own nightmares.” EEJ
Stage Fright Netflix
Ten years on from her infamous SNL blunder (she dropped the F-bomb in her very first show and only lasted one season), Slate returns to standup. The show is no dark baring of the soul – it focuses on her Jewish heritage and her haunted childhood home – but ripples of nervous energy make her brilliantly skittish set even more magnetic.
Best bit: Her parents’ sleeping habits, involving nudity and a sleep apnoea machine. HG
Jerry Before Seinfeld Netflix
Shot in the same Manhattan club where he got his start in the 1980s, 2017’s Jerry Before Seinfeld special sees the sitcom champ looking wistfully back with some low-stakes but well-sculpted material.
Best bit: “I had glasses at 10, braces at 12. I said to my parents: ‘Let’s not stop now … how about a hearing aid?’” GV
Kid Gorgeous Netflix
Like a Simpsons approximation of a standup brought to life: classical in style, family-friendly and a toothy grin. His second Netflix special is a doozy, with routines on college fees, meeting famous people, and the greatest Trump routine to date.
Best bit: There’s a horse, loose, in the hospital. PF
All I Wanna Do Is... Go Faster Stripe (£5)
Absurdist fans gather. Roberts combines surrealism with his considerable chops for writing jokes and inhabiting characters. This show doubles as both a run-through of “all the other Spice Girls”, and a heartfelt appreciation of laughter in the face of confusion.
“Crone spice.” PF
Body of Work NextUp
The breakthrough show from the comic who won last year’s Edinburgh comedy award, in which the sinewy strange-behaviour merchant covers “bad thought-marbles”, talking body parts and his dead gran.
Best bit: “Nana was one of those women who’d walk into a room and you’d go: ‘There’s Nana’” – and the ensuing routine. BL
Cara Josephine Sohotheatreondemand.com (£4)
The usually enthusiastic comic is in a contemplative mood here: recovering from a big breakup, obsessed with outdoor swimming, and able to deliver a seemingly innocuous story about her sister’s wedding with an emotional sledgehammer of a punchline. An 80-minute softening of the soul we can all benefit from.
Best bit: A surprisingly touching anecdote about her ex responding to period blood. HG
In Trouble Netflix
Joan Rivers (RIP) has many successors but Ryan, all Botox and badass takedowns, must be her truest heir. This sees her not yet grown into her Glitter Room greatness, but nonetheless hilarious on her rural Canadian roots.
Best bit: “Yeah, but you bitches aren’t normal, you’re ordinary. It’s different.” EEJ
The League of Gentlemen
Live Again! BBC iPlayer
Local shop, loco people: Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith reactivated their beloved Royston Vasey grotesques for this 2018 show, with some genuine pathos amid the unsettling humour and gooey slapstick.
Best bit: Herr Lipp leads the audience in a highly inappropriate German lesson. GV
Time Machine Netflix
Here’s the Saturday Night Live veteran and Chris Rock’s favourite standup, in a special directed by Game of Thrones’s Benioff and Weiss, no less. She is reflecting on the decades, but once she gets to partying, even a loose eyelash can’t stop her.
Best bit: Recreating at length the fully choreographed dance routine that a 20-year-old Jones once whipped out to impress Prince. EEJ
Live from the BBC BBC iPlayer
A rare opportunity to see the Pls Like man in standup mode. This set may not burn as brightly as his best work, but its account of eye tests, foot injuries and climate change still finds the downcast Yorkshireman on fine, mordant form.
Best bit: The “No, those are next year’s daffodils come early!” gag about a warming world. BL
The San-Franciscan sitcom pioneer has been effortlessly upending racist and sexist stereotypes for decades, and has picked up several starry showbiz anecdotes along the way. There is also a scream-worthy sex story here that has her loyal audience in hysterics.
Best bit: “Asian women have a lot of power. We’re sort of like blondes, but no one thinks we’re stupid.” EEJ
The Special Special Special! Netflix
As if Bamford’s standup wasn’t twisted enough, this 2012 set is filmed in her living room, to an audience of just two people – her mum and dad. Bamford pulls no punches for them, in a claustrophobically intense hour on God, mental health and existential despair.
Best bit: “My mom is very religious, and she said: ‘Whatever you think about all the time, that’s what you worship.’ If that’s the case, I’d like everyone to pop open their Diet Coke cans and turn to page 37 of their People magazines.” BL
Check Up: Our NHS @ 70 Go Faster Stripe (£5)
A documentary/comedy show in which Thomas reports back from the frontline of an increasingly privatised NHS, with stories of shadowing staff and interviews with bigwigs. The power of his oratory and his love for the subject makes it an affecting watch.
The 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony reveal. PF
Joke Show Netflix
Most female standups have feminist material, but Wolf and her distinctive voice never let up, including extended musings on menstruation, childbirth and abortion. It’s all evidence for her central premise: women are grosser than men. And maybe, therefore, funnier too?
Best bit: “I would wanna breastfeed, but only because I would want to use breast milk the way a clown uses a flower with water in it.” EEJ
Fibber in the Heat Go Faster Stripe (£5)
A true story of derring-do: a young, cricket-obsessed Jupp bluffs his way on to an England tour as a “journalist”, then rubs shoulders and drinks heavily with his commentator heroes. A metaphorical straight drive for four.
Best bit: Drinking with the England captains. PF
A slick power hour from the young comic and Channel 4 chatshow host, recorded last April at a packed Hackney Empire in London. Gilligan recreates classroom trauma and nightclub mating rituals with impudence and swagger.
Best bit: A medley of rasta nursery rhymes, including Old MacDonald’s ganja farm. GV
Live at the Hollywood Bowl Netflix
Comedy was the new rock’n’roll as far back as 1982, when the UK’s surrealist supergroup performed a greatest hits set at an iconic LA venue. A cheeky barbershop quartet, silly walks and some disconcerted Mounties all feature.
Best bit: Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more. GV
Soho Theatre Live Sohotheatreondemand.com (£4)
Here’s what Britain’s leading political comic would look like if he barely talked politics: a top-notch hour from The Mash Report man on pessimism, ego, insomnia – and on how he does and doesn’t choose to address race in his comedy.
Best bit: The “White people? Beyond the odd bit of imperialism … big fan!” routine. BL
24 Unique Live Comedy Acts YouTube
A series of short, snappy sets, recreating the anarchic energy of a late night comedy gig. Comics include Edinburgh prize winner Jordan Brookes fantasising about what he could have said after an argument, Kemah Bob as Republican club comic parody Lil’ Test Ease and a monologue about Tom & Jerry from master of oddities Johnny White Really-Really.
Best bit: Lola & Jo’s instructional dance class about how to be single at a wedding. HG
The Comedy Lineup Netflix
Rising UK standup Phil Wang – last year’s show at the Edinburgh fringe sold out before it opened – dropped this 15-minute set in 2018 as part of standup collection The Comedy Lineup. He packs a lot in, about horror movies, being mixed race, and the imminent Chinese invasion – and whets the appetite for more.
Best bit: “If you look at me, and squint really hard – that’s racist!” BL
Jackie Amazon Prime
In middle age, standup can sometimes lapse into comfortable cliche, but the Catastrophe star tackles topics such as weight gain and parenting with a refreshing combination of GI charm and beaming misanthropy. He’s like the Ken Doll Frankie Boyle.
Best bit: Confronting his own prejudice: “Just because I dress like a gas station attendant, why can’t he have a little flair and be happy?! Why do I fucking care? But I do.” EEJ
Irrational Amazon Prime
The prolific standup’s 2016 debut special sees him bellyaching about Wagamama, Gogglebox and his poor old mum, but crucially the most lacerating observations are about himself.
Best bit: “Christmas is difficult at my house because I can’t pretend to be Santa.” Pause. “Because I have a lazy eye.” GV
A Speck of Dust Netflix
She’s less overtly shocking these days, and perhaps the better for it. Her 2017 show combines personal stories (of her brush with death) and weighty issues (abortion law), with her trademark fearlessness and intelligence.
Best bit: Her sister vomiting story. PF
Set Free Netflix
With the serenity of someone who’s done a lot of yoga and therapy, Amstell is a different, wiser beast nowadays, but he’s lost none of his sharpness. Set Free sees him navigate monogamy, awkward sex parties and daddy issues.
Best bit: His post-MDMA poos. PF
Live from the BBC BBC iPlayer
A brief but handy introduction to a rising star. This 20-minuter, filleted from her 2016 best newcomer show, features material on a sexual encounter gone wrong and her past as a Westlife superfan.
Best bit: Her Westlife fan fiction. PF
Content Provider Amazon (£3.49)
If the four series of Comedy Vehicle on iPlayer aren’t enough, this savage two-hour show from 2019 doubles down on Lee’s deconstructive impulses and acidic hubris. It also features deadpan debriefs from comics wizard Alan Moore.
Best bit: “It wasn’t just racists who voted to leave Europe. Cunts did as well.” GV
Black Mitzvah Netflix
The Girls Trip star’s hard-knock childhood in South Central LA provides plenty of material, but self-pity isn’t in her repertoire. Instead, she interweaves her raucous anecdotes with homespun scientific theory and a mischievous twinkle that’s utterly beguiling.
Best bit: “I’m not no alcoholic. [Takes a sip from her drink] My parasites is the alcoholic.” EEJ
After two Netflix specials introducing Das to international audiences, with this third instalment he returns the favour by building a bridge of gags to connect his country of birth with second-generation Indian-Americans and non-Indians alike.
“I have to submit my fingerprint to enter your country, which is why when you come to mine, I take the same fingerprint and put it on your head.” EEJ