The Sea of Stand-Up on Netflix
Many of us don’t remember the days of sneaking up to our parent’s attic, getting out that hidden stash of George Carlin albums and listening to them at a barely audible volume as to not bring down the moral hammer of one’s parents. The specific cracks and pops that made your copy of Class Clown truly yours are long forgotten, but stand-up comedy as a medium has grown exponentially with the creation of streaming services like Netflix. Last week saw the addition of Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity to everyone’s suggestion list, as it should be, as the special is a fantastic appetizer sampler for half a dozen comedians featuring various sketches and an original cartoon from Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. With Hilarity and the hundreds of other stand-up specials on Netflix (in Hilarity they joke that Netflix added 3,000 specials last year) here is a handy list of some great stand-up specials on Netflix ranging from legends of comedy, to contemporaries and to the newcomers.
Dave Chappelle: Equanimity & The Bird Revelation: Without a doubt the biggest comedy event of 2017 was the return of groundbreaking comedian and writer Dave Chappelle to the mic. Netflix paid a hefty price for these two specials, according to Page Six Chappelle made $60 million for the combined 112 minutes of comedy, but it was worth every cent. Personally, I think that Equanimity is the stronger of the two installments, as Chappelle tackles Donald Trump, parenting, misconceptions about his personal beliefs and even Stove Top Stuffing.
Not long after the release of the two specials, there was some public backlash against Chappelle over comments he made regarding the transgender community. However this strikes me as delusional people expecting a different Dave Chappelle just because it’s a different decade. Chappelle Show ended in 2006. The country has changed a bit since then, but Chappelle hasn’t. Anybody that expected him to not speak to his beliefs didn’t pay that much attention to him the first time around.
Jerry Before Seinfeld: This one does not fit into the standard milieu of other stand-up specials or even other Jerry Seinfeld stand-up specials like I’m Telling You For The Last Time. This project blends documentary interviews with Seinfeld, archival footage from his early days of playing clubs in New York and, most importantly, a window into the process of one of the most legendary comedians of the 20th century. Rather than just an hour of Seinfeld doing new bits of observational humor, he takes us through the Library of Congress he has constructed of what appears to be every joke he told up until his first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It provides a fascinating look into the inception of one of America’s greatest comedic minds and how he made it.
John Mulaney: New in Town: A former writer for Saturday Night Live, John Mulaney has been making waves on the comedy scene through his own particular brand of self-deprecating and youthful wit (despite being 35 but somehow looking 20) and also through a fruitful partnership with fellow comedian Nick Kroll, resulting in the Broadway special Oh, Hello On Broadway and the recent animated series Big Mouth. After his network sitcom Mulaney was cancelled in 2014, despite having Martin Short as a supporting actor and a wealth of stand-up material to translate into situational comedy, it appeared that Mulaney could’ve missed his chance. However he came right back and released his aptly-named sophomore Netflix special The Comeback Kid. Definitely check the two out before his third special Kid Gorgeous at Radio City is released May 1.
Marc Maron: Too Real: While many know Maron from his wildly-successful podcast WTF with Marc Maron that has seen guests such as Barack Obama, Garry Shandling, Keith Richards and many more, Maron began his career over thirty years ago doing stand-up. His act has evolved immensely since his cocaine-fueled days of hanging around with Sam Kinison in the 1990s, and Maron now presents audiences with a deeply personal look into his fragile psychosis that only he can make sound proportionally funny and sad. While the beard may give the impression of a Geico caveman type character who will stick to blue collar material, Maron instead focuses on the neurotic ramblings that his podcast reveals plague all of us.
The Stand Ups Season 2: The second season of Netflix’s stand-up showcase The Stand Ups was released in March featuring another round of fresh-faced comedians trying to break into the mainstream. One particular standout from the stand-ups is comedian Aparna Nancherla who simply embodies the squirrely young woman in all of us. In addition to her anxious and honest demeanor, Nancherla also incorporates visual elements (not Carrot Top) but rather slideshows that provide a solid visual aid for criticisms of the internet and digital world. However she may not be an up-and-comer for long as she has been gaining recognition with regular appearances in HBO’s Crashing starring Pete Holmes.
Michael Che Matters: I put Michael Che in this category because despite his prominence on the Weekend Update chair at Saturday Night Live, not many people have seen Michael Che’s stand-up. The open stage allows Che to expand on his talents that have made him a head writer at SNL, while also giving him the opportunity to travel outside the bounds of political and topical humor to discuss more relatable topics to a black man in America. With that being said, Che does not try to cash in his race and just be any other black comedian, he instead tries to use his platform as a comedian to argue for more honesty on the stage and against just putting on an act both as an entertainer and a person.
Obviously, there are so many more comedy specials and great comedians on Netflix that I did not touch on here (sorry Tom Segura). But the goal here was to make a concise, rather than comprehensive, list of stand-up specials that you may have seen or may have gotten past you. The point was to break through all of Netflix’s suggestions and have a real person make a recommendation rather than an algorithm. You don’t have to watch all, or any, of these specials, just whatever you do, resist the temptation to watch the new Ricky Gervais special. There’s so much more out there.