Our celebration of EVERYTHING funny in 2019 continues with the 10 best stand up comedy specials released this year.
This year Netflix continued to be the dominant source of the best stand up specials, but HBO has made it clear they are not giving up their title as the home of the most prestigious stand up specials. Showtime continues to put out strong hours, and Comedy Central has renewed their commitment to great hours and half hours with new specials curated by Bill Burr. CNN released their very first original comedy special this year, and Amazon entered the game as well, while Comedy Dynamics continued to round out the playing field. In 2020, HBO Max will join the list of platforms for comedians as well. This year, comedians continued to play with format, add hooks, and themes, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. But the overall theme for 2019 was quality and we really struggled to choose our top ten, because there were so many notable hours to check out.
Before listing the nominees, lets take a quick look back. In 2014, you picked Jim Jefferies “Bare” as the comedy special of the year. In 2015, the honor of best special went to Jim Norton’s “Contextually Inadequate.” In 2016 the honor went to the late great Barry Crimmins for “Whatever Threatens You.” In 2017 our champion proved to be the World Champion Judah Friedlander, for his Netflix work of art “America is the Greatest Country in the United States.” And last year, in the tightest race yet, you chose Gad Elmaleh’s “American Dream” as your favorite.
This year there were a lot of great hours- more than we had room for in our top ten- so there’s plenty of greatness beyond our picks. A few honorable mentions we want to recommend: Jim Florentine’s “I Got the House,” Nick Griffin’s “Cheer Up,” Whitney Cummings “Can I Touch It”, Nick DiPaolo’s controversial, “Breath of Fresh Air” and Chris DiStefano “Size 38 Waist.” There are also some really impressive half hour and fifteen minute specials, but for this year, we kept our list to hour specials only.
Go through our list and vote for the Best Hour Special of 2019! You can vote daily through January 6th.
COLIN QUINN is one of the best comedians working today. Over the course of the past ten years, Quinn put out four outstanding specials, and RED STATE BLUE STATE may be his best hour yet. Quinn, always the innovator, released the hour on CNN, the perfect place for his politically themed material. Colin Quinn cares about content more than any other comic in the country and that’s evident in all his hours including this one. In RSBS, he digs deep and uncovers the truth about America’s problems and they are deeply rooted in our systems and our institutions. We have failed, and it’s time to call it a day, Quinn says. Everything from capitalism, to premarital sex, and even equality can be taken too far, and whatever side you’re on, you’re most likely on it too much. In Quinn’s hands, comedy is a sharp tool to re-examine everything we take for granted, and maybe by laughing at the mess we’ve made, we can start to move forward. Comedy is at its best when it uncovers truths, and this hour is full of hilarious self reflection about where the country has been, where it is now, and where it’s going.
NATE BARGATZE blew us away with his last special (it earned him the title of Comedian of the Year in 2015) and America agrees; he’s now one of the hottest touring comics. His follow up special, THE TENNESSEE KID released on Netflix this year has been talked about all year as nothing short of outstanding. We call it casually hilarious because Nate is the most disarming comedian on our list this year. What he does on stage is like magic. He’s so comfortable that its seems like funny just rolls out of him as he weaves around stories about his wife, his kids, his family dog, and a hilarious trip to Seattle. Don’t make the mistake of thinking his effortless delivery is any less skilled than the other comedians on the list. There’s a good reason he is the Tonight Show’s favorite comedian. He is one of the best performers we have.
MICHELLE WOLF is a stone cold killer. In her new special, JOKE SHOW, she drops hammers left and right. Some people start their specials with their strongest bits, others hold them for the end. Wolf throws grenades from start to finish in this positively brilliant new hour. It’s a WTF hour of nonstop laughs, and its without a doubt, one of the year’s best. People talk about Chappelle and Burr being fearless, and they are, but if you aren’t throwing the name Michelle Wolf into that category, you’re just not paying attention. Her abortion joke is getting all the media attention but her jokes about animal rape, periods, millennials, immigration, childbirth, raising kids and white women are just as dark, just as twisted and just as strong. Wolf was already on a strong trajectory but Joke Show propels her into a whole new level.
LIL REL HOWERY is like an exploding firecracker in his new special, LIVE FROM CRENSHAW. He barely seems to take a breath in the hour, shot in a high school gymnasium with all of the energy of a community rally. And community is the buzzword for the hour. Rel wanted Live From Crenshaw to be all about community, which is why he donated a big chunk of change to Susan Miller Dorsey Senior High School. The result is electric. Jerrod Carmichael directed the special which looks nothing like a comedy special. There are huge windows and when the hour begins, its still light out. Who does that? Rel also says he didn’t prepare material for the hour. He just went out and started talking. Again, who does that? Taking chances on a big special can be (and often is) disastrous but everything fell into place for Rel and the result is real, and vibrant, and full of funny. One of the most unique hours this year, and one of the funnest.
DANIEL SLOSS‘s new hour, X, is his tenth and the third available to American audiences. It’s a beast of an hour and Sloss is one of our favorite young comics- maybe the only comic who can cater to the new millennial sensibility and sensitivity while still maintaining edgy irreverence, delivering dirty jokes, and shocking the shit out of the crowd. Daniel loves to position himself on the thinest of ice with his audience, tackling taboo topics and not just pushing– shoving boundaries. And Sloss proves that there is no boundary that can’t be crossed— if its done well. After he ruined romance, slaughtered vegans, and tore through topics like death and disability in his last two specials, you might be thinking…where else could he go? Well, X goes to places you can’t possibly imagine could be covered in a comedy hour. Like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, Sloss shocks his audience with important and upsetting topics. Unlike Nanette, he doesn’t preach or alienate any part of the audience in doing so. Sloss tackles the untackle-able, diving into topics no white male would dare approach. His a skillfull understanding of 2019 cultural shifts that allows him to make hard lefts all over the place. And his audiences laugh, they learn, and they come back for more
DAN SODER may be the most likeable comedian in 2019. He’s been doing comedy for decades but 2019 has been a peak year for him. The Bonfire is cruising, he crushed at Eidenburgh for a month, Billions just got renewed for another season and he recorded an HBO special. Everyone loves him and his new hour, SON OF A GARY is laugh packed from start to finish, even when he’s talking about subjects that shouldn’t be funny, like his dad’s alcoholism or making fun of his chosen profession- mall clown. This truly seems like a transitional special for Dan. He’s really come into his voice and you can’t help but already get excited to see his next couple of specials. Most importantly, it seems like Soder is truly finding an audience that will follow him throughout his career, and that is every comedian’s dream. Dan’s special has exploded on social media and with fans, and you can expect to see him headline theaters going forward. The most exciting thing about this special, it feels like Dan has the promise to be not just a very funny comedian, but perhaps one of the important ones.
GARY GULMAN had a terrible year, maybe the worst year of his life when he was hit with a seemingly un-survivable bout of depression. It was so bad, he quit comedy and moved back home. But he fought his way back and instead of shutting the door on that terrible time, he decided to talk about it on stage and the result is a magnificent hour special, beautifully packaged for HBO. THE GREAT DEPRESH is heartbreaking, and inspiring and it’s also hilarious. Gulman takes his audience through many different stages of his struggles with mental illness from early childhood symptoms through electric shock therapy, taking the time to explore how cultural shifts throughout his life magnified his condition. The stand up is interspersed with fascinating and beautifully shot docu-footage as Gary welcomed cameras into his personal life- conversations with his mother, this friends, therapy sessions, and a haunting look into how his battle affected his relationship with this wife. Gary seems to lay everything bare for the hour and the result is cathartic, particularly for viewers who have similar struggles. By laughing at his challenges in public, he’s opened the door for others to talk about their own, giving a powerful demonstration of the healing power of comedy.
BILL BURR became a dad this year, and if you think that mellowed him, you haven’t seen his newest special. His signature rant and his hardcore dont-give-a-fuck attitude in full force in PAPER TIGER and he delivers a packed hour of laughs to a thrilled crowd at Prince Albert Hall. This hour is for everyone who is tired of the word woke, and as Burr told us in an interview, they’re just jokes. He’s not looking to create controversy or take a stand or battle against social responsibility or change the world in any way. He’s just looking for laughs, and he gets them by the barrel full. Paper Tiger includes some incredibly nuanced commentary on race, jokes about becoming a dad, male vs female reactions to stress, and a hilarious self reflective section covering self improvement. Burr’s at his funniest when talking rage, and in Paper Tiger, he expertly covers the topic. Burr’s ability to communicate what’s so damn funny about rage is so fine tuned, and it’s priceless. And if the provocative 20 minutes covering gender issues, and the me too movement makes you mad, remember, comedy just a paper tiger. It can’t hurt you.
What can we say about JESSICA KIRSON now after we’ve spent years raving about her and calling her one of the most underrated comedians performing today? Just this. “Told you so.” On stage she is a killer, and everyone in New York knows it, which is why the comedy community was genuinely thrilled when the news broke that Comedy Central and Bill Burr were going to produce her first recorded hour. TALKING TO MYSELF is the perfect title, describing Jessica’s brilliant device where she turns her back to the audience and shares her inner monologue with the crowd. And Kirson shines throughout the hour, joking about her own eccentricities, the ridiculousness of aging jewish stereotypes, and growing up with a mother who is an art therapist. And her character work is criminally funny. You don’t have to be a member of any definable group to laugh at this hour- its all universally over the top funny. Share it with your parents, your cousins, your best friends, even your grandparents. They will all thank you. And thank you to Comedy Central for finally letting the tv-watching audience see what club going fans have known for years- Jessica Kirson is positively and ridiculously hilarious.
DAVE CHAPPELLE made headlines everywhere with his new special STICKS AND STONES. The title suggests that words can’t hurt, and Chappelle went all in to try to prove that, taking on the most provocative positions he could. He takes on the sensitive types declaring he is tired of snowflakes, while using F words and N words. He’s not afraid to defend Michael Jackson, Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart. L’s G’s T’s B’s and Q’s are fair game for fodder in Chappelle’s world. None of these opinions are popular and had any other comedian delivered them they would have been crucified by young media. Chappelle didn’t quite skate on the subjects, but he didn’t get smoked by the social media hit squad either. Chappelle retained his untouchable status after going to the edge of the cliff and leaping right over it. Smart, fearless, funny, sometimes right, sometimes wrong. He’s pushing buttons and taking names and 100% aware of what he’s doing. He’s not tone deaf, he’s tone-defiant taking the idea that certain opinions are un-discussable and throwing it right in the incinerator.