That $15 sign you bought at Target demands that you live, love, and laugh, and you woke up this morning alive and that cup of coffee was so good that you dropped the L-word, but laughing still evades you. Turn that frown upside down with some comedy! Not just any comedy, stand-up comedy. And not just any stand-up comedy, Netflix stand-up comedy specials.
We guarantee something on this list will make you laugh or your money back. Email Netflix customer service and tell them these recommendations didn't give you any chuckles and they'll refund your account (lol jk, don't do this).
Indie auteur and certified bad movie boyfriend Bo Burnham surprised his fans when he announced he had orchestrated a return to his comedic roots during quarantine. In typical Burnham fashion, he basically gave nothing away before releasing it, saying only that he made this latest special without a crew or an audience over the past year. But the result is a quarantine project that technically isn't stand-up -- he wrote, performed, and directed everything by himself -- simply because we were all told that getting near anyone else was a good way to die. Instead, Bo sings songs with minimal but effective effects as he dissects isolation and social issues.
Sam Jay is a spiritual successor to the late comedian Patrice O'Neal, with a similarly confident presence and an ability to calmly articulate provocative, contrary arguments. She even borrows "goofy," his signature adjective. She updates his style for 2020, though, replacing his misogyny with hilariously independent-minded takes on the racism of white male confidence, the failures of #MeToo, the reason she doesn't like Greta Thunberg, and how her girlfriend forgets that just because she's masculine-presenting, she's still a woman. She may be influenced by Patrice O'Neal, but her point of view is completely her own.
Stoners have a reputation for being chill, but Eric Andre proves the exception to the rule. In his high-energy first stand-up special, the Eric Andre Show star screams at the top of his lungs about drugs -- and sex, and violence, and everything else. It's a lot of screaming. He screams about taking a Xanax at Coachella and blacking out and missing the Tupac hologram's performance, which caused him to have a public meltdown during Snoop Dogg's set where he tore grass out of the ground while yowling "BURY ME ALIIIIVE! I DON'T DESERVE TO LIIIIVE!" If this doesn't sound appealing to you, you're not a millennial who's had their brain damaged by Adderall and the internet, and you're missing out.
With his recent pivot to the world of indie film, it's easy to forget that Bo Burnham also moonlights as a very funny comedian. He has a specific style that combines music and jokes, and he utilizes things like lighting cues and sound effects in ways that other comics don't. Make Happy deals with a lot of Burnham's musings on life and performing, and it's the kind of special that will also make you kind of sad in an existential way. That said, it's not as depressing as it sounds, and there's a lot of lightness in it, like the part where he performs a hip-hop version of "I'm a Little Teapot" that will be stuck in your head for the rest of your life. -Allison Picurro
Jerry Seinfeld gets out of the car, puts down the coffee, and gets back on stage for a new stand-up comedy special, his first of entirely new material since 1998. It's an hour of him asking "What's the deal?" with everything that's happened in the world since his last special. "What's the deal with MySpace?" I'm kidding, it's classic Seinfeld observational humor about how everything sucks, but is also pretty good. There's also a good deal of truly old-fashioned "my wife and I hate each other" comedy that could have come from when Seinfeld was born in the mid-50s. Did you know he's 65? He talks about being in his 60s, too, which he makes sound pretty good. He makes me look forward to being in my 60s and having a billion dollars.
This recent special is made even more timely by the fact that it's basically all about the end of the world. While you're hunkered down in your pandemic survival shelter, you can be like "it do be like that, though," as Marc Maron philosophizes comically about how we did all we could to stop climate change by bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. Though Maron is best known these days as the host of the WTF podcast and as Sam Sylvia on GLOW, he's a stand-up comedian first, and this is his best special yet.
Michelle Wolf used to have a show on Netflix called The Break with Michelle Wolf. It was canceled. But to show no hard feelings, Netflix put out Wolf's most recent stand-up special, an hour of risqué, perverse, and hilarious jokes delivered in Wolf's trademark howl at a relentless pace. Wolf's humor certainly isn't for everyone -- she upset a lot of Republicans when she hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2018 -- but if the idea of listening to Wolf talk about what the world would be like if men had periods instead of women sounds good (and it is good), then get ready to be grossed out and love it the entire time. -Tim Surette
Ronny Chieng, who you may know from Crazy Rich Asians, The Daily Show, or his Comedy Central series Ronny Chieng: International Student, is a man of the world. The Malaysian-born comedian has lived in New Hampshire, Singapore, Australia, and New York City, providing his stand-up special Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America! with funny observations of America as both an outsider and a resident, and a solid argument about why America needs an Asian president. But his best bits involve his personal takes on Asian parents wanting their kids to be doctors (of all the reasons they want their kids to be doctors, helping people is way down at the bottom, he says) and a wild story about trying to make it to his wedding halfway across the world. Chieng mixes humor and anger for a fiery cocktail of amped-up comedy. -Tim Surette
The Late Night host gets out from behind the desk and shows off his legs in this charming special that's less political than his show. It's mostly about his family, but there is a Trump chunk that incorporates a very creative and very funny use of Netflix's "skip intro" feature.
Mike Birbiglia brings his one-man Broadway show to the streaming masses, and along the way he may just convince some of you out there to double up your birth control. Birbiglia is part stand-up comedian, part storyteller as he recounts his early days as a new parent, but he gives it teeth with one simple fact: He didn't really want a kid. Birbiglia delivers all sorts of painful truths parents will be able to relate to -- kids can ruin everything, marriages included -- even at the cost of coming off as a bit of a deadbeat, bringing the kind of honesty that makes these shows better than a typical stand-up set. The New One toured the country not too long ago, but now that it's on Netflix, its target audience won't need a babysitter to watch it. -Tim Surette
Jeff Garlin -- best known for shouting "LARRY!" on Curb Your Enthusiasm -- does his first Netflix special from his hometown of Chi City, taped on, coincidentally, the 37th anniversary of the first time he did stand-up. That's almost 40 years of showbiz experience and crazy stories going into this off-the-cuff special. There are tales from his life in entertainment, like the time the pro wrestler King Kong Bundy saved him from an out-of-control heckler at 3 a.m. on a Sunday. He also gets deep into his struggles with food addiction. Sometimes he talks about both at once, like the time he ate 36 donuts while filming a scene in RoboCop 3. He spends a good chunk of the special off the stage, walking the floor and working the crowd.
In this raunchy special, Nikki Glaser talks about everything sex-related you can imagine in the most graphic detail possible, and you will laugh so hard you cry. She's like a sexual anthropologist, examining why and how we do the things we do. Even if you don't usually like the "pretty blonde woman talks like the most debauched frat boy on Earth" comedy subgenre, you might like Glaser, because she's the best at it. Even if you don't like horror movies, you like The Shining, you know?
Bill Burr's superpower is putting forth a controversial opinion that half of people will agree with wholeheartedly and half of people will find offensive, expressed via a story from his life, and then interrogating it until both sides are wrong, before tying it up with some insight that even if you don't agree with him, you see where he's coming from. He's capable of more complex thought than every single political pundit on Fox News or MSNBC. Paper Tiger is largely about his anger issues, which most men have and can't articulate the way Burr does.
Anthony Jeselnik might be the world's most dangerous comedian. His sense of humor is pitch black and no topic is off the table, making him a bit of a rarity in modern comedy's upward-punching climate. After his 2015 special Thoughts and Prayers, Jeselnik gets another Netflix stand-up special in which he makes fun of dropped babies, racism, Christians, and anyone else who stands in his way. The off-limits humor is only part of it; Jeselnik is an artist up on stage who carefully crafts jokes and delivers jaw-dropping punchlines with little flair but tons of confidence, leaving the audience in a sustained, low rumbling as they don't know if it's OK to laugh or not. It's OK to laugh. It's also OK to hate him. -Tim Surette
Great America isn't Katt Williams' best special -- that would be The Pimp Chronicles, one of the greatest specials of all time -- but it contains a 12-minute chunk where he talks in detail about Jacksonville, Florida, and it's maybe the most attention anyone has ever paid that city on an international platform. You will come away from the special knowing more about Jacksonville than you ever thought you would know, and you will appreciate it. Only Katt Williams could or would put something like the Jacksonville chunk in a Netflix special, and that's why he's one of the greatest comics alive. Ask any comedian you know about the Jacksonville chunk, and they'll be like "That was incredible." It's legendary. He's a legend. He's not even from Jacksonville.
Ali Wong has put out two stand-up specials for Netflix, Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife. She looks like she's about to go into labor in both of them, which makes her filthy comedy even funnier. We've heard women talk frankly about sex before, but never from Wong's feminist, Asian American, hip-hop loving perspective. Both of her specials are excellent, but start with her debut, 2016's Baby Cobra, because it still feels like lightning striking (and Hard Knock Wife kinda feels like a sequel). No one else could tell the joke she tells in Baby Cobra about wanting to crush a white man's head between her thighs. Watching the special is watching her invent her own subgenre of "Ali Wong comedy."
John Mulaney is old-school in his presentation: a reasonably handsome white man in a suit whose primary goal is to entertain through observations and stories. He's a throwback compared to some other people on this list. But the thing is, he's so unbelievably good at stand-up comedy. Like, how is he able to do so many distinct voices that still all sound like him? How does someone get so good at measuring out the rhythm of a sentence? He's a master of the form in a way that most comics of his generation are not. And his old-school craft belies how weird and personal his material can get. All of his specials are excellent, but his newest, Kid Gorgeous, is the most fully realized, even down to the way the camera follows Mulaney's Ichabod Crane-like movements.
Netflix's most talked-about stand-up special ever almost isn't stand-up. It starts as stand-up, and then at the 17-minute mark Hannah Gadsby says, "I do think I have to quit comedy, though." After that, the show turns into an art history lecture and an unburdening of the pain and trauma Gadsby has suffered as a lesbian woman, from growing up in a place where homosexuality was illegal to being subjected to violence to constant social reminders that she doesn't belong, until it builds to furious climax where Gadsby lets her anger come through, with no comedy filter whatsoever. Early in the special, Gadsby explains that a joke has two parts: a setup that creates tension and a punchline that relieves the tension. By the end of the show, she is no longer willing to relieve the tension. She needs us to think long and hard about the stories she's telling. But this is not to say there aren't laughs along the way. One of the secrets to Nanette's success is that Gadsby is hilarious, with a dry, whip-smart wit.
Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj deftly weaves humor and pathos in this Peabody-winning, deeply personal one-man show about growing up with immigrant parents. He has a really magnetic presence, like he knows something very important that he has to share with you.
Patton Oswalt's wife Michelle McNamara died in 2016, about a year before he taped this special, and his stories about how he and his daughter got through that year is the core of this powerful work. Annihilation is one of the most extraordinary examples of finding humor in the face of tragedy in recent memory. It's a virtuosic thread of the needle between making you cry and then making you laugh even harder than you would have otherwise because you were just crying. To be fair, the less vulnerable stuff that makes up the bulk of this special is not as strong, but the last third more than makes up for it. The bit about "the Polish woman of doom" will stick with you.
Before this one-man show, Neal Brennan was best known as the co-creator of Chappelle's Show. After this show, he's best known as the co-creator of Chappelle's Show who also did that special where he talked about his dysfunctional relationship with his dad. The show is built around a unique conceit: three microphones on stage, one for one-liners, one for traditional stand-up, and one for soul-baring stories about his life. Brennan is honest in a really interesting way that most comics -- scratch that, most people -- are not. He doesn't stylize his honesty. He just tells you exactly who he is.
Tom Segura can help fill the Louis C.K.-shaped hole in your heart. Segura has a cheerfully misanthropic middle-aged guy worldview that's secretly warm and generous. He's a gifted raconteur, sharp social observer and delightful vulgarian who remains likable even while he's joking about building a wall around Louisiana to keep Cajun people away from the rest of us. And his point about how "change my diaper" should be the most insulting thing you can say to someone is just accurate.
Chris Rock's first stand-up special in a decade shows a side of the legendary comedian we've never seen before. He gets really real about the infidelity that ended his marriage, letting us inside his personal life in a way he never has before and showing that comedy's most confident man can do vulnerable, too. And Rock remains one of the foremost commentators on race in America, the talent that made him one of the greats in the first place. No one makes better analogies. In early 2021, Rock released a "remix" of the 2018 comedy special -- Chris Rock: Total Blackout, The Tambourine Extended Cut -- that adds 27 minutes of new footage, making it worthy of a revisit if you've only seen the original.
Chelsea Peretti (best known for playing Gina on Brooklyn Nine-Nine) has one of the most unique voices in comedy today, literally and figuratively. She has this incredible tone that's parked right at the intersection of silliness and dryness that just hits some undefinable sweet spot. I've thought about her joke about texting her dog about once a month for the past six years. This special is from 2014, but it doesn't feel dated.