2016 was a banner year for stand-up comedy. Thanks to the global audience (and seemingly endless streams of cash) afforded them by Netflix, comics taped and released new specials in record numbers before the clocks struck midnight on January 1st, 2017. When they strike midnight again this year, however, the situation will be much different in terms of quantity and quality.
By the time 2017’s midpoint in July had rolled around, the combined might of Netflix, Comedy Central, and HBO had already released over 50 specials. Six months later, this number has practically doubled with Showtime, Epix, and many other players joining the three aforementioned outlets and their massive output. Quantity isn’t quality, of course, though the significantly higher numbers do offer fans and critics alike a much larger catalog to choose from. It also, as the New York Times surmises, suggests the coming of a comedy industry bust.
Until then, audiences across multiple cable and streaming platforms currently have access to new stand-up of all shapes and sizes. Whether you prefer straightforward punchlines, engrossing personal stories, or wild experimental jaunts, 2017’s comedy output features all of it. To help you sift through it all, here are Uproxx‘s 10 best stand-up comedy specials of 2017.
10. Mike Birbiglia, Thank God For Jokes
This feels like somewhat of a cheat as Mike Birbiglia’s current tour, “The New One,” will undoubtedly become one of 2018’s best stand-up specials. (I happened to catch one of its sold out Boston performances. It was spectacular.) Yet this shouldn’t detract from this year’s Thank God For Jokes, the latest entry in the My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend comedian and monologist’s evolution. Birbiglia’s body of work is as amazing as his ability to craft an intriguing story. While previous concert films (and albums like Sleepwalk With Me) focus on personal stories, however, Thank God For Jokes turns that lens on comedy itself.
9. Sarah Silverman, A Speck of Dust
Sarah Silverman established herself as one of the most biting practitioners of black comedy with Jesus Is Magic, We Are Miracles, and The Sarah Silverman Program. This year, however, the comic turned all of this on its head with A Speck of Dust on Netflix. The special still delves into the kinds of raunchy stories and punchlines Silverman’s fans are accustomed to, but Silverman also throws in a large dash of humanity that, especially in 2017, is wonderfully refreshing. “To be able to change, and be changed, is so important,” she told Uproxx in May. Never fear, for she retains her penchant for shock and awe.
8. Sasheer Zamata, Pizza Mind
Sasheer Zamata left Saturday Night Live at the end of last season following a three-year stint that, as the unabashedly honest comic described it in Pizza Mind, wasn’t the best experience. “Everything I write and create comes from a place of truth,” she explained in March. “It’s a nice way to be able to speak freely and do my own material.” Sadly, the Seeso streaming service is coming to an end, but Zamata’s creative entry into the wider world of filmed comedy will live on once its first home is gone. Which is great news, for the young comedian’s adept use of stand-up, animation, and sketch deserves attention.
7. Marc Maron, Too Real
Depending on who you ask, Donald Trump’s election was either a glorious win or a depressing loss for comedy. Either way, most of the specials released in 2017 paid the real estate magnate his due in one form or another — except for Marc Maron. With Too Real, the WTF podcaster — whose neuroses rival even Larry David’s — addressed the political realities faced by his audience by not really addressing it at all. Or, at least the comedian doesn’t directly address the president. “I don’t like saying his name,” he told Uproxx in September, adding that by not too “specific,” he wanted his material to be all the more “resonant.” It is.
6. Maria Bamford, Old Baby
Standard stand-up routines notwithstanding, 2017 produced a lot of great experimentation with the comedy concert film genre. Chief among the proponents of such playfulness is Lady Dynamite star and creator Maria Bamford, whose previous special — 2012’s The Special Special Special! — offered fans a hint of things to come. Sure enough, this year’s Old Baby delivers on its predecessor’s promise of a stand-up routine taped inside Bamford’s parents’ home by filming her signature, seemingly stream-of-consciousness style across six different venues — including a hot-dog stand, a bowling alley, and a bookstore.
5. Chris Gethard, Career Suicide
Upright Citizens Brigade alum Chris Gethard is primarily known for his public access-esque The Chris Gethard Show, but the improv comedian also managed to snag his first HBO special with 2017’s Career Suicide. What began as an off-Broadway solo show in 2016 was ultimately transformed into the Judd Apatow-produced special that aired on the premium network in early May. As both Apatow and Gethard have admitted, however, Career Suicide “is not stand-up.” Instead, it’s a performance that “uses stand-up” in combination with Birbiglia-like storytelling. And it’s wonderful.
4. Jen Kirkman, Just Keep Livin’?
Jen Kirkman’s Just Keep Livin’? accomplishes generality and specificity in a manner quite unlike anyone else on this list. Yes, the Chelsea Lately and Drunk History alum’s latest comedy special is rife with the kind of political material fans and detractors alike have come to know Kirkman for. Yet Just Keep Livin’? is, in a surprisingly sweet manner, also about big ideas like family, individuality, and equality. And the comedian behind it all accomplishes this startling feat by interweaving poignant punchlines with elaborate stories that — no matter one’s sexuality, gender, or political affiliation — manage to strike a chord or two.
3. Neal Brennan, 3 Mics
As much fun as experimentation can be, something the simplest conceit can produce the greatest reward. Like Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan’s 3 Mics, in which the comedian split three of the most prominent modes of stand-up into the titular three microphones. Using the right one for traditional stand-up, the middle for confessional material, and the leftmost for one-liners, Brennan manages to help himself (and his audience) process the world. “My brain can de-scramble things and form a joke,” he explains in 3 Mics. “Just for one second, things slow down and I can win.”
2. Tiffany Haddish, She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood!
Most of the poor souls who still hadn’t seen the film Girls Trip finally bore witness to Tiffany Haddish’s genius when she hosted Saturday Night Live in November. Yet the comedy world has been keen on Haddish for quite some time. @midnight host Chris Hardwick, whose now-defunct Comedy Central program featured Haddish often, sang her praises before her star exploded in 2017. And with her first special, She Ready! From Hood to Hollywood!, premiering on Showtime in mid-August, Haddish assured her future success in the medium with one of the year’s funniest entries.
1. Jerrod Carmichael, 8
Speaking of having a good year, Jerrod Carmichael’s 2017 reigns supreme. The creative force behind the critically-acclaimed The Carmichael Show has, following its cancellation, since gone on to sign a significant development deal with Fox Television. And with cameos and supporting roles in The Disaster Artist and Transformers: The Last Knight, his film career ain’t half bad either. But stand-up is where it’s at for Carmichael, and he proved it with his HBO special 8 in March. Directed by fellow comic and friend Bo Burnham, 8 reigns as the year’s funniest, most inventive, and — ultimately — most creative concert films.