Love it or hate it, “Peak TV” has flooded our broadcast antennae, cable subscriptions and streaming services with a lot of content. The result is an “addiction to more” that critics and audiences alike must contend with by sifting through the masses to watch what they can — the expense of otherwise excellent newcomers. Yet it’s not just scripted television, as one could say the same about the stand-up comedy special.
In decades past, these typically hour-long program became the exclusive property of Comedy Central and its premium counterpart HBO. Comedians who wanted to transform their material into something more permanent had to make it past Viacom and Time Warner’s gatekeepers. Thanks to Peak TV, however, comics today can produce and distribute their own stand-up routines through more outlets and with less studio interference.
Hence why whittling down the dozens of new specials released this year into a “best of” list is so difficult. A lot of really funny people put out some genuinely fantastic material, and the inclination is to award them all with at least a brief mention. But doing so would belittle the whole purpose of writing a “best of” list, so without further ado here are the 10 best stand-up comedy specials of 2016.
9. The Goddamn Comedy Jam
Josh Adam Meyers’ Goddamn Comedy Jam live show was already a fixture of the Los Angeles stand-up scene when Comedy Central picked it up for a one-off special in August. Watching comics belt out their favorite songs seemed like a great idea. Both the comics who participated (Pete Davidson, Jim Jefferies, Natasha Leggero, Adam DeVine and Jay Pharoah) and the viewers who watched agreed — convincing Comedy Central to order a series (albeit with a Goddamn-less title). Judging by what Jefferies told us in August, Comedy Jam‘s variety show could be just as popular as its panel show counterpart, @midnight: “I think comedians will be lining up to do it. Like, ‘In this episode, Steve Martin!’ You know what I mean?”
8. Jim Jefferies, Freedumb
Speaking of Jefferies, the Australian stand-up followed his wonderful 2014 special Bare (and its viral 15-minute segment on gun control) with another fantastic feature dubbed Freedumb. Premiering a few weeks before the Republican and Democratic national conventions, Freedumb lampoons everything from the 2016 presidential election to Jefferies’ best efforts to be a good dad. Despite all the fuss about his viral guns bit, however, the comedian told us he didn’t mind the audience’s expectation that he address it again and again in his newer material. “It’s something I’m fairly passionate about,” he said. Anyone who’s watched Freedumb‘s lengthy 84-minute runtime would agree.