Despite offering a brief respite from the Netflix-dominated landscape that is the ever-widening world of stand-up comedy specials, Seeso is no more. Then again, Seeso’s loss matters in the long run since every year since Netflix first entered the comedy game in 2013 (especially 2016 and 2017), viewers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of new hours available to watch. Much of this has to do with the streamer’s more recent push into stand-up aimed at global audiences, but not entirely. Either way, by July 1st there will be well over 50 new specials out there courtesy Comedy Central, Showtime and Netflix. But mostly Netflix.
For the sake of space, this list is organized around the first six months of 2018, and each gets a top pick and a bonus selection (for the sake of spreading the wealth). The inclusion of some, like Chris Rock’s Tamborine, are unquestionable, while others may stir disagreement. Which is fine, as what we find funny varies as far and wide as Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and Katt Williams’ triggering Great America.
January — Todd Glass: Act Happy
Watching Todd Glass’ Act Happy results in a ridiculously strong feeling of FOMO. That’s because the 53-year-old comedian’s uncanny ability to improvise his way through a seemingly unprepared set is so intoxicating, you’ll be jealous of his audience. (Especially the people in the front row, about whom he writes and performs a new song on the spot.) In fact, a lot of things will make viewers envious of Glass’ audience — like his spot-on impression of Brian Regan, his jokingly anti-Rory Scovel chant and his ability to perform while the band backing up throughout the show plays “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
BONUS — Katt Williams: Great America
Katt Williams recently turned heads with a cameo in the second season of Donald Glover’s acclaimed Atlanta, and frequently turns up in mainstream and smaller film roles. Even so, his career began on the stand-up stage in 1991, and he continues to put out new specials every few years. Like Great America on Netflix, in which Williams riffs on everything from politics to roast beef. The opening 12 minutes is especially considerable, for as Neal Brennan told Vulture, “To do 12 minutes on America’s, like, 30th most populous city? The commitment alone is hilarious. And miraculously, you stay with him the whole time.”
February — Chris Rock: Tamborine
As ridiculous as the marketing was for Chris Rock’s first special in a decade, Tamborine, the special itself is equally silly. Along with fellow comedian Bo Burnham‘s stylized direction (which also graced Jerrod Carmichael’s 8 last year), Tamborine creates an hour of laughs that is as beautiful as it is thought-provoking. Rock begins with a question that, thanks to multiple cameras and some quick editing, is repeated three times: “You would think?” It’s immediately followed by the first of many highly politicized topics, but Rock can’t resist piling onto Tamborine‘s efforts to stall the inevitable punchlines until the last second.
BONUS — Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson: 2 Dope Queens
Whether the four 2 Dope Queens episodes that aired on HBO in February count as a “stand-up comedy special” is beside the point. Yes, co-hosts Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson interview a few major guests, but they also serve as the masters of ceremonies for a wide array of comics. From Michelle Buteau and Naomi Ekperigin, to John Early and Sheng Wang, 2 Dope Queens gives them one hell of a prominent stage on which to perform (not to mention direction from Tig Notaro). That being said, as podcast listeners have known for years, Williams and Robinson’s comedic banter reigns supreme.
March — The Standups: Season 2
Like HBO’s 2 Dope Queens, Netflix’s The Standups isn’t necessarily a “stand-up comedy special,” though only because each of its two seasons feature half-hour sets from six comedians. Yet season two of the streamer’s own version of HBO Comedy Half-Hour and Comedy Central Presents… features a number of heavy hitters whose smaller acts quickly gained widespread attention. Chief among them are Aparna Nancherla and Kyle Kinane. The former, who also guests on 2 Dope Queens, presents a perfected version of her riffs on anxiety and depression. The latter, meanwhile, tells what Vulture dubbed one of the year’s best, and saddest, jokes.