Netflix gets plenty of credit for redefining how and when we consume our television, but it’s also been instrumental in creating better access to stand-up comedy, particularly for international viewers. Aside from providing a substantial back catalogue of Comedy Central and independent specials, they’ve also found success in producing their own original exclusive content, and most of the comedy world’s biggest names have gotten on board.
The following is list of the best 6 (in this writer’s humble opinion) ‘Just for Netflix’ specials. There are plenty of contenders, and I must give a special mention to Dimitri Martin and Jen Kirkman who were both unlucky to miss out on this list. I also haven’t included Jimmy Carr’s hilarious Funny Business as we reviewed it quite recently (read that article here), but it would sit quite comfortably on this list.
6. Anthony Jeselnik – Thoughts and Prayers
When he was younger, Anthony Jeselnik wanted to be a ‘bad guy wrestler.’ (In the bizz, that’s called a Heel, but I didn’t really want to admit that I knew that) That same thrill of having the crowd against him, as he yells absurd abuse at them, has filtered its way into his comedy, as Jesilnik does everything he can to offend every single person in his audience.
His comedy premise is simple; everything – no matter how dark or macabre – can be funny, and he pushes this premise to places that can make you feel quite uncomfortable. But despite this, his approach is in no way confrontational, and he finishes each gag with his trademark bright-white toothy grin, which always makes it hard to stay mad at him.
Summary: Deliberately offensive.
5. Tom Segura – Mostly Stories
There is a subtlety to Tom Segura’s humour that makes him instantly likable to an audience. He is an observer, a watcher of people and a guy who notices the little things in life, and keeps them stored in his head until such time as he can tell them on stage.
As the title suggests, this special is mostly stories rather than traditional setup-punchline material, but they are the types of strange stories that you can’t get enough of. There is no political correctness in Tom’s set, and he can certainly go to rough places if there is a joke in it, but it’s all delivered from the perspective of the ‘every-man,’ which sees it all chock-full of charm, and totally bereft of arrogance or self-indulgence.
His closing bit, which focuses on a time he struggled to get rid of Mike Tyson, is a fitting closer for this impressive special, and one that highlights just how gifted a storyteller Segura is.
Summary: Mostly stories… the summary is in the title.
4. Mike Birbiglia – My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Mike Birbiglia is better described as a hilariously funny performer, rather than a straight-up joke teller. This special – My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend – is what you would call a ‘One Man Show, or even ‘An Evening With.’ Mike’s talent lies in long form story telling, usually in regards to his own life and experiences. The show has a director, and theatrical elements such as lighting shifts, pauses and act breaks. But don’t let the artsy-fartsy stuff bother you; this is a genuinely funny performance.
Mike takes the audience on an emotional journey through his own anxieties, mainly focused around his past and present relationships, and his fear of commitment. The honest and often heartfelt material merely paves the way for such lines as “From the moment I met Jenny, I knew I wanted to sleep with her at least once,” and “I often think women see me as a sex… maybe.” It’s not all love jokes though, there is also a stunning story about a car crash and the subsequent legal trouble Mike got involved in, that is so bizarre that it’s hard to believe. But the internet fact checkers say it’s true, so that’s enough for me.
Summary: Sublime comic tales.
3. John Mulaney – The Comeback Kid
Of all the comedians on this list, Mulaney was the one I was least familiar with before watching his special. The highly successful Saturday Night Live writer has been on the comedy circuit for some time, but this was my first real extended look at him.
To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. Mulaney almost has an ‘old-time’ feel about him, like a performer from the 1950’s. He is immaculately groomed, has a haircut “that you could set your watch to” (thanks Abe) and for most of the special, you keep expecting him to break into a song, cabaret style. But looks can be deceiving; this is a very modern comedy special, with some very sharp social commentary.
John is so funny and likable in this that he could have made a decent argument for the number 1 spot on this list.
Summary: Cheeky clean comedy.
2. Jim Jefferies – Bare
Despite the fact that Jim Jefferies could make a realistic claim as the greatest stand-up comedy export in Australian history, it is surprising how many Australian’s didn’t know who he was until this special Bare came out, and his now infamous gun-laws rant went viral on social media.
Being known in his own country isn’t a problem these days for Jim, with an upcoming tour selling out multiple arena size venues, but it was this special (combined with his FX sitcom Legit) that played a big part in that happening.
Jim is like your favourite funny drinking buddy; the type of guy who you always want around at the pub, but are wary of introducing your wife or mother-in-law to. His is brash, unapologetic and swears as much on stage as any other comedian going around.
But underneath the constant C-Bombs and the yobbo facade, lies a deeply intelligent comedian. His humour is much smarter than he wants you to believe, and he manages to touch on important topics and address them in his very unique way.
Even if you have seen this, or have only seen the Gun Law bit on youtube, it’s worth watching again. If you haven’t seen it… well, then you should really do something about that.
Summary: Bold, angry, nasty, funny.
1. Bill Burr – I’m Sorry You Feel That Way
If you’ve followed this site at all, or have seen any of my commentary on stand-up comedy before (or have seen the title image up above), then this number one spot should come as no surprise.
I’m a Bill Burr fan.
But this is no sympathy number 1 spot, and this opinion of mine isn’t just a biased one. Bill is currently at the very top of the comedy ladder, and this special is – artistically – some of his finest work. By artistically, I don’t just mean the fact that it’s shot in black and white, although that is very cool. Much of the frantic yelling and madness of his previous specials, makes way for a carefully considered, well-measured style that shows how confident Bill has become on stage.
There is nothing revolutionary about any premise that Bill raises, it’s all about the way his raises them. His story about a helicopter instructor is just a normal sad story in most people’s hands; but in Bill’s, it’s comedy gold.
Summary: The angry-boy humour that grew up.
Well, that’s the list. I’m sure I missed a few, and I’m sure many will strongly disagree with me, so hit me up in the comments with your own thoughts.