If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on this year — and, let’s be honest, there might literally only be one thing that everyone can agree on this year—it’s that 2016 has been the end of all fun. Whether it’s been the death of such icons as David Bowie and Prince, or the U.S. Presidential election, or Brexit or… well, that’s the problem, really. There’s been so much ridiculous bullshit this year that it’s hard to know where to start.
I can’t be alone in having reached the point these days where I find myself thinking, I wish there was something to laugh about. With things only likely to get worse before they get better, it’s time to purposefully search out the laughter, by pulling up 10 stand-up comedy specials currently streaming on Netflix. If none of these result in a chuckle, then perhaps it’s time for a long, long vacation. Or perhaps just switching off the Internet and being alone for awhile.
EDDIE MURPHY: DELIRIOUS (1983)
Stepping out of his then-current Saturday Night Live gig, Eddie Murphy delivered a stand-up set that still feels momentous three decades later. Often cited as an inspiration for modern comedians, it’s a riotously funny — and offensive, for those who are easily triggered — journey through where Murphy’s head was at at the time.
BILL HICKS: SANE MAN (1989)
An early glimpse at a legend of stand-up, Sane Man was recorded a year after Hicks had quit drinking, and two years before Relentless, the stand up set that made his reputation. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t prime Hicks, however; all the ingredients are here, as is the anger and frustration that fueled his best work.
LOUIS C.K.: HILARIOUS (2010)
For those who love C.K.’s FX show, this is exactly what you want to see (assuming you’ve not already watched it multiple times) — the comedian in his prime, performing the material that formed the basis for the show in a set that was once described as “one of the strongest stand-up comedy performances in the history of the art.” So, you know; pretty good, then.
DONALD GLOVER: WEIRDO (2012)
Before Atlanta, there was Weirdo, the stand-up set that demonstrated that there was more to Glover than Childish Gambino and playing Troy on NBC’s Community. A Comedy Central special, it allowed Glover to get a little bit more adult, and a lot more broad with his interests, hinting at the loose, nervy FX show that’d arrive years later.
JIM GAFFIGAN: OBSESSED (2014)
Dry to the point of dehydration, Gaffigan’s stand-up manages to be caustic and warm simultaneously. Conversational, dismissive and deceptively sharp, it’s no surprise that this was his breakthrough project—it was the most-watched stand-up special on Comedy Central that year, and debuted at #1 in the Billboard Comedy Album charts.
Technically, Tig shouldn’t be on this list; it’s not a stand-up special, but instead a documentary about comedian Tig Notaro and her fight against cancer, which coincide with her attempts with her fiancee to get pregnant. What should be emotionally trying instead comes across as uplifting and hilarious, however, thanks to Notario’s attitude towards… well, everything.
JOHN MULANEY: THE COMEBACK KID (2015)
Okay, so Mulaney’s short-lived sitcom might not have been the throwback hit that everyone wanted, but he nonetheless comes across as particularly charming in this stand-up slot, playing the curmudgeon who’s younger than it seems but older than he thinks. There’s a really enjoyable thread of self-reflection to be found in this set.
AZIZ ANSARI LIVE AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN (2015)
Spinning out of his book Modern Romance, Ansari’s 2015 stand-up is fascinated by relationships — his own and other people’s, and the ways in which relationships and the way we want them to work end up shaping our lives. There’s also a moral to be learned: never let Aziz have your phone.
ALI WONG: BABY COBRA (2016)
As if female comics doing stand-up weren’t rare enough as is, Wong’s stand-up special—the first for the Fresh Off The Boat writer and comedian—boasts an even more rare element: Wong is pregnant for the set, something she happily draws attention to, and makes the most out of.
HANNIBAL COMEDY CAMISADO (2016)
For those who don’t know, a “camisado” is a surprise attack during nighttime, when the enemy is sleeping—which feels like a strangely apt term to apply to Hannibal Buress’ stand-up, which seems to meander around until landing with deadly accuracy on the punchline. This hour-plus set showcases this style to its fullest, showing why the Broad City comedian is one of the finest stand-ups around right now.