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May 15, 2020

Laugh it up

Ten stand-up specials that will make you laugh and cry.

By Lynne Winter

feet up facing tv


I am a huge fan of stand-up comedy and have lots of opinions (like everyone) about what is funny. Some of my favorite sets are the ones that make me laugh and cry.

These are my ten favorite stand-up specials, and right now, they’re all available on streaming services – everything is on Netflix, except for Dave Chapelle’s Killin’ Them Softly, on HBO.

At a time when life is so serious, we can all use a laugh. And a cry.

Birdfeeder Tip: Most of these sets contain adult content that may not be family-friendly.

For a laugh.

  1. Dave Chapelle: Killin’ Them Softly (2000) – This is my favorite stand-up show of all time – and twenty years later, it holds up. Chapelle has a way of tackling topics like race relations, politics, the police and even Sesame Street that feels smart and fresh.

    Birdfeeder Tip: If you somehow missed it, check out seasons 1 & 2 of Chappelle’s classic and highly-influential sketch-comedy show, Chapelle’s Show. I also recommend Dave Chappelle: Mark Twain Prize (2020) for a comical and touching look at the man awarded the 2019 Mark Twain Prize for Humor.

  2. John Mulaney: New in Town (2012); The Comeback Kid (2015); Kid Gorgeous (2018) (Netflix) – Yes, I’m counting these three shows as one. That’s how much I love them. Whether telling stories about being a kid and meeting his parent’s college classmate Bill Clinton, or recounting Detective J.J. Bittenbinder’s assemblies on stranger danger, Mulaney is hilarious.

  3. Taylor Tomlinson: Quarter-Life Crisis (2020) – This special is a fantastic introduction to a female comic who doesn’t rely on putting herself down for a laugh.

  4. Jim Gaffigan: Beyond the Pale (2005) – Gaffigan is a smart comic who gets us to laugh at our shared experiences with food and family. This stand-up special is the origin of Hot Pocket jokes that made me laugh so hard I cried.

    Birdfeeder Tip: For a funny fictionalized look into Gaffigan’s family life, check out seasons 1 & 2 of The Jim Gaffigan Show (2015).

  5. Nate Bargatze: The Tennessee Kid (2019) – Amusing, wholesome and something the whole family can watch without secretly wishing the kids/grandparents weren’t in the room.
  6. Bridget Christie: Stand Up for Her (2016) – I knew nothing about Christie when I watched this on a flight home, but I loved it so much I had my husband watch it with me the very next day. Christie approaches the politics of gender equality and feminism with humor and understanding, without being heavy-handed. Warning: This special is peppered with British references and slang that might not be familiar to an American audience.

And a cry.

  1. Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (2013) – Mike Birbiglia has a gentle approach to stand-up that warms my heart. A master storyteller who weaves humorous tales in and out of the central premise, this show finds Birbiglia arriving at an important decision about love and marriage. The final line always makes my eyes well with tears.

  2. Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018) – This special is transformative and subverts our expectations of what stand-up comedy is. Gadsby’s honesty is gut-wrenching, and some will argue that this isn’t stand-up, but I disagree. Grab a box of tissues and be prepared to go deep.

  3. Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King (2017) – In his first stand-up special, a vulnerable Minhaj shares heartbreaking and hilarious stories about growing up as an Indian-American Muslim.

    Birdfeeder Tip: Watch Minhaj’s Netflix show Patriot Act for laughs and insightful information on a variety of global topics.

  4. Neal Brennan: 3 Mics (2017) – Throughout this set, Brennan shifts between three microphones – one to deliver polished stand-up, another for punchy one-liners and a third for more serious topics like depression. Best known as Dave Chapelle’s writing partner on Chapelle’s Show and other projects, Brennan stands strong on his own.

Honorable Mentions

Michelle Wolf: Joke Show (2019); Seth Meyers: Lobby Baby (2019); Michael Che: Michael Che Matters (2016); Tom Papa: You’re Doing Great (2020); Tig Notaro: Happy to Be Here (2018); Marc Maron: End Times Fun (2020)

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