There are many great stand-up specials on Netflix—so many, in fact, they are throwing their own self-congratulatory comedy festival which has been postponed along with every public social event in the near future. Since there is no live comedy to enjoy right now, why not curate your own comedy festival at home? There is no shortage of choice, but I suggest we dig down into the underlayer of Netflix comedy specials, to the stuff that does not get the same attention as, say, a new special from John Mulaney (although you literally cannot go wrong with Mulaney, all of his specials are great and The Sack Lunch Bunch is the “we’re all anxious and that’s okay” balm we need right now). I have compiled a list of overlooked and underappreciated specials on Netflix which are, for the most part, not from household names from which you can create a comedy festival in your living room.
Fortune Feimster, Sweet & Salty
In her first hour-long special, Fortune Feimster revisits her childhood in North Carolina, from Girl Scouts to swim team to coming out, both as a debutante and a lesbian. Feimster is a face you might recognize, having popped up in TV shows and movies all decade, and her special demonstrates she has way more to offer than one-off line readings in studio comedies, and she incorporates a message of positivity and support that, frankly, we could use right now.
John Leguizamo, Latin History for Morons
John Leguizamo returned to the stage in a one-man show detailing his journey through Latinx history after trying to help his son find a Latinx “superhero”. The result is both funny and elucidating, as Leguizamo traces the contributions and erasure of Latinx people through the history of colonization and early America. It’s a little bit like a one-man Dollop that leaves you wondering why didn’t we learn these stories in school? Obviously, Leguizamo is a household name, but this is a can’t-miss special that combines factual research and fantastic storytelling.
Nate Bergatze, The Tennessee Kid + The Standups (season 1, episode 1)
Did you enjoy Tiger King? Then you HAVE to do the Nate Bargatze double-header to hear the full story of the Cape Fear Serpentarium. Start with Bargatze’s half-hour special in The Standups—it’s the very first episode—and then watch his hourlong special, The Tennessee Kid. That special is great on its own—the dead horse bit is very good—but the payoff to the serpentarium story is unbelievable, especially on the heels of Tiger King. Bargatze is a great storyteller, and he’s suitable for the whole family, in case you’re trapped inside with children.
Ronny Chieng, Asian Comedian Destroys America!
Daily Show correspondent—and the ineffable Eddie Cheng—Ronny Chieng dons a tux and takes to the stage in his first hourlong special which involves a lot of outsider observations about America. Chieng emigrated to the US while Trump was running for office, so he’s basically pulled up to the house fire with a bucket of popcorn and is unrepentantly enjoying the show. Chieng’s special would make an interesting double-header with Latin History for Morons.
Rory Scovel Tries Standup for the First Time
Here’s what you need to know about this special: it’s produced by Jack White. If you’ve ever wondered what a Jack White-produced comedy special would look like this is it: intimate and a little weird. Rory Scovel’s comedy is smart and a little absurd, and he mixes a sketch element into his special that sets it apart from the usual hour-long comedy far. Also, this is a set that stays funny over time. Every time I revisit Scovel’s special, something new catches me and makes me laugh. There are very few comedians who can do that, but Scovel’s delivery is just so f-cking perfect it’s always a delight to watch him work, even when you know all the punchlines.
Ryan Hamilton, Happy Face
Another one that is safe for viewing with kids around, Ryan Hamilton is a self-described “1950s ice cream salesman”. Hamilton is a very traditional stand-up, and he reminds me a lot of Jerry Seinfeld—not least because he sounds kind of like Seinfeld—but he has an edge Seinfeld never has had. His perma-grin and “Idaho face” are the perfect cover for caustic, deadpan delivery that elevates his material into something unique.
Tig Notaro, Happy To Be Here
Happy To Be Here is life after Live, the legendary set that made Tig Notaro’s name. Now married, settled, and raising children, Notaro’s trademark laconic stories are about talking to cats and dealing with toddlers. What sets Happy To Be Here apart is how, well, happy Notaro seems sharing stories from a life she is clearly loving. This is a joyous set, proof that comedians don’t have to be miserable to be funny, and a perfect bookend to Live.
Wanda Sykes, Not Normal
Wanda Sykes has been around since the 1990s and her special Not Normal proves she is as sharp and relevant as ever. It drives me crazy her comedy specials don’t get more notice, because she has stayed ahead of the comedy curve, unlike many of her male peers who coast on their laurels and 20 year old jokes. Not Normal is Sykes’ signature mix of political and observational humor, and it shows one of comedy’s most venerable women at her peak.
The Standups: Kyle Kinane and Aparna Nancherla
The Standups features half-hour specials from up-and-coming comics, but not every episode is equally good. Kyle Kinane and Aparna Nancherla are two of the standouts, though, and both are featured in season two. Kinane’s happy go lucky attitude allows him to say anything and make it work, and Nancherla brings along visual aids, turning her set into something of a comedy classroom presentation. Both are very funny, and worth seeking out even if you don’t want to binge the whole series.