The 10 Best Stand-Up Specials of The 2020s That Will Have You Rolling On The Floor – Collider
Sit down and enjoy some stand-up
The last few years haven't been the best for stand-up comedy for a few reasons. First and foremost has been the fact that restrictions and lockdowns have either canceled certain events or reduced crowd capacities, which can change the energy of certain specials, seeing as laughter can be reduced. Secondly, many stand-up comedians have taken to retreading the same jokes about the pandemic and the lockdown, which gets tiring. Thirdly, some comedians have been relying too much on routines about how comedy is being policed too strictly and comedians are getting canceled, which ironically does more damage than any alleged "cancel culture" has.
However, it's not all doom and gloom, as some of the best comedians in recent years have managed to rise above those things, in the process releasing great specials since the start of this particularly trying decade. For anyone who wants a good laugh – or a reminder that stand-up comedy is far from dead.
Sam Morril has become a rising star in the comedy world within the last few years, with his latest special, Same Time Tomorrow (2022), being picked up by Netflix. He also took a novel approach to performing during the lockdown with a special entitled Up on the Roof, which he uploaded to his YouTube channel. It features just that: stand-up being performed on a rooftop, due to comedy clubs being closed in 2020.
His best special remains his non-rooftop special released in 2020, though, titled I Got This. If there's any criticism you could throw its way, it might be that it's just not long enough, at only 47 minutes (Same Time Tomorrow is similarly short). However, that does ensure it's a consistently funny watch, with an impressively high – and consistent – rate of jokes.
Taylor Tomlinson's first great special of the 2020s, Quarter-Life Crisis, is a fantastic hour for any stand-up fans who are also in their 20s. Tomlinson has a knack for talking about problems faced during that decade of your life in a way that's both funny and relatable, and it being released in the 2020s just makes it all the more appropriate.
As far as young comedians go, Tomlinson is one of the best, and this being so good while also being her first full-length recorded special is remarkable. It may have less appeal for viewers younger than 20 or older than 29, but for anyone in that age range, it's comedic gold.
Hannah Gadsby exploded onto the comedy scene with her 2018 special, Nanette, with the follow-up having a similarly simple title: Douglas. Expectations for Nanette's "sequel" were high, given how original that special felt, and also due to how widely discussed and awarded it became.
Gadsby was well-aware of the weight that came with a follow-up, given she states outright (and in a darkly funny way) that she "used up" most of her trauma for her first Netflix special in 2018. That leaves Douglas room to be a somewhat lighter and more frequently funny special which is unlikely to be as much of a gut punch for viewers (though it's still quietly emotional in its own way).
Eric Andre's 2020 stand-up special was admittedly polarizing, and likely not for everyone. He brings the same chaotic, often loud energy found in his surreal talk-show parody/skit show, The Eric Andre Show, to the stage for 52 minutes of sometimes uncomfortable, often amusing stand-up comedy.
For anyone who's enjoyed The Eric Andre Show or any of the comedian's appearances in other films or TV shows (such as 2021's Bad Trip), this special is a fairly safe bet (no guarantees, though). But anyone who doesn't find much enjoyment in Andre's chaotic sense of humor should probably steer clear.
This odd, possible parody of stand-up comedy comes from one half of the duo that makes up Tim & Eric: Tim Heidecker. His one-hour special, An Evening With Tim Heidecker, was filmed shortly before the COVID pandemic but released afterward.
It's another strange special that probably won't be to everyone's taste, but anyone burnt out on regular stand-up could well find a lot to appreciate here. It's also easier to recommend if you're the kind of person who feels like someone (intentionally) failing to get a microphone to work for the first five minutes of their stand-up special would be funny.
The titular Nate of Nate: A One Man Show is not actually a comedian by the name of Nate. It's a character played by comedian Natalie Palamides, who doesn't break character for the entire show, which is otherwise presented as a relatively normal hour of stand-up comedy might be.
Nate: A One Man Show is anything but a regular stand-up special, though. It's often deeply uncomfortable, and "funny" might not be a word you'd use to describe it. Yet it's eye-opening, bold, uncompromising, clever, and completely unique. To say more would diminish its power, but it turns stand-up (and some familiar topics discussed to death by other comedians) on its head, to the point where it's surprising more people don't know about this special/piece of performance art.
After releasing two of the best stand-up specials of the 2010s with What and Make Happy, Bo Burnham returned to the world of stand-up in 2021 with Inside… sort of. Inside is somewhat familiar to Burnham's other specials in terms of the style of humor, the frequent songs, and the intricate lighting, but the location and much of the presentation are unlike anything else.
There's no audience, with the special featuring an isolated Burnham, and no one else. It aims to capture the loneliness, insecurities, and fear of living in isolation during a lockdown (though it could apply more generally), and so while it's often funny, it's also quite sad and downbeat in more than a few parts. For anyone who enjoyed Inside, Burnham released a compilation of deleted scenes in 2022 that runs over an hour and is also worth watching.
Even if Ali Wong's third special for Netflix, Don Wong, isn't quite as good as Baby Cobra (2016) or Hard Knock Wife (2018), it's close. She takes to the stage not pregnant – unlike her first two specials – and presents an engaging hour of stand-up, largely fluctuating between reflections on her growing fame and some cruder – yet hilarious – material.
If gross-out jokes are a slippery slope for most comedians, then Wong certainly knows how to navigate them without losing her footing. The shock humor never feels crass or like it's the entire purpose of the comedy. It's cleverly done and frequently very funny, though might not appeal to the more easily shocked viewers out there.
Taylor Tomlinson's follow-up to her already great 2020 special is even better and might be the best individual stand-up special of the 2020s so far. It logically follows on from what was already explored in Quarter-Life Crisis, becoming a more moving – and somehow funnier – special in the process.
Tomlinson's ability to talk about serious subjects in this special in a way that remains funny and insightful never feels preachy, and never comes across as insensitive is remarkable. There's nothing mean-spirited or cheap about Look At You, but neither does it feel watered-down, inauthentic, or plain. From start to finish, it's a fantastically punchy special that mixes serious topics with consistently funny stand-up.
Stand-up comedy specials can rarely be "spoiled" in the way that the plot of a movie can be spoiled, but Jerrod Carmichael's 2022 special, Rothaniel, is a rare special. It's got its funny moments but is most memorable as a display of Carmichael's story-telling skills, as well as for the emotional revelations he discusses with a small, intimate crowd in New York City.
To say much more (or even explain why it's called Rothaniel) would be saying too much. It's a quality hour of emotional – but never sappy – stand-up comedy/story-telling, and is notably directed by Bo Burnham, too. With such a great life story (of sorts) told on stage in this special, it's no wonder that Carmichael's directorial debut, 2021's On the Count of Three, is getting such strong reviews.
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Jeremy is an omnivore when it comes to movies. He’ll gladly watch and write about almost anything, from old Godzilla films to gangster flicks to samurai movies to classic musicals to the French New Wave to the MCU. When he’s not writing lists for Collider, he also likes to upload film reviews to his Letterboxd profile and Instagram account.
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