Okay so we can all agree it’s been a big decade for comedy: 1,000 streaming services and countless platforms giving platforms to more comedians than ever, with an intimidating amount of content being pumped out constantly. But how much will stand the test of time? What will remain memorable? What will not seem dated/problematic/cliche ten years from now? Hard to say for sure, but here are ten of our best guesses.
Tig Notaro: Live (2012)
Recorded days after her breast cancer diagnosis, Tig Notaro’s Live is a testament to the power of the art of live comedy. Tig’s been involved in plenty of fabulous projects across different formats this decade, but Live is a career-defining piece of work that captured a shocking, raw, unflinching look at a traumatic experience in the life of an incredibly funny person as it happened.
Reggie Watts: A Live At Central Park (2012)
For longtime comedy fans, Reggie Watts’ career arc is somehow totally unexpected and makes complete sense, transitioning from a sort of non-sequitur spewing absurdist beatboxer to network TV bandleader over the last decade or so. His second album, A Live At Central Park was a perfect introduction to the early 2010s musical misfit/comedy weirdo Reggie, and is still his best special thus far.
Maria Bamford: The Special Special Special (2014)
Who else but the endlessly brilliant Maria Bamford would think to record an hour of standup comedy about mental illness, trauma, and suicidal ideation in her living room, performed to a two person audience that also happens to be her parents? 2014’s The Special Special Special is a singular achievement in comedy, a perfect distillation of everything that makes Bamford unique and great. Sure, the awkwardness can sometimes be crippling, but you’ll have no choice but to agree that this is a landmark achievement in comedy-as-therapy.
Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour (2014)
While he remains an expert craftsman of jokes, Todd Barry revealed himself to be a master of improvised crowd work, riffing across the country with no prepared material to speak of, doing an hour-plus a night just riffing with audience participants. The Crowd Work Tour special compiles some of the incredible highlights from his US tour, with Barry lightly roasting audience members, crafting tight jokes out of thin air. It’s a feat of strength from one of the best jokewriters out there.
Chelsea Peretti: One Of The Greats (2014)
Though for the past decade, she became best known for her breakout role as Brooklyn 99’s outspoken office assistant Gina Linetti, Chelsea Peretti is also responsible for an incredible standup comedy special that doubles as a critique of the form itself. Between countless memorable bits, One Of The Greats finds Peretti skewering the self-aggrandizing presentation of the countless righteous “truth-telling” type of comics that struggled to dominate the comedy mainstream in the 21st century. The special should stand the test of time both as a collection of bulletproof jokes and as a brutal critique of a (slowly) dying POV.
Patton Oswalt: Annihilation (2017)
Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation manages to be both a heartwrenching reflection on grief and a hilarious hour of standup comedy. Oswalt lost his wife, Michelle McNamara in 2016, and Annihilation was written and recorded in the year that followed. Patton’s got a whole slew of legendary specials under his belt, but Annihilation stands out in his catalog as a uniquely personal and moving hour, and perhaps the best representation of his ongoing evolution as a performer.
John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City (2018)
John Mulaney is probably the best comedian going and Kid Gorgeous at Radio City is absolutely his best special to date. Mulaney has tweaked his stage presence to suit the larger capacity venues he’s been packing out over the last several years, bringing a more animated physicality to the party, while further refining his observational bits and tangent-dappled storytelling into a finely crafted hour of unbeatable standup comedy.
Chris Rock: Tambourine (2018)
Now 35 years into his comedy career, Chris Rock is a living institution. Tamborine, released in 2018, was his first comedy special in a decade, showcasing a new, more introspective Rock, still outraged and outrageous, but coming from a more thoughtful and mature place. Few comics have been more consistent or beloved than Rock, and Tamborine makes a convincing argument that he’s as good as ever.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018)
Australian comic Hannah Gadsby is easily one of the biggest breakout comics of the decade, making huge waves in America with her special Nanette, a performance piece that vacillates between traditional standup, empathetic social commentary, and rage-fueled deconstruction. While it feels like a million years ago, it’s really only been a little over a year since Nanette hit Netflix, and everyone on Earth seemed to have a hot take on the piece. The aftershock of this genre-bending special will be felt for years to come, as it informs the work and perspective of a new generation of comedians.
My Favorite Shapes by Julio Torres (2019)
First aired earlier this summer, Julio Torres’ My Favorite Shapes feels like it was beamed in from another dimension, a remarkable debut special from one of the most exciting new voices in comedy. The SNL writer and co-creator and star of HBO’s Los Espookys has, through sheer force of will and an uncompromising creative vision, reshaped the standup comedy special in his own neon-lit image. An hourlong examination of the inner lives of a series of inanimate objects peppered with anecdotes from his upbringing, My Favorite Shapes blends the familiar with the bizarre in a new, exciting way, showing what the future of comedy holds.