The 10 Best Stand-Up Specials to Stream Under Coronavirus Quarantine
Looking for something to make you laugh and take your mind off the coronapocalypse? We’ve got you covered.
So it turns out this whole coronavirus pandemic thing is a much bigger deal than most of us realized even a few days ago. On Monday, the six counties that make up California’s Bay Area (totaling 6.7 million people) were the first to enter a near-complete lockdown as a “shelter in place” order went into effect for any non-essential movements. The rest of the country might not be far behind.
With more at-home time than we know what to do with, most Americans are trying to figure out which of the myriad streaming TV options they should use to distract themselves as the prospect of weeks without leaving the house starts to become a reality.
Sure, you could watch (or rewatch) that great cable drama you may have missed (as I started doing with The Sopranos over the weekend). But if you’re not ready to commit to a full 86 hours of mob violence and therapy sessions, then now might be the perfect time to delve into the remarkable trove of stand-up comedy specials now available across multiple platforms.
As host of The Last Laugh podcast, I not only get to sit down with lots of great comedians, but I also watch way too many stand-up specials. Here are 10 of my absolute favorites, just from this past year or so, starting with the most recent release. You won’t be disappointed.
Feeling apocalyptic? Watch Marc Maron’s ‘End Times Fun’ on Netflix
What a time to put out a special about the end of the world. The latest hour from the host of the WTF podcast gets biblical with long, operatic bits about Vice President Mike Pence and why religious conservatives are actively hoping for the end of the world so Jesus will finally return. This special is not exactly comforting, but it is oddly prophetic and super dark in all the best ways.
Feeling emotional? Watch Whitmer Thomas’ ‘The Golden One’ on HBO
Part documentary, part stand-up special, part emo concert, the debut special from 30-year-old Whitmer Thomas deserves way more attention than it has received to date. Thomas returned home to perform his unique show at the same bar on the Florida-Alabama border where his late mother and her twin sister played music as Syn Twister when he was a kid. The emotional climax comes when Thomas sings his song “Partied to Death” about how he can’t go out and get drunk with friends because his mother, well, you get it. Warning: This is the type of comedy special that will also likely make you cry.
Feeling anxious? Watch Maria Bamford’s ‘Weakness Is the Brand’
No, Maria Bamford probably isn’t going to calm you down (she’s dealing with her own mental health struggles). But her latest special (available across many platforms, including Amazon) is so consistently funny that you might just forget how freaked out you are.
Feeling silly? Watch Fortune Feimster’s ‘Sweet & Salty’ on Netflix
This one is really nothing but fun. In her debut hour for Netflix, Fortune Feimster shares her life story of growing up as a “tomboy” in a small North Carolina town before realizing in her twenties (while watching a Lifetime movie) that she was a lesbian. Along the way, there are stories about going to Hooters with her family and a failed attempt to become a competitive swimmer that should have you forgetting all of the insanity happening outside your door.
Feeling galvanized? Watch Ilana Glazer’s ‘The Planet Is Burning’ on Amazon
The Broad City alum strikes out on her own in this energetic new hour that takes on everything from climate change to gender identity—you know, all the issues that people cared a lot about before the world started to end even more rapidly. It might just make you want to get off your couch and take action.
Feeling xenophobic? Watch Ronny Chieng’s ‘Asian Comedy Destroys America!’ on Netflix
The coronavirus outbreak has brought out some seriously disturbing anti-Asian racism (mostly on Fox News). The Daily Show correspondent Ronny Chieng uses his outsider perspective (his family is Malaysian but he grew up in Singapore and New Hampshire before going to university in Melbourne) to reveal everything that’s fucked up about America. His extended riff on Amazon Prime is one for the ages.
Feeling nostalgic? Watch ‘John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch’ on Netflix
OK, this one is more 1970s-style variety show than stand-up special, but it is delightful. Following his tour de force performance at Radio City Music Hall for 2018’s Kid Gorgeous, the former Saturday Night Live writer teamed up with David Byrne, Natasha Lyonne and a group of adorable child actors to produce a musical examination of everything from “Grandma’s Boyfriend Paul” to one boy’s love for a “Plain Plate of Noodles.” Make sure to stick around for Jake Gyllenhaal delivering a career-high performance as Mr. Music.
Feeling depressed? Watch Gary Gulman’s ‘The Great Depresh’ on HBO
You’re not alone. That’s the big takeaway from what this writer deemed the funniest stand-up special of 2019. Gary Gulman, a veteran Boston-born comic, uses documentary footage and on-stage performance to tell the story of how he hit rock bottom, entered a psychiatric facility, and came out stronger on the other side. For such a dark subject, it has no business being as hilarious as it is. Gulman is just that talented.
Feeling super chill? Watch Ramy Youssef’s ‘Feelings’ on HBO
Ramy Youssef, who won a Golden Globe for his phenomenal Hulu series Ramy earlier this year, is also possibly the most laid-back stand-up comic working today. There’s something oddly calming about watching him slowly deliver devastating jokes in front of a brightly-lit crowd in his debut special on HBO. Just going to throw out this out of context punchline, which should at the very least make you curious enough to check it out: “Did 9/11... work?”
Feeling disoriented? Watch Wanda Sykes’ ‘Not Normal’ on Netflix
American life felt pretty weird last spring when Wanda Sykes decided to call her latest Netflix special Not Normal. Now it is seriously far from normal. With that in mind, there’s almost something reassuring about Sykes’ comic take on the current president. “Let me just start by saying: If you voted for Trump, and you came to see me?” she asked at the top of the hour. After pausing for effect, she adds, “You fucked up again.”
For more, listen and subscribe to The Last Laugh podcast.