There are few forms of entertainment that have spawned as many celebrities as stand-up comedy. The likes of Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Ellen Degeneres all made a name for themselves getting on a stage and making a room full of complete strangers laugh. How many film careers have been launched by successful stand-up comedy routines? How many sitcoms, for better or worse?
Then again, we live in an era when a successful Twitter feed or internet meme can spawn a movie or TV show. It used to be a bigger deal to make that leap.
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Still, stand-up comedy is the base from which many long-running careers have launched and Netflix has an always evolving collection of stand-up comedy specials. Each one of them features a comedian showing off battle-tested routines designed to get a hearty guffaw out of the most hardened of spirits. Some just feature really good fart jokes.
Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theatre – The Emmy and Grammy winning stand-up has made waves with his abrasive, unapologetic style and his ability to say insanely awful things in way that make you almost agree with him. Until you step back and realize what he said was insanely awful, something he’s the first to admit. His FX series Louie has launched him into mainstream stardom…well, at least relative to where he was before. And despite his success, Louis still maintains a loyal following of stand-up comedy aficionados. Live at the Beacon Theatre will show you why.
Aziz Ansari: Dangerously Delicious – You probably know him as Tom Haverford on NBC’s brilliant sitcom, Parks and Recreation. You might even know him from the critically acclaimed sketch comedy series Human Giant. And if you’re lucky, you’ve seen his stand-up. From his weird cousin Harris to growing up in South Carolina, Aziz has this amazing way of connecting with the inner insecure nerd in all of us while still putting out a brash, arrogant stage presence that engages the audience.
Yes, I just used “NBC” and “brilliant” in the same sentence. Trust me when I say that won’t happen again.
Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe – He’s so pale doughy you almost think you’re watching Drew Carey host The Price is Right. Gaffigan’s comedy is fuelled by being a father, Disney and McDonald’s. He’s also irrationally preoccupied with “working out”, something he rarely does. Gaffigan’s style is the epitome of deadpan, often breaking out into a second voice meant to be the inner monologue of the audience watching him as a counterpoint. He assumes they’re thoroughly dissatisfied with the show. He’s wrong.
Eddie Murphy: Raw – If there ever was a classic stand-up special, this would be it. Watching Eddie Murphy’s current movies, you wouldn’t think that there was a time when he could sell out stadiums with his stand-up. Hell, you wouldn’t think there was a time he was funny based on his current movies. But Raw is a great reminder that Eddie Murphy has brilliant comedic timing combined with a brash delivery, something that took him to the top. Even if the material is a little dated.
The Original Kings of Comedy – This Spike Lee directed feature is somewhere between stand-up comedy special and documentary. It was shot at the end of a stand-up comedy tour that sold out stadiums featuring Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and the late Bernie Mac. The film featured all four performers but it was Bernie Mac that broke out and made a huge name for himself before his death. This film is a good reminder of why he deserved that success, as short lived as it was, and how big stand-up comedy can still be.
The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie – A litany of spinoffs came from the success of the The Original Kings of Comedy but none were better than The Comedians of Comedy tour. Financed and distributed by Netflix, the film featured Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford, and Zach Galifianakis, stand-up comedians who have since risen to great success. Well, at least Galifianakis and maybe Oswalt. But all four of them are exceptionally funny stand-ups with unique styles.
George Carlin – There are a few names that should be heralded as the greatest of all time on the list of stand-up comedians and the toss up for first place is always between George Carlin and Richard Pryor. A legitimate argument can be made for either point of view. Pretty much every stand-up on this list would count these two among their chief inspirations and influences. Unfortunately, there are no Richard Pryor specials on Netflix in Canada but there are several George Carlin specials. Which one’s the best? Take your pick. George Carlin is truly a master of the form. If you want to understand what stand-up comedy is capable of, watch Carlin. Period.