One day the algorithm will swallow us whole. Until then, while we’re still able to keep our heads above the sea of content flooding the Netflix servers, there’s one constant anchor in the storm: Every week, Netflix adds a new standup special.
Some of them take on different shapes in front of different audiences. The return of the Netflix half-hour collection “The Standups” gives a more condensed alternative to some of its larger, longer counterparts. Giant names in the business have taken something close to a blank check approach to make something that doesn’t look, sound, or feel like the other titles next to it on the home menu.
That said, time is precious. Even the biggest comedy fans probably can’t keep up with every weekly addition. (Now that some comedians are dropping multiple specials simultaneously, they’ve become small seasons of television all their own.) To help, we’ve ranked every new 2018 standup special that has come to the service over this calendar year. Comedy is subjective, but this is one way of helping make sure your comedy time is well-spent.
As the year goes on, we’ll keep this updated with all the newest adds to the Netflix comedy lineup. In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to keep you busy for the next hour, here’s our ranked list of all that Netflix comedy has to offer in 2018.
[Note: Netflix has a collection of standup in a variety of languages, but for the sake of keeping this a judge of material from the performer and not just a translator’s subtitles, we kept this list to primarily English-language specials.]
19. “Harith Iskander: I Told You So”
A surprising portion of the early part of “I Told You So” is Iskander marveling at his ability to have a standup special. Rather than plunge right into his set, there’s a lot of buildup around the fact that he even gets to do this. Overall, it’s a harmless hour that feels more designed for the people in the room when it was recorded than the people who are watching it however many months later. Iskander gets a lot of goodwill from being a likable guy, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to much substantial comedy. Most of “I Told You So” is made up of the story of him as a teenager flying overseas to visit his girlfriend — on its own, it’s a charming enough monologue that’s more interesting than funny. Still, there is something valuable in a moment of forgiveness near the special’s end.
Joke Worth Watching For: The personal stories are the most compelling, but Iskander’s impression of a bag waiting to be picked up at Kuala Lumpur International Airport is the show’s biggest laugh. (Airport material plays in any country.)
18. “Marlon Wayans: Woke-ish”
Wayans took three decades into his career to release his first standup special and it shows. Not because “Woke-ish” contains a nonstop stream of carefully crafted material honed over decades (it doesn’t), but because it feels mostly like a collection of stray observations and film script B-sides. The best parts of “Woke-ish” are when Wayans taps into things that feel his own, particularly his physical comedy stuff. But when he takes a broader view of the world, it’s delivered with the same spirit of reactive toothlessness that guided two different “A Haunted House” movies. Any half-hearted attempts at sincerity or introspection immediately get undercut by a cheap gag. Wayans has to go big to please a giant MGM crowd, and in the process he loses a lot of what would make this a distinctive debut worth waiting for.
Joke Worth Watching For: Again, not so much a joke as it is repeating something that happened to someone else, but his recreation of the Wendy Williams fainting GIF is a crowd-pleaser for a reason.
17. “Katt Williams: Great America”
The best parts of “Great America” are when Katt Williams plays to his Jacksonville, Fla., crowd. The jokes and references meant mostly for the people in the room somehow work even better because of how well you can tell he’s tapping into what’s getting a big response. But as soon as Williams loses that specificity, that charm devolves into tired Trump jokes and recycled observations about relationships that are whispers of some of Williams’ more magnetic stuff from specials past. If the photos of him hanging on the wall on either side of a fake Oval Office are any indication, most of this is designed to bring back memories of sharper things he’s done elsewhere.
Joke Worth Watching For: Williams covers plenty of ground in a short timeframe, so blink and you’ll miss some of the better stuff here. Some strong candidates? Unveiling the Jacksonville Jaguars new uniforms and trying to figure out what mesothelioma is.
16. “Kevin James: Never Don’t Give Up”
Kudos to Kevin James for finding the true enemies of America: people with dietary restrictions. It’s right around the point James screams from the stage “Where are the men??!?” that this goes from a standup special to something closer to a focus-group tested offshoot of the actor’s film and TV work. Most of this is built around the same low-hanging, moldy observations your uncle had last Thanksgiving, but it’s elevated ever so slightly by the occasional, more physical bits of James’ set. When “Never Don’t Give Up” stumbles upon things that James the person seems legitimately interested in (his children, hotel etiquette, his Nick Nolte impression), it shows. When it feels more like an obligatory nod to fans of “Kevin Can Wait” looking for someone to give voice to how things just aren’t what they used to be anymore, it gets stale awfully quick.
Joke Worth Watching For: James’ extended riff on putting kids to bed isn’t breaking new ground in the Comedians Are Parents Too department, but it’s the strongest example of him bringing in things from his own life rather than the parade of other scenarios that play out like sitcom setups. And the closing bits of him asking people about their tattoos gives you the sense James is a lot funnier when he gets out of his own way.
15. “Fakkah Fuzz: Almost Banned”
Building an entire set around a “some people are like this, and other people are like that” group of premises is a tricky proposition. Fuzz makes the most of relaying his experiences as a Malay man in Singapore, turning it around on some of the different groups that make up his audience. Most of it is limited to some surface-level comparisons, but Fuzz also gets the chance to point out how many people (not just Americans) can be condescending when they come across a culture they think they understand but they don’t.
Joke Worth Watching For: There’s a great payoff to Fuzz’s story about reconnecting with someone from his past via Instagram DMs.
14. “Ricky Gervais: Humanity”
Even when a few genuine spontaneous smiles sneak through, “Humanity” has the air of something Gervais feels obliged to do, either to feed some nonexistent need to bolster his cred as Bad Boy of Comedy or as a self-appointed crusader for insufferable people everywhere. A large portion of the special is an exercise in bad faith, especially when his coda tries to have it both ways by insisting he has permission to joke about his adopted targets. Getting there is a parade of recycled Twitter material and insistent jokes about how there is no God. (Have you heard he’s an atheist? Surprisingly, it’s never come up before.) Those parts are all the more frustrating, because when you strip those away, there’s a chunk of “Humanity” that feels fine-tuned. Some selective carving leaves a few slivers of bits that let Gervais poke fun at his own assholery. But whenever it seems like he’s finally figured out a way to peel back the top layer of faux outrage and get at what’s wrong with a “we’re just too PC these days” premise, he turns his focus to people who he thinks have unfairly maligned him. He’s slavishly committed to exposing people who trolls see as trolls, which occasionally does work to his benefit, but that doesn’t leave much room for honesty.
Joke Worth Watching For: The story of a relative going bald but continuing to wear a toupee is an ideal example of what Gervais can do with a great story — when he’s not sidetracked by outsized pettiness.