As we close the book on 2017, The Laugh Button staff sets up shop in a room and slugs it out to determine the best comedy specials of the year were. This year was a tough one – not only was the output at an all-time high just by the number of releases, but the caliber of comedians was top notch. We saw great debuts from some really great newcomers, current kings and queens released new specials, and lest we forget some bonafide legends return to the artform after lengthy absences. This year Netflix won the quantity game by releasing a new stand-up special at least once a week for the entire year. But quantity doesn’t always equal quality as HBO crafted its releases and released two very high-ranking specials. In fact, all major networks on the air and off (R.I.P. Seeso) stepped and put out quality comedy material.
First, some ground rules we took into consideration when constructing the list.
1) We tried our damnedest to judge on the comedian’s work and keep personal issues, politics, and headlines out of the process.
2) If the special aired in December 2016 but received an album release in 2017, it was eligible.
3) Half Hours weren’t counted. There were many worthy candidates in places like Netflix’s The Standups and Comedy Central’s The Half Hour, but ultimately to keep things consistent, we just considered hours.
So with that, let’s get into it, here’s #30 – #21.
Brian Posehn turned 50 and proceeded to write a stand-up comedy special about it. One that he feels is his best work to date, a large claim by a seasoned comedian who manages to talk about sci-fi, metal, and other facets of pop culture in is act. Oh, and farts, he sometimes drops a fart joke here and there. There’s also those awkward times his wife has walked in on him masturbating. So he has that going for him. Even at 50, Brian Posehn still knows who he is an he’s still as uncompromising as ever.
29. Maria Bamford – Old Baby (Netflix)
Everything Maria Bamford touches seems to have a beautifully weird element to it, and it shines bright on Old Baby. Never one to record a special in an odd place (see Special, Special, Special) where she recorded the special in her parent’s living room. Old Baby is the Bammer performing her act (mostly her album 20%) as one continuous set pieced together from performances in a series of venues, small and large. Mashed with vignettes of her pitching merch from a card table or the trunk of her car. Bamford manages to take comedy and turn it on its ear, always providing a unique and interesting time.
Kurt Braunohler is a silly and absurdist comedian and it’s wonderful to watch him work. From talking about the evolution of beavers, satellite radio, his cell phone, masturbation with McDonald’s fruit pies, and perhaps the desire to declare “Nothing But Net” when someone farts. However, in Trust Me there is a moment where Braunohler gets somewhat serious with social commentary, diving into topics like Dylann Roof and Eric Gardner. Is it a mark of a shift in his style of comedy, or maybe we’re just catching a glimpse of a different side of Brauhnohler, growing up and new fatherhood will do that to a man.
Nick Thune grew up a bit on his second stand-up special filmed in Portland, Oregon it marks a departure from his earlier work. Thune grew up a bit (he’s a new dad), put down his guitar more and decided to dive deeper into longer stories about his everyday struggle to be a “good guy.” But don’t worry, Thune hasn’t fully grown up, case in point, the subject matter of said stories are about such tings as his dog accidentally eating weed edibles and getting into a fight with his wife’s doctor… baby steps.
Shane Torres’ is having a moment, first he landed a Half Hour on Comedy Central and the release of his first album, Established 1981, two milestones that many burgeoning comedians would be really excited about. But just around the release of Established, a track from the album went viral, picked up by all the major publications and clogging up social feeds. What was the clip about? Well it was just Torres being honest and asking the simple question, “what the hell did Guy Fieri ever do to anyone?”
25. Neal Brennan – 3 Mics (Netflix)
If you haven’t gleaned from the title of the special, Neal Brennan tackles comedy from three different perspectives and as he mentions in the special, he’s doing his career backwards. Meaning he’s gone from movies and TV back to stand-up. But he’s adding a totally different angle, well 3 of them. Changing body language and delivery style as he rotates through three different microphones on stage. Beginning with one-liners, moving to stand-up, then hitting some of the more emotional material on the third one. The power of the comedy special is that it can be more than just one person with a microphone, and Neal Brennan’s 3 Mics is proof.
24. Chris D’Elia – Man On Fire (Netflix)
Chris D’Elia is shot out of a cannon, high energy, all the time. It’s no exception on Man On Fire, he still takes the stage with a bold energy but this time around, he’s embraced the grumpier side of his life. His material has grown beyond observing simple men and women tropes. D’Elia declares, “this isn’t even a comedy show. It’s a Ted Talk” as this 36 year old “tired eagle” is more concerned with making you realize you aren’t even the star of your own movie and you why you shouldn’t give a damn about birthday parties. But is Man On Fire nihilistic? Nah, it’s just a snapshot of D’Elia getting a bit wiser about his lot in life and eagerness to tell you what he’s learned.
Marc Maron has become a voice that we all know and love, mostly because we get a weekly check-in with him on his wildly popular WTF podcast. That voice is soothing and we feel like we’re watching an old pal catch us up when checking out Too Real. We almost know Maron so well and expect certain things from him and his stand-up special. So it’s a great deal of relief to learn that Maron is delivering some of his greatest material since bursting onto the scene. He’s having normal relationships and (dare we say it) delivering decent impersonations of members of The Rolling Stones.
Whether it’s the truth about golfers, the correct way to use Tinder, or why it should be okay to punch people in the face, Joe DeRosa has an opinion about it. You Let Me Down, leaves no subject unexplored. What do all serial killers have in common? He’s got an answer. Is it weird for women to go topless in public? He has thoughts on that, too. Get ready to see things differently because the entire running theme of You Let Me Down is that there’s a grey area to everything, and DeRosa doesn’t appreciate anything other than nuance to life, after all, that’s where all the good stuff lies. As prolific as DeRosa is, this was his first official hour special for anyone, making for a strong splash that hardly let anyone down.
Tiffany Haddish exploded this year. Like full bonafide explosion-type of fire. It started from her stealing the movie Girls Trip and almost by sheer force she climbed this high on the list. Haddish can barely contain her excitement on She Ready, if you were to watch this special on mute, you’d more than likely still feel the energy on the stage, as she act-outs, jumps around the stage, dances her way through an hour of comedy. A set that both reveals her humble beginnings living in her car with comedian friends like Kevin Hart tossing her money to get by, to the highs of working on the same movie with Jada Pickett-Smith that turned into a Louisiana swamp tour trip with Jada and her very famous husband Will Smith, she got the tickets on Groupon after all. Haddish kicked down the door with Girls Trip and She Ready proves her rising star power isn’t a fluke.