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 #50 – #41.
Staying Alive was an important stand-up special for Tracy Morgan. Because it marked his return from a serious car accident that left Morgan and his entourage really banged up, and one fellow comedian dead. Morgan took a over a year to recover, and during that time he had a lot of spare time to think about his own life, his new daughter, and the dark side of his family. He makes you laugh, he makes you wince while going through both a physical and spiritual recovery.
Morgan launched a major Pick Up The Pieces Tour to prepare for this special and its fitting he recorded it in Red Bank, NJ. Just a few miles from where his accident accident occurred, placing a metaphorical bow on a turning point in his life.
49. Lynne Koplitz – Hormonal Beast (Netflix)
Lynne Koplitz had a close bond with Joan Rivers the last few years. It serves as a good frame of reference as you watch Koplitz’ Hormonal Beast (she dedicated the special to Rivers). In a way Koplitz is taking up the Rivers mantle and filling the void Joan left behind. Koplitz spends the lion’s share of her special coming to grips with with growing old and serving up hear learnings to an audience while rocking a sparkly outfit in front of retro fans. She’s cracked the code on men and wants you to grab a pen and take notes. She’s not a mom, because she has nice things. Koplitz sums up her life perfectly, an older Barbie whose let herself go a little bit and now goes by Barbara.
48. Judd Apatow – The Return (Netflix)
Judd Apatow returned to stand-up comedy after 25 years away from the small stage. Why? Well, that’s something most true comedians would understand. Apatow had an itch that needed to be scratched. Even though he’s been wildly successful making movies, he still had that urge to put together material for a stand-up comedy special. On The Return, Apatow breaks down his life since then, getting married, having children and the funny quirks that surround it. Apatow also manages to get a bit audio/visual on us as he shows us some photos of his early years with Adam Sandler up to the time he tried to make President Obama laugh.
47. Craig Ferguson – Tickle Fight (Netflix)
Recorded in Montreal at the 2017 Just For Laughs Festival, Craig Ferguson returns to his loose ways as he tackles simpler, less-political topics (though there are a few Trump jokes) such as growing a beard, his love of hating magicians, coming of age in the 70s, social media angst and sharing what he believes to be the oldest joke in the world. It’s the lighthearted Craig Ferguson we love who is more concerned with being silly above anything else. There’s a reason the special is called Tickle Fight, Ferguson just wants to be cheeky, and that’s something he does tremendously.
46. Ryan Hamilton – Happy Face (Netflix)
Well, that’s a bit of a misnomer, for Hamilton always looks happy to be wherever he and he dives right into that topic. Hamilton has spent some time opening for Jerry Seinfeld and you can tell why Seinfeld would dig his vibe… suits, it’s because they both like suits amongst other things.
Hamilton is the perennial nice guy and his comedy reflects this. Generating big laughs from this pool and the juxtaposition of his Midwest upbringing and his current residency in New York City. Hamilton is not only a seasoned professional, he shows that the good guy wins every once in a while and with Happy Face, we learn that it should happen more often.
45. Judah Friedlander – America Is The Greatest Country In The United States (Netflix)
Judah Friedlander is challenging the idea of “American Exceptionalism” with, America is the Greatest Country in the United States. Friedlander directed the special himself, following his work along multiple show stops in front of intimate audiences in clubs. The comedian is taking aim at some of America’s biggest issues like racism, climate change, gun control, sexism, immigration, and healthcare, utilizing his signature sharp and satirical wit. America Is The Greatest Country In The United States is a great study of an exceptional comedian documenting the intimacy of stand-up comedy.
Calling a special Me Being Me is fitting if you know anything about Jay Larson, he’s a terrific stand-up comic that can spin a yarn that’s not only funny but honest to where he is in life. A husband, father of two who might not fully be where he wants to be in life, yet peeling back layer and layer of his life. The special was self-produced and released by Larson and ends with a story about the death of his father, a man he spent very little time with yet he is suddenly forced to try to reconcile his relationship with him. That 7 minutes alone will tell you a lot about Jay Larson, while he’s making you howl with jokes about his children, he’s letting you know everything he needs to know about himself with that final bit.
43. Christina P – Mother Inferior (Netflix)
Christina Pazsitsky’s Mother Inferior solidifies her as one half of the kickass first couple of stand-up. She headed to Seattle to film a stand-up comedy special that tells her story growing up, to becoming a mother herself. But it’s not all perfect housewife and mother for Pazsitsky, afterall, the special isn’t Mother Superior, it’s Mother Inferior. She reveals that motherhood isn’t all just puppies and rainbows, it has dark moments too. You can smile, but don’t be surprised if a cry comes right after it. But at the same time, she’s not above using pregnancy to her advantage by getting her husband to do things for her. As the logline states, she’s honest, she’s caring, she’s over it.
42. Bob Saget – Zero To Sixty (Comedy Dynamics)
Now that Bob Saget has ticked past the age of 60 years old, he’s learned a lot about life. The man has literally done everything there is to do in this business and he’s done it with such panache. His latest is here to tell us what’s new in his life and it turns out, he’s still a huge fan of the dick joke. While the dick joke might not be wanted in this current climate, Saget makes the argument that it’s literally what the world needs right now. Add onto the fact that he’s the “only TV father left that you can trust,” a statement that’s ironic and, well true considering the world is collapsing around us Saget proves to us that jokes are jokes.
41. Roy Wood Jr. – Father Figure (Comedy Central)
He’s a new dad and his career is currently at an all time high, so what’s the next step for Roy Wood Jr.? Like most comedians, he takes the moment to tape a stand-up comedy special in order to document that moment in his life. Wood is one of the best correspondents The Daily Show has to offer so Comedy Central teamed up with the comedian and Father Figure is the result. It shows Wood being a new dad, breaking down, being a dad, and those things about culture that just seem to irk him – like how he wants to wear the color blue yet he still fears gangs as an older man. In such he’s bestowing great wisdom down on us, as all great fathers would.