It’s that time of year again. The time when The Laugh Button writers lock themselves into a room with a list of all the comedy specials released this year and battle it out in an attempt to put them into some sort of rank. Now we’re fully aware that lists such as this can get really contentious, particularly when it comes to art, because art is subjective and tastes are different. We fully expect anyone that reads this list to disagree with one choice, two choices, or perhaps all of it. Because what good list can there be without a hefty dose of people shouting “that special stinks, thos one should be higher up.” or the classic “this rubbish list didn’t include my favorite comic X.” And perhaps our favorite crituque of all, “why didn’t this special that dropped in 2021 make the best of 2022 list?” Trust us, it happens every year.
With that all said, we have a few that we needed to agree to for this list.
- The general timeline of eligible specials is between the first week of December to the first week of December each year so something that came out in late 2021 can be eligible. Something that was released in 2022 these next couple of weeks will be eligible for next year’s list.
- We generally attempt to focus on purely stand-up specials. If something was mostly improv or super outside of that, it’s likely deemed inelligible.
- We try to focus on a full hour. There are plenty of 20 or 30 minutes out there online but for the sake of deeming these “specials” we focus on the 60 minute range.
- We consider it regardless of platform it’s released on.
Now, onto the list!
20. Chris Distefano – Speshy Weshy
Chris DiStefano was well on his way to self-recording and releasing Speshy Weshy independently. He seemed in a situation where nobody wanted the special from him. But right at the last minute the folks at Netflix decided to jump in and release it on their platform. Great for DiStefano, and irony for the streaming giant because parts of Speshy Weshy were dedicated to the comedian ragging on the company. Particularly the telling of the story about how they fired him from hosting the show, Ultimate Beastmaster for the silliest of jokes. Knowing this information makes for fun Easter Eggs throughout the special as DiStefano clearly recorded it with the intent of a solo release. Besides taking stabs at large corporations, DiStefano also airs grievances against silly fans, online trolls, and generally discusses how it’s “over” for white people. But not in a sad way, rather a declaration to fans to enjoy the ride because Chrissy Chaos certainly is.
19. David A. Arnold – It Ain’t For The Weak
If you were ever going to have a special speak for your entire career and where you’re at in the moment, this would be a good one to go out on. In It Ain’t For The Weak – which wound up being Arnold’s final special before he sadly passed away a month later. We see Arnold’s knack for telling stories about his family on full display. But the sheer highlight is the 15 minute one-man show he does, where he introduces us to his grandfather. At the end of the special, there’s a mini-documentary, where Arnold talks about how social media changed everything for him, and we meet his parents, his dad, and even see him revisit his high school. On top of seeing a superb comedian who is clearly at the top of his game, you’re also getting a rare chance to see the person behind the comedy one last time.
18. Patton Oswalt – We All Scream
From the start of his fourth Netflix special Patton Oswalt wastes no time at all before launching into what he’s been up to during the pandemic, starting with a story about how he broke his foot by stepping off a curb. We All Scream is also notable because this is the first special Oswalt ever directed. While the the special itself necessarily strongest we’ve seen from this veteran comic, there’s still enough great material packed into this hour – specifically his breakdown of SiriusXM stations – to appeal to all the comedy fans.
17. Fortune Feimster – Good Fortune
In her first special, Sweet & Salty, Feimster spent a lot of time talking about her upbringing in North Carolina, which is where she taped the special. In her second special, Good Fortune, the focus is more on who Fortune Feimster is today, giving us a wide insight on who she is. Whether she’s talking about getting a butt massage, the moment her partner realized she wasn’t butch, or how she proposed to her wife, Feimster naturally crushes it. As always, Feimster’s strong and powerful energy is on full display, and will definitely be enough to win over new comedy fans.
16. John Novosad – Jokes I Can Only Tell Here
John Novosad has been performing his easy-going and laid back comedy for a long time. A seasoned pro with the energy of The Dude from The Big Lebowski as he eases you into his stoner vibe. But don’t be fooled by the “hippie comic” while he might be chiller than most, he low key slays and slowly creeps up on you before you get hammered with terrific punchlines. Novosad moves in the spirit of stoner brotheren and alternative comics. If Emo Phillips and Mitch Hedberg are your strain of comedy, John Novosad might be your next comedy obsession.
15. Norm MacDonald – Nothing Special
Last September, we learned the shocking news that Norm MacDonald had passed away after a secret 9-year battle with cancer. Norm’s final gift to us was Nothing Special. That’s not us being facetious, that’s the name of his final special. The special was filmed in lockdown, with nothing more than Norm talking into the camera, not unlike a Zoom show. This was merely to preserves Norm’s set the night before surgery in case “things went South.” The jokes themselves are solid, but clearly they would have been improved once he did them onstage in front of a crowd. But everything in there is sheer Norm, from the jokes to his trademark delivery. And partnered with a round table discussion with Adam Sandler, David Spade, Molly Ringwald, Conan O’Brien, and Dave Chappelle, it’s a unique sendoff to one of comedy’s most unique voices.
14. Andrew Schulz – Infamous
By now you probably know the story about Infamous. Andrew Schulz reportedly took back ownership of his special from a streaming giant in order to maintain the special as it was. So he self-released the special and bet on himself to great effect. Not only making his money back through a pay-per-view platform but then later dropping it on Youtube to the tune of 11M views. Infamous is pure Schulz, addressing an Austin crowd in as direct a way as possible. Schulz is confrontational in the best way, he not only addresses sensitive topics rather steamrolling them with pummeling jokes until you have no choice to to release and just laugh at the most insane ideas and topics. Yes, Infamous is a comedy special, but it’s also a party and Andrew Schulz is the guest of honor, commanding your attention with some of the wildest ideas you’ve ever heard.
13. Stavros Halkias – Live at the Lodge Room
Stavros Halkias has had an interesting rise in stand-up. Originally from the DC area, he first landed in the NY comedy scene a few years back. It was the two-shot combo of his sleeper hit podcast Cumtown and burgeoning body positivity Instagram feed that allowed Halkias to keep cracking away at becoming a bonafide headliner. At the beginning of the year, Halkias left Cumtown and its very cushy Patroen $$ to bet on himself and work harder at his debut hour. The result is Live At The Lodge Room which earned the comedian over 4 million views on Youtube since its release in the summer. The success of Stavros Halkias in 2022 proves that comedians can and should build their own audiences. Spend time on your fanbase and they will take you far.
12. Cristela Alonzo – Middle Classy
It took Cristela Alonzo 6 years to release her second Netflix special, Middle Classy, which is the follow-up to Lower Classy. Fortunately for fans, she made it well worth the wait. Middle Classy serves as a great showcase for Alonzo’s abilities as a comic, whether she’s talking about her family, her Texas upbringing, or how much she doesn’t understand TikTok. But perhaps one of the greatest testaments to Alonzo as a comedian is that she took the fact that she got COVID the same day she was originally supposed to tape the special – on her birthday – and weave it into a hilarious 10 minute story.
11. Tim Dillon – A Real Hero
Tim Dillon has of course found massive success through podcasting, both in his own show and as a frequent guest on others. But like the other podcasters on this list, Dillon is still a stand-up comedian through and through. A Real Hero is the result of his explosive growth on both podcast and stage that first drew such a big audience to his aesthetic. You’re treated to his classic rants, with a healthy dose of poking fun at absurdity all around. It’s a good time, and it’s great to see how far Dillon has come as a comedian returning to Netflix in 2022 with a full hour special just a mere 4 years after he first had a 15 minutes on the platform.
10. Ms. Pat – Y’all Want To Hear Something Crazy?
In the past few years Ms. Pat has successfully launched into the comedy scene an overnight success many years in the making. She’s been a well-known comedy presence for years but has slowly become known to a wider audience by some key podcast appearances, a book, hew own podcast, and now a semi-autobiographical sitcom based on her life. Ms. Pat finally caught the attention of the folks at Netflix who delivered her second full length special. It showcases the comedian’s ability to talk about some of the incredibly difficult parts of her life through hilarious, side-splitting stories. Throughout YWTHSS, she finds ways to talk about her tough upbringing in a way that transforms the dark times into laugh-till-you-cry moments
9. Taylor Tomlinson – Look At You
Taylor Tomlinson’s 2020 special, Quarter Life Crisis, was the perfect introduction to Tomlinson’s and her brand of comedy. The special is relatable to anyone in their mid-20s, and also nostalgic for those who aren’t anymore. For her next special, Look At You, we get a closer look at who Tomlinson herself is. Onstage, she’s getting a lot more candid about her personal life, including her mental health. She even goes so far as to share her own bi-polar diagnosis, as well as the process of going to therapy. As far as specials go, it seems like it could be a clear game charger for Tomlinson, and a step in a new direction. If you hadn’t seen her before, you’re in for a treat here!
8. Neal Brennan – Blocks
A super power that Neal Brennan has is that he didn’t get his start as a stand-up comedian. Catching fame with Chappelle’s Show long before he gave stand-up a chance. Turns out it offered the comedian a fresh approach to the artform. Brennan’s specials are much more aligned with the one man shows than they are of a person on stage telling the setup, punch, tag jokes. Blocks is his follow-up to the critically acclaimed 3 Mics and it showcases Brennan reconciling with his tough childhood which led to his battle to get his head straight. It’s his musing on his normie-life-meets-Hollywood-life and just how juxtaposed those two entities are. Brennan really dives into the human condition and what he pulls out is that we’re all working our way through it, and there is tremendous humor in that.
7. Louis C.K. – Sorry
Louis C.K. dropped Sorry a few days too late to make it on our last end of the year list. An hour that showcases very much the same Louis C.K. we’ve grown to love from his many specials – with the previous 2 earning Grammy nominations. Sorry shows that C.K. still wants to address heavy subject matter. C.K. presents a great Michael Jackson joke that we won’t spoil, but is easily worth seeing – and it shows that C.K. remains gleefully willing to take these topics head-on. Like his other projects C.K. released Sorry directly to fans via his website. A move that C.K. has done for years that can be directly attributed to the current model of comics self-releasing their own specials.
6. Joe List – This Year’s Material
Since his previous (hit) special, I Hate Myself Joe List has been on a wild ride. His 2022 was particularly great as it saw his first movie made and released along with Louis C.K. and his follow-up special, This Year’s Material. Joe is is at the top of his game, but that doesn’t stop him from letting that anxiety and self-deprecating humor creep back in. Case in point within the first minute of taking the stage List jokes about someone in the audience not clapping for his entrance and the sign on the stage being a bit too much. Comedy keeps you humble sometimes even as This Year’s Material shows Joe List only getting stronger and better at what he does. Other comics rave about how great a comedian Joe List is and we should all follow their advice.
5. Robert Kelly – Killbox
Robert Kelly is one of the best comedians working today a bonafide hammer that not too many people like to follow because of his ability to level a room. The story of Killbox is one of righting a wrong. Though a 30 year veteran in comedy he doesn’t have a tremendous amount of recorded material out in the world. It was when Kelly was on the road in Europe opening for his friend Louis C.K. when Louie decided to right a wrong. C.K. was amazed to learn Kelly didn’t have a special lined up so he took the initiative to fund, produce, and direct a special for him. So they rented a room in Tampa, FL and recorded Killbox. Set up like Elvis’ 1968 comeback special (minus the full leather outfit) Kelly did what he does best, took the stage like the rock star he his and took no prisoners. Delivering an hour of high-energy self reflection wrangling with his full degenerate past while attempting to be the best father and husband he can. There’s a reason some of the biggest comedians walking this planet always come back to Robert Kelly, and Killbox is that on full display.
4. Bill Burr – Live At Red Rocks
Bill Burr is one of the earliest comedians to have a special on Netflix, and still is releasing them with the streaming giant. Live At Red Rocks is probably Burr’s most ambitious special in scale. Setting up shop at Red Rocks, the legendary Colorado venue with a capacity of nearly 10,000 people, it’s easily the largest place the comedian has filmed a special at. While the debate rages about the ideal size venue for a comedy special, Burr manages to make the massive crowd intimate enough for his trademark style – simmering rage that he works to quell in front of his kid, a meditation on (of all things) the WNBA which will go down as a Burr classic, and that great unifying topic… abortion.
3. Sam Morril – Same Time Tomorrow
Sam Morril has been a comedy powerhouse for a few years now, dropping his fourth special in four years. And every one has been worth the watch, with this latest effort being a clear culmination of years of dedication from one of the strongest comedians in the game today. There is no fat on this special, every joke is honed and perfected. Morril is unafraid to talk about difficult topics, and that includes addressing his own foibles and insecurities. At this point, Morril is almost the quintessential modern New York City comedian, helped in some ways by his appearance as a NYC stand-up comedian in Joker, but also because his humor scratches just the itch you’re looking for if you’re going down that rabbit hole.
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2. Ari Shaffir – Jew
Ari Shaffir had been working on Jew for a long time now. The usual factors delayed the comedian – global pandemic, Kobe Bryant death, same story as we’ve all heard a million times. Shaffir put a lot of work into his special about the Jewish religion which he was raised. The result is 90 minutes of some of the most researched and fact checked details about the Jewish culture, but as Shaffir put it, the words used to tell the story have been greatly updated. As Shaffir put it, it’s his “love letter to the culture and religion that raised me.” It’s clear the effort the comedian put into Jew from bringing in the right people for set design and direction to credits that go above and beyond. Jew is one of the finest stand-up specials you’ll experience this year.
1. Jerrod Carmichael – Rothaniel
There’s a reason why Jerrod Carmichael is taking the number one spot on all the lists, including ours. It’s not just because his special wound up being insanely popular from the jump, only furthered by him coming out as gay during the special. But it’s because he manages to do the one thing that every comedian sets out to do, which is drop his guard and showcase who he actually is, all while still killing. And he does so effortlessly.
“I want you guys to feel as comfortable as I hope to be,” Carmichael tells the audience from the onset. That opening sentiment makes the audience part of the experience. It’s not just about Jerrod. It’s now a conversation with the audience chiming in throughout the toughest moments of the special. That intimacy is part of its charm. Directed by Bo Burnham, you’re stepping back in time to an old school New York jazz club (it was filmed at the Blue Note) with a masterfully constructed special. There’s Carmichael, sitting onstage in a cramped New York club, seemingly relaxed as hell, as he talks about how he got his real first name, convincing his dad to confess that he cheated on his mom, and the reaction to his coming out he got from his friends and his family. All of this is done in a trademark stream-of-consciousness presentational style, keeping his raw vulnerability on display throughout. With Jerrod Carmichael, everything just looks so effortless.