Jay Spanbauer

Four Great Netflix Comedy Specials

What to watch when you can’t make a live show, or can’t get off the couch.

By - Mar 4th, 2014 11:12 am
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Live comedy truly is a wonderful thing. You’re out, you’re socializing, and you’re likely enjoying a cocktail or three – and ready to be entertained. There’s a sort of romanticism to a night out seeing performers working and perfecting their craft. However, there’s also the inherent agitation of showering, leaving the couch, and having extra cash to spend. Also, 9 P.M. shows on a Tuesday night? Some of us have jobs.

So maybe we can’t always make a live show. But there is another option for stand-up lovers.

You’ve heard of this Netflix thing, right? The site you go to when you’re not on Facebook or using Google to verify something from Wikipedia? Well, Netflix figured out they can produce things and subscribers will watch them. And people will give them awards – “House of Cards,” anyone? The geniuses at Netflix also had the notion of producing, as well as showcasing more stand-up comedy specials. I mean, it has to be cheaper and less time-consuming to shoot or market a stand-up special than a new season of “Arrested Development.” Comedians are catching on, as well, releasing their specials to Netflix in addition to selling physical copies.

That said, like any one-stop shop for entertainment, selection can be an issue, and I generally don’t trust the population to adequately rate something on a scale of one-to-five. So finding new and unique stand-up comedy can be both a frustrating and rewarding challenge. So I’ve decided to take some of the work away from you. You don’t need to suffer through another Dane Cook or Jeff Dunham special, and I don’t need to recommend to you Louis C.K. or John Mulaney specials that are essentially mandatory viewing. Here are a few specials, all released within the past year, all well-worth viewing. And when they next come to Milwaukee, you may want to get off that couch and see them live.

Aziz Ansari - Buried Alive

Aziz Ansari – Buried Alive

Aziz Ansari, “Buried Alive” (Released November 1, 2013)

This show was big news for Netflix. Ansari (“Parks and Recreation,” “Human Giant”) continues to hold his throne as one of the rising superstars of comedy, and this special does nothing to slow down his pace. While the special may lack the random humor of his past specials, Ansari’s new, more mature material focuses more on aging, relationships and social commentary … to some extent. The special still features Ansari’s signature swagger, and the rapper Xzibit follows in the footsteps of Kanye West, 50 Cent and R. Kelly as bait for Ansari’s comedic barbs.

Morgan Murphy, “Irish Goodbye” (Released January 21, 2014)

Call it sedated-brilliance. Murphy’s perfectly monotone voice and delivery can be compared favorably to the talent of the great Tig Notaro, another brilliant female comedian. While Murphy’s voice and delivery are the spotlight, her material is nothing short of exceptional. Her analysis of Maury and an out-of-control teen who has sex for a cheeseburger is perfect. Murphy showcases great flexibility between quick jokes about learning the meaning of irony by being beaten by her mother with her own trophies, to longer musings on love, relationships and learning how to sext.

Marc Maron, “Thinky Pain” (Released October 7, 2013)

What can you say about Maron that he hasn’t already said about himself? “Thinky Pain” captures the experience of a Marc Maron show perfectly. Loose notebooks scatter the stage, though rarely touched, there’s a frantic-yet-sedated pace, and, as a true conversationalist, there’s a constant defiance of showcasing any actual material, rather musings and conversational stories told with a brilliantly-hilarious vulnerability that’s almost unmatchable. Maron truly has found his niche as a performer, blending his past days as a live-fast stand-up comedian, to his current persona as the zen-yet-neurotic king of podcasting. This is essentially an episode of WTF featuring only Maron’s monologue, and it’s brilliant.

Nick Thune, “Folk Hero” (Released February 18, 2014)

Thune is one of those rare performers that are just simply funny, no matter what they do. The beard and glasses combo he sports with a tweed suit on stage, the guitar he strums throughout the performance, or his endearing deadpan delivery — it all works. Thune’s new special, and Netflix’s latest comedic offering, is an absurdist-special filled with short quips about keeping the rooms in his apartment at room temperature and the corners at 90 degrees, as well as longer narratives detailing writing letters to his ex-girlfriend’s seven-year-old-brother. Thune is an up-and-coming must-see performer, as this special absolutely proves.

So okay, once you finish this list you can get back to using Netflix for it’s real purpose: binge-watching episodes of “Law & Order: SVU.” Ice-T and Richard Belzer … there’s a comedy duo worthy of a special. Netflix, are you listening?

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