There are specials, and then there are special specials, which break through the conventions of a conventional special to create something truly special. By stepping outside the box, beating it to pulp, and then making a whole new one to think out of. Or maybe they’re just lazy, who can even tell anymore? Either way, here are five alternative standup comics who’ve successfully experimented with their one-hour specials for your viewing pleasure.
1. Maria Bamford: One-Hour Homemade Christmas Standup Special
Bamford performs her jokes (which she says are her gifts to the viewer) sitting on the couch in her living room, without an audience––unless you count the snoring pugs stretched out next to her. Bamford jokes about relatives who can’t stand your happiness, mental health, therapy, and world hunger. Without the stress of a live audience and all their reactions and sensitivities, Bamford is able to get into an effortless rambling flow. At one point in the special, Bamford sends herself into a hysterical fit with her own jokes, and talks about how she’s too funny and that it’s a mental disability. She’s not kidding.
2. Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion
Most famous as the self-appointed lead of the wolfpack from the Hangover series or, to slightly more clued in fans, for his web show Between Two Ferns, Galifianakis is also an accomplished stand-up comedian. He’s considered one of the freshest voices in the experimental comedy scene. In Live At Purple Onion, his first DVD release online, he sits scruffily behind a piano, takes some very long pauses, broods a bunch, and drinks nonstop. Mostly using one-liners, Galifianakis sets up the jokes by creating distinct moods with the piano and his deadpan expressions. There’s nothing particularly weird about the setup. And yet there really, really is.
3. Reggie Watts: Spatial
In this delightful weird comedy special, Reggie Watts stretches the limits of what can be done in comedy as he swooshes back and forth between sincerity and irony, without giving you time to realise it. He sings unintelligently, stumbles and tap dances, mumbles and talks in tongues. Watts is soberingly sincere about his existential angst, and also uproariously hilarious. Stream it on Netflix, watch the trailer here.
4. Drew Michael: Drew Michael
In this self-titled special, there is no applause and no laughter because there’s no audience. Shot in a dark room with the solitary figure of Drew Michael on stage, this special brings standup comedy and performance art together. The New York Times called it the most polarising special of the year, and it’s definitely jarring to sit through without the familiar flow of call and response, joke and laugh, to and fro between audience and performer. Here’s the trailer, find the whole thing You Know Where:
5. Bo Burnham: Make Happy
Bo Burnham started out as a YouTube sensation before moving to comedy; turns out he can sing, compose, act and subvert any expectations you have from a standup comic. His comedy is the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a one man show or something off-Broadway, but not necessarily a standup comedy club.
Burnham improvises songs, breaks into dramatic monologues, deconstructs musical genres, and urges you to lower your expectations of love. And just as Burnham’s earnestness comes close to being too endearing, he breaks the tension with a punchline and distances himself from the bit. The sincere humanity of Burnham shines through despite the veils of irony hiding it.
Here’s the trailer; you can stream the rest on Netflix: