Dave Attell Proves He’s A Master Of Discomfiting Comedy In New Netflix Special

By Shantanu Sanzgiri 30 March 2024 2 mins read

Dave Attell's 'Hot Cross Buns' is a reminder of why so many of his peers admire him and why the upcoming crop of comedians revere him.

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How many standup specials end with the entire audience playing a nursery rhyme on the recorder? We’ll give you one. Dave Attell’s new Netflix special Hot Cross Buns. Just as he’s coming to the end of his set, the legendary comedian whips out a recorder. He asks the audience to look under their seats. And lo and behold, they all find a little piece of their childhood tucked underneath. Well, most of them. Some of them have sex toys, because it’s not really an Attell special unless there’s some below-the-belt banter. Then they all join the man on stage to give birth to the most harmonious cacophony.

The point of this entire exercise? To bring everyone together in this immensely divided world. Everybody is up in arms about something and Attell wants to give his audience a break. “We need to come together and a mutual experience will do it,” he says.

It’s a brave call, but if there’s one thing we’ve learnt about Attell over his 37-year-long career, it’s that he isn’t afraid to go against the grain. That’s precisely what we get in the taut 40-minute-long special.

Hot Cross Buns is Attell’s grand return to the stage, one decade after the release of his Comedy Central special Road Work. We got to see him in action alongside Jeff Ross on 2018’s Bumpin’ Mics. But this is his first solo work since 2014. Thankfully, the 59-year-old still retains his edge.

The comedian has the audience at Cobb’s Comedy Club, San Francisco in splits with his first line—”I hope I can live up to that four man standing ovation.” After a little more self-deprecation, Attell begins to get into the rhythm and starts firing punchline after punchline, never giving the audience any respite. There are left-field quips about everything from hard seltzer to the abortion laws in Texas. It’s a delight to see the comedian do what he’s best known for, taking up unsettling topics and traversing that minefield like a pro. But he isn’t being edgy for the sake of being edgy. Behind every dark joke is a layer of self-reflection—about his own life, or the country he’s living in.

He touches upon lots of taboo topics—be it calling Sea World “The Aquatic Auschwitz” or child abuse—but does it with such tact that there is no room to be offended. He shows that if you have the talent, you can get away with jokes about anything.

By no measure is this Attell’s best work. There are a few jokes that don’t land or are met with minor chuckles. But it’s definitely a reminder of why so many of his peers admire him including Anthony Jeselnik, Mark Normand and Andrew Santino. At one point in the special he says, “Since I’m the only comic in America who doesn’t have a podcast, this is my moment.” And he’s making the most of it here.


Shantanu Sanzgiri


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