Funny and Fearless: 7 Great Comedy Specials By LGBTQ+ Comedians

By DA Staff 11 June 2023 5 mins read

Here are some of the best standup specials that tackle issues of sexuality and identity with the utmost sincerity, never straying away from the brief of “keeping things funny”.

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Comedy Central’s Out There was one of the first comedy specials to feature LGBTQ+ comedians. The show aired in 1993 and things were a lot different back then. “They wouldn’t even speak to me in the green room,” Flame Monroe says at the beginning of her half-hour special talking about the who’s who of comedy back in the 90s. Since then, we’ve seen a necessary and definite shift in LGBTQ+ representation on the standup stage. 

Standup comedy has given members of the community an opportunity to share their life stories and proclaim themselves and their identities in the process. They have been proud, loud and true to themselves. 

We still have a long way to go though considering A-list comedians like Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle are still punching down and being called “brave” for doing so. But there are many more voices out there today, who are speaking truth to power.  Keeping that in mind, here are some of the best standup specials that tackle issues of sexuality and identity with the utmost sincerity, never straying away from the brief of “keeping things funny”. 

Flame Monroe – They Ready 

“I was invisible to them,” Flame Monroe tells Tiffany Haddish at the beginning of this special. “I was ostracised and unwelcome.” The comedian, who identifies as transgender, is talking about A-list comedians from the 90s and the discrimination she has faced across her 20-year standup journey. Despite all the time, she’s put into the craft, this special—a part of Tiffany Haddish’s They Ready series—was the comedian’s first. And she’s rocking those stilettos and coming out all guns blazing. 

The 30-minute special is packed to the brim with criticism about the system’s discrimination against minorities but she makes it safe for us to laugh through it all. Airport pat-downs are a whole ordeal for Monroe. She loves noticing how airport security gets uncomfortable when she lines up and dials it up a notch to put them on the spot. As a black trans-woman in America and a drag queen raising three rambunctious children, there’s a lot more material in her arsenal. 

Available on Netflix. 

Jerod Carmichael – Rothaniel

For many comedians, being on stage is therapy. They dig deep into their feelings and present them to the audience with disarming honesty, eliciting laughs that are sometimes directed towards the situation and sometimes because of the discomfiting material. Jerrod Carmichael’s Rothaniel is a masterclass in this genre. 

Coming out as gay is hard. Carmichael takes on the added pressure of doing it for the first time on stage in front of an intimate crowd at New York’s legendary Blue Note Jazz Club. Seated on his low stool, Carmichael slowly dissects the last 30 years of his life, his complicated relationship with his father and the ripples caused by coming to terms with his sexuality. Directed by another stellar comedian Bo Burnham, this Emmy-award-winning special blurs the line between comedy and confession. 

Available on HBO Max. 

Tig Notaro – Happy To Be Here 

Tig Notaro is a name that most comedy aficionados look forward to. The comedian has cemented her place in the scene with her whimsical and dry approach to dealing with potent topics such as being diagnosed with cancer—a set which garnered tons of critical acclaim—and parenting. 

Similarly, in her Netflix special Happy To Be Here Notaro stays true to her vulnerable self but never takes it too seriously. The special takes a look at her sexuality, gender miscommunications and marriage through a comedic lens while skewering her own celebrity status and offering a breakdown of the nature of her work. At Happy To Be Here’s core lies her theory of performing comedy just as a means of fun and not to become a canonical figure in the process. But in typical Notaro style, she keeps things casual, teasing the audience with the possibility of a musical performance and letting them in on her child’s hilarious first words. 

Available on Netflix. 

Hannah Gadsby – Nanette 

Hannah Gadsby’s inaugural standup special Nanette started a much-needed conversation about the craft. Can comedy be about political and social commentary? Does it have to be funny all the time? Nanette is a scream of visceral soul-baring, addressing the challenges of being a gay woman in this world and taking aim at internalised misogyny, homophobia and the patriarchy while redefining the art of standup comedy. 

The hour-long special will make you feel heard and seen as a woman, and make you look inward and rethink your thoughts and actions as a man. Gadsby dives deep into her emotions and wrenches out all her trauma with masterful ease and obviously, incredibly crafted humour. It’s a no-holds-barred, in-your-face piece of truth-telling which goes beyond the typical laughs-per-minute parameter of comedy. 

Available on Netflix. 

Simon Amstell – Set Free 

You don’t need any prerequisite knowledge about Simon Amstell to enjoy his special Set Free. He is a moderately famous gay man who is a child of divorce. And these topics take centre stage in this taut 50-minute special. A young comic who has a bit of awkwardness which we all can relate to, Amstell’s comedy often borders on the uncomfortable. 

Amstell is boldly confessional, existential and at times unexpectedly crass as he slices through topics such as the modern royal family, a religious fanatic for a father, therapy and an ayahuasca retreat in Peru. The special is a highlight reel of his search for happiness where the odds were already stacked up against him. At the midway mark, you’ll find him clutching his microphone like a teddy bear while lying in a foetal position exclaiming, “I thought I was gonna be happy.” That’s when it’ll dawn upon you that this is a self-help seminar and the stage is Astell’s therapeutic playground. 

Available on Netflix. 

Wanda Sykes – Not Normal 

With 30 years in the standup game, Wanda Sykes is a veteran with razor-sharp wit and a hilarious outlook on life ie. she finds humour in the bittersweet limbo of existence. In her fourth standup special Not Normal—and the first one for Netflix—Sykes lands many blows at pressing political and social issues at the time, mainly Trump’s presidency. 

As the comedian has grown older and wiser, she’s realised she doesn’t have the energy (or the time) to cushion her thoughts and make her opinion more palatable for larger audiences. On Not Normal we get to see a rawer Sykes who balances the personal and political with the nous of a seasoned professional, never making her commentary sound heavy-handed. She doesn’t shy away from putting herself under her comedic scrutiny, finding the jokes in her own vulnerability, not just with menopause but also with a potentially severe case of sleep apnea.

Available on Netflix. 

Sam Jay – 3 In The Morning 

It’s shocking that even with Sam Jay’s stage presence and confidence, she was limited to writing sketches during her time on Saturday Night Live! and not put in front of the camera. It was only after watching her debut special 3 In The Morning that people realised Jay’s full potential, as she tackled issues of race and gender with unfiltered candour, elevating her jokes in the process. 

The special is a peek into her twisted brain as she talks about her girlfriend, travelling, and everything else in her life. Jay goes beyond the personal and imbues political content into this hour with the familiarity of a discussion with a friend at a bar. Jay is taking aim at propriety in this debut which is as fresh as it gets.

Available on Netflix. 


DA Staff

Damn straight. Dead Ant has staff. You’d better believe it.


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