Music’s biggest night is also huge for comedy thanks to the ‘Best Comedy Album’ category that was (re)introduced in 2004 to “honour artistic achievement in comedy”.
It’s been a busy year for standup (the GRAMMY year is 1 Sept 2019—31 August 2020) with almost every big name releasing a special—two, in some cases. But unlike the rest of the 83 categories, these nominations are no surprise. And don’t fall over, but we recommend watching them all before the big show on 31 January 2021, hosted by Trevor Noah.
TIFFANY HADDISH – BLACK MITZVAH
Last year, comedian and actor Tiffany Haddish scored a GRAMMY nom for “reading out loud”. This time it’s for her comedy special and Netflix debut, Black Mitzvah. Sandwiched between a Hava Nagila redux and a lazy stripper dance are anecdotal bits about Beyonce’s mom and Drake’s dad, calls with Kevin Hart and Oprah, and the story of her worst ever headlines-grabbing NYE show in Miami last year. The special is a manic riot, and Haddish is an absolute delight to watch—especially through quieter moments of tenderness in which she brings herself to tears as she talks about being homeless, foster care, mental health, and dealing with her newfound fame. She’s here to teach, and we gonna learn goddammit. Highly recommend. Just don’t put mayonnaise on your coochie, ffs.
BILL BURR – PAPER TIGER
#MeToo, male feminists, white male privilege, cancel culture, misplaced outrage, cultural appropriation. Feels like a lifetime ago now, but 2019’s hot button topics were a part of every comedian’s material last year, with largely terrible takes (yes, including Dave Chappelle, don’t @ me). Released in 2019, Paper Tiger was one of the first to actually throw in fresh perspectives on worn themes by turning the focus on the painful human journey we’re all on to fix some pretty fucked up things. And, well, it was actually funny. Halfway through, Burr segues into his own internal journey with spiraling anger issues and how he’s working on processing emotions for real this time, revealing a vulnerability that’s really the big surprise of the hour. A fireball special that’s well worth your time.
JIM GAFFIGAN – PALE TOURIST
Jim Gaffigan’s Pale Tourist is a two-part special—an hour each in Ontario (Canada) and Barcelona (Spain). And the result of a personal experiment to see if he could show up in a new country with a clean slate, and then build material around his experiences with jokes about the place and its people, lots of horses, run-ins with moose and bears, and the big love of his life, food. Not a swear word in sight, the “land salmon” packs in story after story and dozens of observations as a tourist, with throwaway jibes at his own country and the Ugly American stereotype that’s currently refusing to vacate the White House. It’s not his best work, but it’s a pleasant enough watch, and a mighty ambitious effort.
PATTON OSWALT – I LOVE EVERYTHING
Patton Oswalt’s last special Annihilation was remarkable, above all, for his ability to create intelligent comedy out of grief—in his case, the April 2016 death of his wife. Three years down the line, I Love Everything reflects a new phase in his life: he’s now married again (to the actor Meredith Salenger), and anybody who has found love again against all odds will identify with Oswalt’s hilarious extended routine about his second wedding—a mini-treatise on superstition and strategic pessimism. I Love Everything is yet another reminder of why Oswalt is one of the most underrated contemporary comedians, and a showcase of razor-sharp writing. Full review here.
JERRY SEINFELD – 23 HOURS TO KILL
Here’s the lowdown on what Seinfeld talks about during this hour-long special: there’s about 15 minutes on food (on the buffet: “why don’t we take people who are already struggling with portion control and put them into some kind of debauched Caligula food orgy of human consumption?”), 15 on the linguistic vagaries of small talk (of course) and a solid half-hour about heterosexual marriage (starting with his own 19-year-old marriage). It’s capital-C clean comedy, it uses the word “sex” exactly once and it ends on a distinctly abrupt note, at once too late and too early. In other words, it’s fresh material that closely resembles a well-curated greatest hits package from the world’s most famous comedian. Full review here.