Illustration by Tabi Underhill.
Your life sucks. You’re living through a pandemic, you can’t see any of your friends (save for the few in your bubble who you probably can’t stand by now), and you’re left with nothing to do in what were supposed to be your glory years. And now, 2021 has come and taken the one thing you had left: the ability to blame your misery on the year. As to these problems, I have no real solutions for you. But why not consider a superficial, band-aid solution: the wide world of entertainment? Instead of re-bingeing shows you watched when you were thirteen or staring at the wall above your bed, why not consider watching one of these four laugh-out-loud comedy specials? And hey – while you’re at it, maybe consider doing some laundry.
Repertoire, James Acaster (205 minutes—4 episodes)
If you’re not yet familiar with James Acaster, standup comedian, regular panellist on Taskmaster, Would I Lie to You, and Mock the Week, you’ve been denied a great treasure. Touching on a diverse array of topics including but not limited to undercover cops, banana shops, and pictures-you-put-your-face-in, Acaster’s Repertoire is an engaging, eclectic, marathon of a performance. His unconventional delivery is unique enough to keep veteran standup-watchers interested but approachable enough to entertain newcomers to the genre. Unlike the live audience, who had to sit through the whole 3+ hour performance (not to mention Acaster’s changing in and out of garish outfits three times between sets), you get the unearned privilege of consuming each one of these lovely 50-minute mini-specials whenever you like! Note: make sure to watch the specials in order, as there are inter-episode jokes that build upon each other. Bonus points if you listen to his podcast Off Menu, in which a celebrity guest lays out their dream dinner to be admired and critiqued Acaster and fellow host, comedian Ed Gamble.
A Speck of Dust, Sarah Silverman (71 minutes)
Sarah Silverman has been doing hilarious, revolutionary standup for the last 29 years and unsurprisingly delivers a winner with A Speck of Dust. The show includes both heartwarming/tense stories that would be entertaining even if they weren’t hysterical, and anecdotes about people shitting their pants. Not only will this show have you laughing from beginning to end, but the last joke of the set is so perfectly crafted, so wonderfully set up, executed, then ridden out, it nearly makes you forget the rest of the show entirely. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a comedian known for her hard turns, surprise punchlines, and thought-provoking humor.
3 in the Morning, Sam Jay (64 minutes)
Sam Jay’s 3 in the Morning is the SNL writer’s first hour-long special, but her ease and talent on stage are immediately clear from the first minute of the show. In a fast-paced, riotously observational show, skilfully plotted long-form structure and themes make space for hilarious stories and related tangents that touch on everything from her life as a lesbian to airplanes to politics to the daunting notion of having children. Jay is one of those comedians whose story-telling ability is so engaging that you feel like you could listen to her talk for hours with no jokes.
The New One, Mike Birbiglia (85 minutes)
Mike Birbiglia’s incredibly long-form style generally means that his specials are structured around one or two stories that span years of his life. If the standup of certain comedians feels as if they’re delivering memorized tweets onstage, Birbiglia’s feels like he’s reading out from a novel, which almost makes it easier to call him a storyteller than a long-form, narrative standup comedian. This style would not work for everyone, but Birbiglia pulls it off every time, and The New One is no exception. Check it out for a guaranteed hour and a half of funny, relatable, beautifully written stories. There is no comedian whose work feels less exaggerated, more true-to-life, than Birbiglia.
Image credit: Raph_PH on Flickr