Unleashing the Spotlight on Extraordinary Talents.
6 Terrific Specials From 6 Very Different Comics, Streaming Now

6 Terrific Specials From 6 Very Different Comics, Streaming Now

Wearing a bow tie, pocket handkerchief, crop top and shorts, Jenny Slate stands on a shiny circular platform on the distressed BAM Harvey theater stage. It’s an image of sharp contrasts, the kind you find in her comedy, where commonplace subjects are imbued with manic, absurd charisma. Her version of relatable is asking: “You know that one feeling when you can tell you’re going to pass away?”

Whereas her debut special incorporated documentary elements, this hour effectively captures the improvisational eccentricity of her live act. Slate is blessed with a spectacularly nimble comic voice. She’s also a deft physical comedian, and her best bits show off both traits. When trying to describe the strangeness of giving birth, she likens it to the discomfort of being invited to audition for Pennywise the evil clown. Rattled, she expresses the shame at being considered for the part by flapping her hands, looking perplexed (“That couldn’t be the murdering, kidnapping, balding male clown, right?”), doing a creepy impression of the character as well as the meeting among producers that led to this offer. It’s a screeching, sputtering display of kvetching that builds runaway comic momentum.


While most specials go too long, this one, at 39 tightly funny minutes, is just right. Punchy, diverting, varied, it’s a perfect pick-me-up for your lunch hour. In clothes as casual as his delivery, Dan Soder presents himself as a laid-back people-pleaser, the kind of guy aiming for a specific kind of dumb. As he puts it, he wants to see a trailer for a new “Fast and Furious” movie and be shocked that they found a way to go faster. But make no mistake: His lightness requires heavy effort. And his comedic tool kit is full, featuring sharp impressions (Batman villain, Enrique Iglesias), melancholy notes and clever phrasemaking. In a story illustrating the childhood joy of curse words, he says this line with a genuine (and ridiculous) sense of nostalgia: “I was 8 years old, just out having a cuss.”

Cara Connors is a queer millennial comic whose debut hour shifts from her divorce from a man to a very funny description of lesbian breakups (lots of gratitude in both directions). She says she’s terrified of waking up, opening her phone and seeing this news: “Elon Musk is bisexual.” Her face goes dark. “Now I have to welcome him into the community?” Then she imagines the headline with her hands: “Jeff Bezos, gender-fluid.” She erupts in a baritone: “I can’t do it.” Connors seems to search for reasons to lose her bearings. It’s where she is funniest. Bounding around the stage with “the energy of a mom at a wedding who has had too much to drink,” she offers some dutiful jokes (like the Standup 101 opening analogy of how she appears to others: “I know I look like if they let Timothée Chalamet start eating again”) and a couple that peter out when they should build. But she makes up for the rawness of joke writing with a frenetic charm and a powerhouse voice that shifts from giggly to laid-back to demonic in a flash. It’s a promising debut.

(Amazon Prime Video)

Tig Notaro ends her latest special by playing the piano even though she has no idea how to play. It’s not an original idea. In fact, comics who can’t play the piano trotting one out has become an unlikely subgenre. Jim Gaffigan brought one into a special as a sort of prank to raise and dash expectations. Rory Scovel, who has a new special on HBO Max, used to do an impression of a guy who can’t play the piano hired to play the piano in a hotel lobby, struggling. Notaro also plays on the comedy of faking it, but as she plunks away at the keys, in the middle of a story of volunteering to perform an Adele song at a party attended by Adele, her version is about the comedy of confidence when you should have none. It suits her gift of soldiering through awkward situations with unflappable deadpan.

In the past, she’s used this to take big swings, both experimental and more personal. This special is a more modest effort, and her personal anecdotes can’t help but name-drop now that she’s better known. Its centerpieces are embarrassing stories like a misunderstanding at a meeting with Reese Witherspoon or an awkward moment with a physical therapist, anecdotes that she beefs up into comic vignettes, which she retells from different angles. There is a pleasing calm to her delivery that stands out in a scene of fidgety hams. But it can also be a little too loose, even underdeveloped. While noodling on the piano, she says, “It kind of sounds like something.” If you try hard, you can hear it.


In his best stand-up release since his Bush-era albums, David Cross dryly rages against rich kids, American Christians and the Florida laws that forced schools to rewrite textbooks to take race out of discussions of Rosa Parks. His alternative history of how Florida would teach the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the Holocaust is superb over-the-top political humor that belongs to the George Carlin tradition of ridiculing euphemism. Cross is a practiced and entertaining hater, baroque, inventive and righteous. You never think he doesn’t mean it — or is doing something for a bit. And he doesn’t spare himself from scorn. He happily plays the jerk, calling his spouse “my current wife,” and getting defensive when anyone might protest. (It’s accurate!)

What also distinguishes Cross from most political comics is his commitment to taking risks with form, toying with convention in his stand-up just as he once did with sketches on “Mr. Show.” He has a joke in which he edits out the punchline and another one esoteric enough that he pauses the show to give people a chance to get it. Some won’t. But he doesn’t seem to mind.


“What does real loneliness look like?” Dave Attell asks in his the famously raspy voice. “I’ll tell you,” he says, building suspense. “Your own reflection in a microwave door.” It’s a joke that reminds you that on top of being the quintessential New York club comic, a master of the concise filthy joke, Attell also has the soul of a grizzled emo singer. It’s been a decade since he released a standup special, largely telling his honed material in dark basements. If you want to hear a wonderfully melancholic joke about a sandwich-maker working at Subway from the comfort of your own home, you’re in luck.

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