Amy Schumer’s Live at the Apollo, the cherry on top of an almost absurdly good year for the comedian and now rom-com star, hits HBO tomorrow night.
But in the meantime, there are dozens of specials from female comics to help pass the time — and prove that Schumer isn’t the only Woman in Comedy at the top of her game, no matter what impression trend piece headlines may give. We’ve collected the highlights from Netflix to Showtime to Comedy Central, spanning decades, styles, and subject matter, to last through the weekend.
Chelsea Peretti, One of the Greats (Netflix)
The Bay Area native, Brooklyn Nine-Nine costar, and sibling of BuzzFeed’s CEO (a fact that has nothing to do with her comedy but never fails to blow my mind) has a proper showcase in One of the Greats. Filled with absurdist asides, the special, filmed on Peretti’s home turf in San Francisco, includes her thoughts on dick pics, surfer laughs, and a bit involving a microphone that’s a 30-second masterclass in physical comedy.
Jen Kirkman, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) (Netflix)
Kirkman’s first book, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, was subtitled Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids, and as the cold open to her latest special demonstrates, she’s still not afraid to show her distaste for the lifestyle society expects for women over 35. I’m Gonna Die Alone touches on Kirkman’s recent divorce, but it’s more of a celebration than a lament, and a must-watch for anyone who feels as weirded out by married people with kids as most people are by the single and childless.
Kristen Schaal, Live at the Fillmore (Comedy Central)
Schaal’s Kaufman-esque anti-comedy hits its peak about 30 minutes into Live at the Fillmore, when a failed joke quickly spirals into an epic staged meltdown involving a child heckler and a blowout fight with frequent collaborator Kurt Braunohler. The Bob’s Burgers actress and Daily Show contributor may be one of the strangest performers working on such a large platform, a fact that says nothing but good things about the state of comedy in 2015.
Wanda Sykes, I’ma Be Me (HBO Now)
There are buzzwords like “intersectional,” and then there are performers who get their point across without resorting to jargon that can turn newcomers off. Enter Sykes, whose 2009 special touches on the Obamas, “reverse racism,” and telling her parents she’s a lesbian (“I never had to come out as black!”). It’s still stand-up, not a sermon, but from a perspective that’s as underrepresented in comedy as it is everywhere else.
Ellen DeGeneres, Here and Now (HBO Now)
HBO’s standup archive is filled with fascinating throwbacks, largely thanks to its back catalog of half-hours from the ’90s. We’ll get to those in a second, but this 2003 special is an excellent reminder of why DeGeneres was once better known as a comedian than a daytime talk show host — and comes without cringeworthy bits like that… ill-advised Nicki Minaj parody.
Amy Schumer, Rachel Feinstein, Nikki Glaser, and Marina Franklin, Women Who Kill (Netflix)
Don’t necessarily watch it for the quality; watch it to see how far Schumer’s evolved from the female-frat-girl stand-up persona that came out of her club touring days. (The special came out just before the premiere of her sketch show.) And while her fellow headliners haven’t quite achieved the same level of stratospheric success, they’re all worth knowing, particularly Franklin.
Bridget Everett, Gynecological Wonder (Comedy Central)
From our review back in July:
Gynecological Wonder is not, in any traditional sense, a stand-up special. Everett’s act comes from more than a decade performing at New York theaters… rather than comedy clubs across the country, though she does tour. And where traditional stand-up is a format that challenges comics to craft something distinctive out of the minimalist, universal platform of a stage, a microphone, and a solo performer, Everett practices what’s been called ‘alt-cabaret,‘ a bawdy combination of music and stage banter that’s influenced as much by “Barry fuckin’ Manilow” as Joan Rivers.
Intrigued? You should be.
Sarah Silverman, We Are Miracles (HBO Now)
Her first standalone project since The Sarah Silverman Program went off the air in 2010 and her first stand-up special since her concert film Jesus Is Magic in 2005, We Are Miracles presents a more grown-up Sarah Silverman, one who’s secure enough in her career to tape in front of an audience of just 40 people at Los Angeles’ famed Largo club. But it’s still Sarah Silverman, so there are masturbation, 9/11, and “Jew bush” jokes aplenty.
Susie Essman, One-Night Stand (HBO Now)
If you know Essman from Curb Your Enthusiasm or as Ilana’s mom on Broad City — and given that you’re reading a listicle on the Internet, the chances of that are high — get to know her early-’90s stand-up, recorded when her future TV daughter was just five years old.
Maria Bamford, The Special Special Special (Netflix)
A stand-up special filmed in one’s childhood living room sounds like a collegiate performance art project gone horribly awry. But Bamford, who’s finally transitioning out of the “comic’s comic” niche (she’s got her own Netflix series in the works!) while retaining a reputation among her peers as one of the funniest people alive, turns what sounds like a gimmick into a vulnerable, hilarious hour of comedy — one that singlehandedly made “If you stay alive for one reason, do it out of spite!” my personal mantra. It’s funny, but it also works!
Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Zach Galifianakis, and Brian Posehn, The Comedians of Comedy (Netflix)
Technically, it’s a tour documentary, not a stand-up special, and technically, its lineup is 75% dude. But this 2005 film is an excellent #tbt to the pre-Ratatouille, pre-Hangover, pre-alt comedy boom days when Zach Galifianakis could still walk into a comics shop without some bro yelling “WOLF PACK!” at him. Bamford, as always, is a highlight, both for her act and her behind-the-scenes dynamic with her tour mates.
Janeane Garofalo, HBO Comedy Half-Hour (HBO Now)
From film editor Jason Bailey’s roundup of the funniest stand-up specials of all time:
Garafalo’s reign as ‘90s It Girl was in full effect when HBO aired this half-hour special in 1995 (just before her breakout in The Truth About Cats and Dogs). In the compact show, she covers pop culture, dating, feminism, and sex (I can’t describe exactly why the “STOP FUCKING ME” bit is so funny, but it is), with cynicism and wit in a loose, disorganized style. It remains a funny show, and perfect snapshot of the transformations happening in stand-up at that moment.
Tig Notaro, Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro (Showtime)
Yes, Boyish Girl Interrupted is great, but Notaro’s less-widely publicized Showtime special — it came out around the same time as her Netflix documentary Tig, which got far more media attention — is a Special Special Special-esque experiment in form, following Notaro as she performs in fans’ homes across the country. It’s a hybrid of tour documentary and stand-up special that’s intimate, weird, and matches the offbeat rhythm of her act to a tee.
Margaret Cho, HBO Comedy Half-Hour (HBO Now)
This is the only ’90s-era, i.e. peak-era, Margaret Cho set that’s easily accessible via streaming (as with feature films, Netflix and HBO and the like have proven a mixed blessing for the availability of old specials). Is that a crime? Yes. Should that crime be rectified by making sure this special is watched as often and by as many people as possible? Also yes.
Joan Rivers, Don’t Start with Me (Netflix)
Say what you will of Rivers’ late-career routine and the increasingly nasty, increasingly dated jokes that comprised it — no roundup of female stand-ups would be complete without her. Best viewed as a double feature with A Piece of Work, a complex portrait of Rivers’ life, career, and indefatigable work ethic that showcases both her influence and her considerable flaws.