Sam Jay, Chris Rock, Shane Gillis, Beth Stelling & John Mulaney.

The 15 Best Comedy Specials of 2023

Sam Jay, Chris Rock, Shane Gillis, Beth Stelling & John Mulaney. Courtesy of HBO & Netflix.
Sam Jay, Chris Rock, Shane Gillis, Beth Stelling & John Mulaney. Courtesy of HBO & Netflix.

As we've nearly made our way to the end of 2023, we reflect on all the brilliant & funniest stand-up comedy specials we've been fortunate enough to watch this year. It's nice to arrive to this year's list knowing that we've nearly (for the most part) have been able to get away from pandemic & 2020-ish related hours that now bring us pretty close to pre-pandemic hours we would expect to watch. From getting the world's first ever globally live streamed comedy special from the comedy icon, Chris Rock, to getting a new one man show from Mike Birbiglia helmed in the UK, this year's list shows some of comedy's finest delivering their best work yet.


In case you missed some specials or just looking for a refresher, the 800 Pound Gorilla News Staff rounded our their favorite & funniest comedy specials from 2023 ranked below. Enjoy!

15) Mae Martin: SAP

Mae Martin has been doing comedy for a good chunk of their life at this point, having first started when they were only 13. In that time, the Canadian Martin emerged on the scene in the U.K., before taking America by storm in the last few years. This year marked Martin’s first stand-up special, SAP. Surrounded by a set composed entirely of trees, Martin embraces the more intimate campfire-like vibes. The surroundings gel well with Martin’s storyteller style of comedy, in which they tackle everything from a story about a mythical moose to the Beauty and the Beast gender spectrum. In the end, the forest scenery even comes back around, bringing the entire evening full circle.

14) Dina Hashem: Dark Little Whispers

In the background of this special is a comic’s relationship to politics of every kind, and how that’s filtered through the medium of stand-up, no matter the side a comic is partial to. In the foreground is the artifice of comedy, and Dina Hashem does her best to address both the dubious nature of hearing jokes live, which audiences receive with millions of aspects of life- experience filtering their response. Hashem views this as a beautiful thing, and focuses on brightening the corners of her act, which has been characterized often as dour, flat, or dark in the way of someone like Anthony Jeselnik. There is darkness, but goofy voices, jokes about wiping, and a consideration of liquor keeps it far away from such easy labels.

13) Kyle Kinane: Shocks & Struts

Let it be known here that Kyle Kinane is a comedic treasure to be protected at all costs. The wildman poet doesn’t just have the great comedy chops packed into this hysterical new hour, he also has such a signature voice that makes these bits land even harder (like making it a “dully thick truck” with the “sexy hips” when describing bad boys loving curvy trucks). The energy Kinane carries through Shocks & Struts is infectious to the crowd & the delivery in every bit is just so effortless. He also has such a gift with the perspective he brings with each bit: you don’t know at first where Kyle’s going when he first says it’s good that vaccines cause autism, but just wait and see how he leaves you oddly hopeful for humanity. Don’t miss out on this one, folks.

12) Shane Gillis: Beautiful Dogs

After watching Shane Gillis’ latest special (and first for Netflix), Beautiful Dogs, it’s so evident how he’s been widely received by the comedy community. It quickly broke into the Top 10 on Netflix during its week of the premiere, has remained a fan favorite throughout this year, and a special worth mentioning. Gillis has an incredible gift of appearing one way when sharing one of his political beliefs and then actually making you think if he really believes the way you perceive or not. His leading bit as a “history buff” will make you question that. The name of his special with how he shares Beautiful Dogs in his set is worth watching for the delivery alone.

11) Mark Normand: Soup to Nuts

Mark Normand’s career has been somewhat of a slow build. While those in the comedy scene and loyal comedy fans have known of his talents for a long time now, it’s only been within the last handful of years that the mainstream has caught up. But they’ve definitely caught up, as evidenced by the enormous success of his last special, Out to Lunch, which has gotten over 12 million views on his YouTube channel. For his latest special, Soup to Nuts, Normand partnered with Netflix, whom he previously did a half hour with. In the special, Normand is as always committed to his rapid-style approach to comedy where he’s just hitting you with as many jokes and premises as you can possibly handle. From streaming platforms categorization to growing up among a lot of homophobia to how smoking cigarettes and smoking pot sort of changed places in terms of what is now socially acceptable, Soup to Nuts serves as a solid showcase for Normand’s talents just as much as his viral audience interactions have been over the last few years.

10) Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and the Pool

For his fifth Netflix special, Mike Birbiglia - no stranger to exploring bigger themes - is thinking about death. The comedian has spent the last few years working on his newest one man show, The Old Man and the Pool. The special finds Birbiglia, who lost both his dad and his grandfather to heart attacks, essentially staring into the deep end and wondering if he will meet the same fate as they had. He weaves together the elements of death and anxiety in the way that we’ve come to know with his storytelling style of comedy. He discusses how comedians who live on the road may not have the best habits, as he breaks down his own mortality. Backed by a giant pool set, Birbiglia is a prime example of a comedian who manages to find a way to make his shows intimate even when playing in Broadway theaters, something that is no small task. The latest special is proof of that.

9) Sarah Silverman: Someone You Love

It’s been 10 years since Sarah Silverman last had an HBO special, with 2013’s We Are Miracles. In the interim, she came out with a Netflix hour, wrote a musical, did a lot of acting work, hosted a Hulu series, and even started a podcast. But her latest hour, Someone You Love, brings her back to HBO. Throughout the special, many of Silberman’s trademarks are as present as they’ve ever been, as she tackles topics like antisemitism, tone policing, getting older, organized religion, and old friendships. Much like she did in her first special, Jesus is Magic, Silverman uses the special’s closing to showcase her musical talents. We see Silverman alone on an empty stage, sitting at the piano to play a song dedicated to someone with bad breath. She’s soon accompanied by serious musicians and a children’s choir. As a closer, this sums up Silverman in a nutshell: Finding a blend between the serious and the completely sophomoric. 

8) Beth Stelling: If You Didn’t Want Me Then

To call Beth Stelling’s onstage persona laidback is a significant understatement. That effortless charm allows the jokes to hit you even harder. Stelling’s 2020 special, Girl Daddy, was one of our favorite breakout specials of the year when it premiered on Max. Now, she’s back with her latest hour - this time on Netflix - titled If You Didn’t Want Me Then. The special was taped in Stelling’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio. This is fitting, because a good chunk of Stelling’s latest special talks about her upbringing, with a lot of focus being paid to her mother, who raised her on her own. Watching Stelling tape her new hour in her childhood hometown adds an additional layer of authenticity to it all. To the average person, where you shoot your special may not make much difference. When you’ve got a homecoming-type special like this, it clearly makes all the difference. 

7) Joe Pera: Slow & Steady

This is a tough placement, as Joe Pera’s gentle and hilarious work was such a salve in the pandemic, and continues to help now when insomnia strikes. In all honesty, this special is very funny, but it’s also partly a continuation of the Pera brand, as there are many minutes of him talking people to sleep in front of his live audience. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is a possible first in taped comedy specials to see 35 minutes of pure stand-up joy, and then have a very funny wind down. It’s likely this decision is made because Pera’s audience would explode from laughter otherwise, and he’s too much of a mensch not to stay to clean up the intestines and bloody skull fragments. If you want to hear great jokes, this could not be recommended more.

6) Pete Holmes: I Am Not For Everyone

It’s a good year when Pete Holmes releases a new special. And since waiting five years from his latest offering Dirty Clean on HBO, I Am Not For Everyone was worth the wait. One of Pete’s most enjoyable qualities he embraces is how much he’s able to laugh at himself and make silliest things so hysterically funny which is something to be appreciated in his consistency through stand-up. Holmes has been one of the few comics who can touch on religion in a more unique way than most comics attempt, which can be appreciated here (specifically the bit about whether God or nothing created the universe). Another stand out one is his bit about embracing being soft from his recent encounter hugging Kumail Nanjiani. As Holmes would say about his new special, “get into it!”

5) Sasheer Zamata: The First Woman

Is it a gouache for us to include a special we released on our own list? Not when it’s this good. The structure of the hour is so impressively intricate and precise that it’s hard to find any moments that are extra. Already, arguably, the smartest person in stand-up, Sasheer Zamata runs jokes through premises that make room for puns, unexpected takes, and the joy of material that is as fun and charged for the comic as it is the audience. In her first hour, Pizza Mind, Zamata was acclimating herself to fame, and in this hour, she’s able to shed those nerves and talk about feminism, profiling, and the first female pilot in a way that’s both deeper and sillier than before. From a higher vantage, the special almost falls like one of those intricate domino set-ups, or a Rube-Goldberg machine, both beautiful and exacting in the way it keeps moving, connecting one funny idea to the next, creating a perfect impression of where Zamata is at. 

4) Sam Jay: Salute Me or Shoot Me

In the time since Sam Jay’s first special came out in 2020 and her latest which dropped on HBO in July, she’s gone through some professional changes. She’s left her job writing at SNL, she’s hosted her own talk show on HBO, created the show Bust Down on Peacock, and has continued to build a loyal following as a stand-up. This special touches in some of her personal changes - she’s recently engaged - but she uses this as a way to talk about our roles in relationships before she seamlessly segues into dissecting our culture, and exploring how we can all be more empathetic. As far as going on a journey with a comedian, this one ranks towards the top of the list.

3) Gary Gulman: Born on 3rd Base

Gary Gulman is one of the best comics alive, and here, he moves from comedy to context, examining some of the things that underpin his larger obsessions in comedy, like class, empathy, and cultural values. In his last special, The Great Depresh, Gulman detailed a depression that consumed his life, and made him unable to function in any real way. After overcoming this, and garnering acclaim with that hour, Gulman seems determined to dig into the why of his comedy as much as he can, and make it as funny as possible. The jokes here are bulletproof, and everything said as a laugh line is magnified by the honesty and thoughtfulness Gulman has put into his relationship with the audience and his work here.

2) Chris Rock: Selective Outrage

Every time Chris Rock works out a new hour, he goes through a lengthy process of bombing, going up at The Comedy Cellar or other clubs and telling jokes he thought out without affectation or swagger. After he has a sense of what jokes work, he begins to work on them, chipping away until they become bullet-proof, working in clubs, Black rooms, and larger venues before continuing to hone the set until it is capturing exactly what he wants to say, no more, no less. In the past, this yielded material that felt a bit more refined, but Rock began working on this material after moving to New York from New Jersey, and entering a phase of his career where he returned to acting and writing for film. Then he got slapped in front of millions of people live on TV, and talked about it on stage. These shifts resulted in something spikier, with Rock discussing interesting aspects of his life, like letting his daughter get kicked out of school, dating older women, and the idea of selective outrage for businesses as a marketing strategy in a characteristically hilarious way. However, these are in the shadow of the slap, which consumed America in a way few other moments had in 2022. While it’s fun to hear Rock discuss it, the special loses momentum when it gets to this chunk, as it’s both less refined and less interesting than the bigger cultural ideas he actually seems interested in. 

1) John Mulaney: Baby J

After rehab and a change in partner and number of babies he was a parent to, John Mulaney gifted the world a special that checks-in, lets everyone know he’s okay, and treads water. Is Mulaney less funny without the drugs? No, but he’s acclimating to finding the engine that drives his comedy in a new way. When the world first met him, Mulaney was a sober lad who had jokes about being sober. Then he got a TV show that everyone disliked, and he returned to stand-up with a vengeance (and, at some point, chemical help), which gifted him his expanded career as a comic to include acting and hosting SNL several times (too many?). In this, his first special as sober as the day we all saw him do stand-up for the first time, Mulaney isn’t quite sure how to acclimate himself to his new reputation, or his new stripped-down persona. There are still great jokes, but the verve and pop of what made him undeniable is going to take some time to return, and that’s okay. With any luck, he’ll find his way to being comfortable releasing the weirder and crankier material that he toured with but didn’t tape. That material showed us a new side of Mulaney, and the more he can expand our understanding of him, the less this will feel like an odd curio in his career. 

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