5 smart comedy specials from seasoned standups – The New York Times | Hot Mobile Press

Why isn’t there a standup special equivalent to a beach read? I wouldn’t recommend sunbathing with your smartphone in hand, but it’s definitely possible. As more comics release their first specials developed during the pandemic, a new crop of hours from veteran acts are ready to complement your summer vacation.


Wearing thigh-high white boots and a short yellow dress, Nikki Glaser looks both Bond girl and stand-up. She doesn’t sell sex so much as teaches it and explicitly advocates her own crude jokes that fill the niche left by the pathetic work of sex education and porn. Long taking on the role of an older sister on your level, she’s getting closer to a modern day comedy update about Dr. Ruth or even old school women’s magazines and prescriptively talks about everything from anal sex to how to get a man.

As a smart and skilled joke writer, she knows that sex jokes can easily make you laugh, so she makes transgressive jokes that look difficult to pull off. She spills punchlines with a nimble voice that ranges from gritty low to squeaky sweet. She enjoys wordplay. Joking about her vagina, she says, “I talk about it so much I don’t refer to it as my privates. I call it my audience.”

And then there’s this gem on male rationalization for dating younger women. “There’s an epidemic of young people with old souls, all my 40-year-old friends say.” Her lesson can feel a little familiar as it transcends territory it’s already mastered. On the other hand, there is their closeness, a silent act that functions as a recall, innovation, and big laugh.


At the start of the pandemic, Bill Burr went to Joe Rogan’s podcast and delved into masks. Rogan made fun of her for being feminine and weak. “You’re so hard with your open nose and throat,” Burr snapped back with an added curse, urging Rogan to turn a medical issue into something about manhood. “Why does it always get like this?”

This viral moment revealed a rift between the two popular comics. In his podcast, Rogan sells a certain ambitious take on masculinity, while Burr presents a more tortured portrait in his standup, lending a fearful voice to male resentments and phobias and expressing their destructiveness. This complexity, coupled with one of the greatest performances in standup comedy, makes Burr a compelling performer.

His chaotic, circuitous, often hilarious new special lures audiences at every turn. Like Bruce Banner, Burr worries about his temper, but we came to see it. And it can be the engine for some daring riffs, digging into both sides of the culture war, though it’s livelier and funnier when it comes to liberals. None of his many colleagues do the same. There are no cliches about latte and kale here. He describes a privileged white tweeter signaling virtue, imitating and typing: “My heart breaks on my L-shaped couch.”

Burr repeats himself, and for the second straight special he’s speculating they’re running out of men to cancel. Its bits are more intricately organized than its plot. He closes on one that isn’t as strong as the bit that came before. The emotional climax sits uncomfortably in the middle as he is choked as he describes the self-loathing of losing his temper in front of his daughter and finding himself falling into the same mistakes his father made. Burr is hunched into a stooped posture and unexpectedly emotional, the rage gone and the anger turning to tenderness. It’s a range that makes you think there’s going to be a starring role in a great movie in your future.


The pun in the snappy, understated “Hat Trick,” in which the extravagantly goofy comedian wears a hat backwards while performing in three different rooms at Hollywood’s Comedy Store, is the only elaborate bit. Otherwise the atmosphere is relaxed, casual, just another night at the club. You see introductions, technical talks with comics and something from the drive home. In between there are jokes about the most meaty standup topics: dating, the pandemic, weed, porn.

There’s something comfortably comfortable about the style here that Anwar can pull through because he’s one of the best physical comedians working in clubs today. His performances rival Sebastian Maniscalco’s grace and eclipse him in silliness, whether it’s a deer, a dancing emoji, or a member of the Taliban using hand sanitizer. Any of these work well with the joke. The only risk is looking a little strained, which is why the underplayed style works so well. If you want a few laughs but don’t have time to go to the club, this will do.


When Cristela Alonzo tells a story, she has a specific, albeit ambiguous, expression on her face that somehow creates tension: a smiling sort of wonder that doubles as despair. It’s somewhere between “Can you believe that nonsense?” and “What a world.” They want to find out where she ends up.

It’s part of the fun of their first special in five years, which highlights sensitively observed jokes that explain the transition from growing up in poverty to success. Look out for a virtuoso story about her first visit to the gynecologist. Their light-hearted comedy has a dark side in the subtext that shows on the edge of the joke. “I’ve smiled so much and I’m not even happy,” she says about halfway through. “I just had my teeth fixed.” Brilliantly sparkling dental work, she says, it was expensive in a pointed way that makes that joyful look on her face seem like a setup for that payout.

After Joel Kim Booster says he never hears queer women complain about their inability to achieve orgasm, Joel Kim Booster silences a round of applause with a scowl and a hand raise. “I’m not going to let this degenerate into clapping,” he adds. For years, Booster — having a moment between this special and his new Hulu film, Fire Island — has brought a confident club-comic energy to the other rooms: spiky, aggressive, but clear-cut premises that form hard punch lines.

His stylish and fun debut is divided into three acts, one that draws on his identity as a gay Korean-American comic, the second that doesn’t, and the third that focuses on sex. Throughout, he uses a straight white male in the crowd as a foil to explore issues of belonging and universality. He regularly speaks directly into the camera to ask the director where to focus the camera, a fun tactic reminiscent of shows like Fleabag.

Its formal devices are cleverly and beautifully integrated into the set – even if it becomes an argument that ends up being quite traditional. The strength here is his powerfully seductive presence, which understands that politics or sex, among other things, are powerful tools to make a punch line. After discussing the racism of Asian fetishes, he says wryly, “I find it doubly racist if you have an Asian fetish and you’re not specifically attracted to me.”

Leave a Comment