Some great one-hour specials you won’t be finding on Netflix.
Following all the love our feature received, we figured why not give the people more of what they want. In addition to Netflix’s wealth of comedy talent and Amazon’s burgeoning roster (Jim Gaffigan, Ilana Glazer), HBO remains relevant as it continues to shepherd in a new crop of comedians on the rise. Equal parts hilarious and offbeat, HBO utilized 2019 as a year to embrace the unexpected in comedy. Whether it was a Muslim comedian discussing casual sex, a Salvadoran comedian performing miniature prop comedy, or a celebrated young comedian opting to make a two-part documentary about his family – HBO remained in the forefront of comedy during a period when over-saturation and bingeing became king.
Ramy Youssef: Feelings
Between the breakout successes of his debut hour-long HBO stand-up special and critically acclaimed Hulu sitcom, comedian-actor Ramy Youssef (Mr. Robot) had the year of most comedians’ dreams. And the praise only continued as 2020 kicked off with Ramy winning the Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy. But this whirlwind year all started back in April of 2019 when Youssef filmed his first HBO special, Ramy Youssef: Feelings to a diverse crowd full of hijabs and hipsters. This dichotomy is essentially Youssef’s demographic sweet spot – contemporary Muslim Americans and woke Millennials. At the heart of this social Venn diagram you will find Ramy and his budding brand of comedy chock-full of faith and vulgarity. Whether he’s discussing Islamic customs, comparing Michael Jackson to LeBron James, or complaining about white Uber drivers – Ramy Youssef: Feelings is an immediate triumph and one of, if not the best hour of stand-up released last year.
Julio Torres: My Favorite Shapes
Julio Torres is another young comedian coming off a career-shifting year. This past June, the former Saturday Night Live and The Chris Gethard Show writer created, wrote, and starred in the Spanish-language supernatural-themed HBO comedy, Los Espookys. The 6-episode series currently maintains a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been renewed for a second season. Shortly after the success of Los Espookys, HBO released Torres’ debut stand-up special My Favorite Shapes. As bizarre as it may sound, My Favorite Shapes revolves around the goofy stories and hilarious anecdotes Torres pulls from his favorite shapes including crystals, miniature furniture, a cactus, and a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. To describe this special as anything other than odd or unorthodox would be an understatement, as Torres even states: “I just need to show my shapes. That’s all this is for.” His dry wit is matched by the sheer silliness of each shape and the seriousness with which he approaches it all. My Favorite Shapes will have you cackling and scratching your head at the same time. But one thing is for sure, Julio Torres is one of comedy’s newest and most unique voices ready to blow at any moment.
Lil Rel Howery: Live in Crenshaw
Beginning with a soulful a cappella rendition of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and a performance by the L.A. Youth Step Team – Lil Rel Howery’s debut HBO stand-up special, Live in Crenshaw, emanates a pep rally on a hot day in LA. Filmed inside a sunlit gymnasium at Susan Miller Dorsey Senior High School in the heart of the south Los Angeles neighborhood of Crenshaw – Lil Rel regales his audience with a variety of stories spanning from the viral video of two families brawling at Disneyland to paying for his uncle’s funeral. Loud, physical, and full of chuckles, Lil Rel will keep viewers laughing along with the audience for the entirety of this one-hour special – even as the sun begins to set on the high school gym.
Gary Gulman: The Great Depresh
With Gary Gulman’s HBO hour-long debut and first special in four years, there was already a great deal of pressure on the nearly 50-year-old comedian. Add to it the fact that Gulman had been in and out of hospitals for clinical depression over that extended period and was now performing new material on the topic makes Gary Gulman:The Great Depresh one of the most important comedy specials produced in recent memory. Directed by Michael Bonfiglio (Jerry Before Seinfeld), executive produced by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up), and released during Mental Illness Awareness Week, this 75-minute stand-up special/documentary is much more than jokes about being sad. Infusing documentary interludes touching on his struggle with depression, anxiety, and hospitalization – Gulman described the special as “a hybrid, where I do some documentary about my recovery, treatment, and my hospitalization, and then I do stand-up surrounding that.” The documentary moments include interviews with his wife, mother, and psychiatrist. Filmed at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn, the special branches out to less “depressing” topics such as Millennials’ take on bullying, participation trophies being a metaphor for life, and how his mother’s voice is constantly in his head. Not your traditional HBO comedy special, Gary Gulman:The Great Depresh is an important watch for anyone who has personally experienced, or known someone who has struggled with depression.
Amanda Seales: I Be Knowin’
Amanda Seales begins her hour-long HBO special self-admittedly stating that this special is for the ladies. This is made even more apparent throughout the special when the cameras reveal a nearly all-female and predominantly black audience – which makes for a great crowd particularly when Amanda initiates a sing-along to the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Throughout the special, Seales runs through a bevy of topics that raise audience members from their seats including the pointlessness of catcalling, the comedic styling of Harriet Tubman, and what it’s like being the only black girl at a sleepover. Filmed at the Edison Ballroom in New York City by Stan Lathan (Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones) – I Be Knowin’ celebrates all of Amanda Seales’ hilarious qualities in one succinct hour of comedy. Whether you know her from Insecure, Get Your Life, or The Real – I Be Knowin’ is sure to have her on your comedians-to-watch list for the indefinite future.
Dan Soder: Son of a Gary
A comedian many may have never heard of performed HBO’s final stand-up special of the decade. While Dan Soder might not be one of the biggest names in comedy, any viewers willing to take a chance on this special covering dead dads, drugs, and Denver will quickly convert to fans. Perhaps best known for his Sirius XM Radio show with Big Jay Oakerson, The Bonfire, or his role as Mafee on the Showtime series Billions – Dan Soder’s comedy ascendance has been slowly building up to this moment. And to relish in the apex of his first hour-long HBO special, Soder opted to spend the majority of his time telling jokes about his deceased alcoholic father, Gary. If even the mentioning of this sort of dark humor has piqued your interest, then immediately go watch Son of a Gary.
Daniel Sloss: X
Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss’ fourth stand-up special and first for HBO also happens to be his 10th solo show – hence the aptly titled X. Written, directed by, and starring the notoriously dark humored 29-year-old comedian – X was filmed in front of packed audience at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney, Australia. Prefacing his performance with a quick suggestion to “Get comfortable. If you’re not comfortable, don’t fucking worry about it. I’m about to provide plenty of material that’s going to make most of you very fucking uncomfortable.” For those unacquainted with Sloss’ humor, this is the perfect introduction to his hour of jokes ranging from sex education to the male ego and what it’s like telling another man you love him. Still considered a comedy prodigy with over ten tours and four specials before the age of 30, Daniel Sloss is an acquired taste worth trying out. But as the second half of the special shifts to more speaking than joking, your attention span may be tested.
Pete Holmes: Dirty Clean
Airing a month before what would end up being the third and final season of Crashing, HBO premiered Dirty Clean, the series’ star and creator’s latest special. Named for the fact that as a former Christian comic, he still can’t perform dirty material without receiving admiration for his clean humor – Holmes delves into topics that may finally lift this label. In his latest hour of comedy, Pete discusses the topics of pooping, masturbating, and his wife Valerie’s large breasts, yet as portrayed in Crashing, he’s still labeled by his Christian upbringing, going to Christian camp and college, and briefly performing on the Christian comedy circuit. Directed by Marcus Raboy (Friday After Next) at the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Oregon – Pete Holmes is one of the few comedians today who exude joy during his stand-up. And while I love a sarcastic and depressed comedian as much as the next guy, the brand of humor Holmes has perfected over the past few years is a refreshing change of pace needed within today’s comedy world.
2 Dope Queens [season 2]
For the second season of this popular podcast turned four-episode HBO special, co-hosts Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson took their hosting, special guests, and stand-up comedians to the next level. Similar to the first season, each episode has its own theme that the girls dress for and riff off between one (sometimes two) special guest(s), and three (or two) stand-up sets. The four themes of season two are “Fashion,” “Nostalgia,” “Music,” and “Regal AF.” The special guests to get excited for are Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Radcliffe, Janet Mock, Lizzo, and Keegan-Michael Key. Some of the female, people of color, and LGBTQ stand-up talent you’re bound to fall in love with include Janine Brito, Jamie Lee, Bowen Yang, Shalewa Sharpe, Pat Brown, Rory Scovel, and Jacqueline Novak. Unfortunately it’s now been nearly a year since the second season aired with no formal announcement of a third season from HBO. But you can always go back and re-watch all eight episodes, or listen to their two and a half years worth of podcasts to get your 2 Dope Queens fix.
Jerrod Carmichael – Home Videos/ Sermon on the Mount
Following the breakout success of Jerrod Carmichael’s first two HBO stand-up specials: Love at the Store directed by Spike Lee and 8 directed by Bo Burnham – you’d think the 32-year-old comedian from North Carolina would quickly plot his return to the stage. Instead he convinced HBO to go in the exact opposite direction, allowing him to create two short-form documentaries about his family. The first, titled Home Videos and running less than 30-minutes, features Carmichael interviewing the female members of his family including his niece, sisters, and mother about topics involving school, black beauty, and fidelity. He bluntly asks his sister, “You still been on your pro-black, pro-women shit? Or are you off that this week?” She later tells him, “The fact that you as a black male wants to listen to black women, that’s the start.” Far from a comedy special, Home Videos is smart, intimate, and full of funny people having serious conversations.
A month and a half later HBO released the second half of the documentary, Sermon on the Mount. Now speaking with the men of his family, Carmichael candidly shares conversations with his nephews, brother, cousins, uncle, and father about what it’s like to be a black man in America today. These discussions are shot alongside Carmichael’s mother seeking guidance from her preacher. Longer and less poignant than Home Videos, Carmichael’s Sermon on the Mount serves as a fitting ending to the narrative he’s documented – respectfully giving his father a chance to speak for himself in the film’s final moments. Any fans of Carmichael’s comedy or viewers interested in an authentic portrayal of the black family experience will get more out of this documentary than your average comedy special.