Comedy specials for even your worst days

Photo of James Acaster performing stand-up comedy.

James Acaster’s “Repertoire” is a four-part stand-up special available to watch on Netflix. He is also known for his work on “Taskmaster.” (Photo courtesy of Surtsicna | Wikimedia Commons)

Ah, midterm season — a period that seems to expand beyond the confines of the middle of the term into a never-ending work session from week four until right before finals. As more and more assignments and tests pile up, it’s easy to burn yourself out. It’s important to take some time for yourself, and maybe have a few laughs along the way. Whether you love sitcoms or talk shows or suffer through “Saturday Night Live” every week like me, the classic stand-up special can provide some comfort to everyone. 

Stand-up has produced some of the greatest comics and jokes ever. However, when it’s bad, it’s really bad. This list is meant to help you skip over those monstrous waste-of-an-hour specials and discover some specials filled with nonstop laughs. So, without further ado, here are the most delectable, scrumptious stand-up specials you will ever have the chance to feast on. 

Julio Torres’ “My Favorite Shapes” HBO Max

Julio Torres is an absolute icon. Although you may not have heard his name before, you probably know some of his work. He is the brains behind Ryan Gosling’s’ “Papyrus” sketch on “Saturday Night Live” — a cult classic featuring an extremely melodramatic performance about the “Avatar” poster. 

Torres’ ability to turn the mundane into a whimsical, engaging fantasy is what makes “My Favorite Shapes” such a special watch. The special is literally about his favorite shapes. However, what Torres considers a shape is certainly eccentric, with shapes including the curtain between first class and economy and a cactus voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The entire special is absurd, and may often feel like a fever dream, but through this special, Torres invites you to escape your world, and just briefly, step into his fantastical visions. 

James Acaster’s “James Acaster: Repertoire” Netflix

As one of the wittiest stand-ups to ever join the scene, Acaster simply never misses. One of the greatest contestants to ever grace the “Taskmaster” screen (a recommendation for another day), nothing but greatness could be expected from him. 

“Repertoire” is a stand-up series: four separate shows that are tightly interwoven — leading to a showstopping finale. The shows, “Recognize,” “Represent,” “Reset” and “Recap” all showcase Acaster playing different characters including an undercover cop and a man about to enter witness protection. Acaster mixes absurdity and cleverness flawlessly in these absolutely hysterical episodes.

If you’ve never watched stand-up comedy before, or even if you’ve just never liked it, this is the special that will change your mind. Although, everything you watch after it will probably pale in comparison to Acaster’s one-of-a-kind wit.

Catherine Cohen’s “The Twist?… She’s Gorgeous” — Netflix

Catherine Cohen just gets it. She says it best herself in an interview with Vogue. It’s comedy for “girl’s girls… girls of any gender.” She’s loud, glittery and says exactly what she is thinking — even if that includes her inappropriate thoughts during her 10 a.m. Chipotle trips. 

Often labeled as “annoying,” Cohen owns the label and even plays into it. A song featured in her special, “Look at Me,” is the anthem for everyone that is simultaneously debilitatingly insecure and extremely egotistical.

A small caveat to this recommendation: after watching the special, you may find yourself picking up some of Cohen’s distinct (albeit fabulous) mannerisms. 

Rose Matafeo’s “Horndog” — HBO Max

Just like Catherine Cohen, Rose Matafeo is deeply relatable. As a person also traumatized by the discovery that flat feet weren’t the norm, Matafeo’s ability to basically tell my life story was almost scary. Still, her absolute genius writing makes up for it. 

Another classic “Taskmaster” contestant, Matafeo is the type of comic you want to be best friends with while simultaneously being slightly intimidated by her intelligence and confidence. In her special, she talks about her love life and being a late bloomer, speaking as if the viewer has been friends with her for years. If there’s a day where you’re feeling especially down, “Horndog” will be there to give you the hug you so desperately need. 

Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel”  HBO Max

I’ve written about “Rothaniel” before, but I couldn’t write this list and not include it. “Rothaniel” will be one of the most defining stand-up specials of this decade. Carmichael transforms the usual stand-up special — a person on a stage with a mic stand — into an intimate performance art piece. The camera zooms in close to Carmichael’s face, almost uncomfortably so, as he divulges into the deepest aspects of his being. 

While the special addresses serious themes such as homophobia and family trauma, humor is woven into every bit. Balancing dark themes and comedy is not an easy task, but Carmichael is an expert of the craft. He turns his special into a performance art piece. “Rothaniel” proves that the future of comedy is Carmichael. 

Daniel Sloss’ “Daniel Sloss: Dark” Netflix

Okay, here’s one for all of you “edgy” humor folks. As the name suggests, Daniel Sloss’ work is not afraid to get dark. In this jam-packed hour, Sloss speaks on religion and disabilities — both times toeing the line between jokes and obscenities. Just like Carmichael, Sloss is an expert in the balance between intense social commentary and humor. 

“Dark” is part of a two-part special entitled “Daniel Sloss: Live Shows.” While the second hour, “Jigsaw” is certainly worth a watch, “Dark” is truly a special that draws you in. By the end of the whirlwind hour, you will be hurt — both from laughing too hard and from Sloss’ stinging observations.