MIKE BIRBIGLIA, 'MY GIRLFRIEND'S BOYFRIEND'
It might sound like hyperbole, but some years back Mike Birbiglia began doing something with his stand-up that absolutely nobody was doing. "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" might be the most impressive, traceable character arc that I've ever seen in a special. It's sweet, sincere, and most importantly, gut-bustingly funny. Birbiglia is at the absolute top of his game.
MARIA BAMFORD, 'OLD BABY'
There's probably a part of you that's sick of the traditional comedy special format. Maria Bamford is here to change that. Though the material connects into one cohesive show, the setting changes constantly -- from Bamford outside her house, to a bowling alley, and finally ending in a proper venue. "Old Baby" is just so good, and there is truly nobody with a mind like Bamford's.
BO BURNHAM, 'WHAT.'
This is the type of performance that really challenges the notion of what stand-up should be. It starts out goofy and zany, but quickly becomes something unexpected. It's introspective and real, and perhaps one of the only comedy specials that really gives a peek into what a performer is dealing with. It's an incredibly funny, smart, and moving special that culminates in an absolutely incredible piece you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere in the stand-up world.
SARAH SILVERMAN, 'A SPECK OF DUST'
When you've been great as long as Sarah Silverman has been great, it's always sort of surprising if you're still crushing it. Silverman's newest Netflix venture is no exception. She's insanely smart and talented, and from the minute "A Speck of Dust" begins, you're hooked.
JOHN MULANEY, 'NEW IN TOWN'
You've probably heard somebody quote at least one line from "New in Town." Mulaney's 2012 special is one of those shows you can watch over and over and never get sick of. He's the type of comic that tackles a range of topics so broad you might think he was doing an open mic (think quicksand and "Home Alone 2"), but nails every single one of them with a level of wit and comedic precision most comics only dream of.
JERROD CARMICHAEL, '8'
Jerrod Carmichael is one of those comics that obliterates your sense of time outside of the club. You hang on his every word, almost like it's a one-on-one conversation. His latest HBO special (expertly directed by Burnham) is a killer; he hits important stuff like Donald Trump and race relations, as well as not-so-important stuff like if he would let Beyoncé fight his mom. "8" is a grand slam.
DEMETRI MARTIN, 'LIVE (AT THE TIME)'
The title of his special pretty much sums up Martin's sense of humor. A modern-day Steven Wright, his sense of humor is wholly original and guaranteed to catch you off guard with every joke. Not only does Martin have the gift of looking at the world in a really strange way, he has the gift of bringing you into it.
CHRIS GETHARD, 'CAREER SUICIDE'
Have ever seen a comedy special where the performer gets so caught up in the emotion of his story that he actually tears up during his set? Well there's a first time for everything, and Chris Gethard has your back -- this is by far the funniest thing you'll watch on the topic of suicide. "Career Suicide" is one of the best comedy specials we've ever seen, period.
ALI WONG, 'BABY COBRA'
"Baby Cobra" is groundbreaking for a couple of reasons. First and most important, Wong is here to give a voice to the supremely underrepresented world of female Asian comics. Second, it's one of the funniest specials of 2016. "Baby Cobra" is outstanding -- whatever rave reviews you've heard are spot on. Oh, and she's pregnant, on top of it all.
TOM SEGURA, 'COMPLETELY NORMAL'
Does Tom Segura actually have half the conversations he claims to? Probably not, but who cares? Watching him reenact them is a treat. Something about the way he hits the subtle nuances of normal human interactions is perfect. "Completely Normal" is the funniest thing you'll see this week.
ANTHONY JESELNIK, 'THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS'
There are just so many comedians that have tried their whole lives to pull off what Anthony Jeselnik does. He's a comic that has made his name on being shocking and somewhat offensive, but there are layers of sharpness and cleverness in his jokes that few comics can pull off. His jokes always have shocking and "oooooh"-inspiring punchlines, but the fun of a Jeselnik special comes in trying to figure just when it's going to hit. His setups build slowly, then smack you in the face with the punchline before you realize it. He's a master.
EDDIE MURPHY, 'RAW'
There isn't much else to say about the highest-grossing stand-up film ever. It's Eddie Murphy in his absolute prime. If you haven't seen it, you're missing out … but remember this special was recorded 31 years ago, so don't be surprised to see Murphy getting away with stuff that you might not be able to get away with in 2018. Either way, "Raw" is an icon of the comedy world.
CHELSEA PERETTI, 'ONE OF THE GREATS'
Maybe audience cutaways are annoying to you. They can certainly get tiresome if there are too many of them. Like Bamford, Chelsea Peretti is shaking up the stand-up special formula, but with a fun play on the idea of audience cutaways: You might see an audience full of dogs, or a guy using a leaf blower. We love Peretti, and it's definitely not a stretch to call her one of the greats.
KUMAIL NANJIANI, 'BETA MALE'
At this point, Kumail Nanjiani is a full-blown star (you know him from "The Big Sick" and "Silicon Valley"), but "Beta Male" is from 2013, before Nanjiani was as big. His charm is irresistible, and "Beta Male" is wonderful. Check it out to fall in love with him all over again.
RORY SCOVEL, 'RORY SCOVEL TRIES STANDUP FOR THE FIRST TIME'
Yeah, okay, Rory Scovel is not for everybody. He's weird. Like, really weird. But sometimes you need that. Despite the title, Scovel is not actually trying stand-up for the first time, and it shows. The guy is a master of weirdness, and this special is outrageously funny. In fairness though, you'd be hard pressed to find something Scovel couldn't make funny (I once saw him play with a mic stand for 15 minutes, and it was one of the best sets I'd ever seen). How does he do it?
RICHARD PRYOR, 'LIVE IN CONCERT'
There isn't much to say about Richard Pryor that hasn't been said before. He's a legend, a master, and one of the greatest comedians of all time. His impression of a white person is maybe the funnest ever. The good people at Netflix have one of his specials (recorded in the 1970s) up, and maybe now more than ever, it's a great time to see what makes Pryor … you know, Pryor.
PAUL F. TOMPKINS, 'LABORING UNDER DELUSIONS'
There aren't many people who have a natural storytelling gift like Paul F. Tompkins. "Laboring Under Delusions" is one of the most relatable, captivating specials out there. As Tompkins traces his life of terrible jobs while pursuing stand-up comedy, we see ourselves. It's about a guy trying to figure out his life and chasing a dream, and we can all latch onto that. It's a must-watch.
HANNIBAL BURESS, 'ANIMAL FURNACE'
The stuff that Hannibal Buress is putting out is gold. His second special is available in full on Comedy Central, and will convert you to a Buress lover in no time. He's just so lovable, and he really puts us in his shoes as he deals with his newfound fame, working out his life on the road. "Animal Furnace" is a creative breath of a fresh air from one of the best comics out there.
NIKKI GLASER, 'PERFECT'
Nikki Glaser is a special talent. She's real, she's open, and she's natural. The material she covers in "Perfect" are things that most comics try, but can't quite pull off in the same way that Glaser does. Whether it's "Game of Thrones" references, reflections on motherhood, or thoughts on pornography, it's easy to see why Glaser is so popular.
RICKY GERVAIS, 'HUMANITY'
This special, like pretty much everything Ricky Gervais does, is bound to upset some people. On the surface, "Humanity" may seem like Gervais defending himself from the criticism he's received -- and it is -- but it's a whole lot more at its core: a statement not only on the world of comedy, but on the world itself. It's here to show how dangerous it can be to confuse the subject of a joke with the target of a joke, and how irrelevant it is when celebrities happen to have a different opinion than you. Watch "Humanity" right now.
HASAN MINHAJ, 'HOMECOMING KING'
Maybe you know Hasan Minhaj from his courageous speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner. "Homecoming King" is just as witty, just as funny, and believe it or not, just as moving. Minhaj is an important, contemporary voice for the immigrant experience -- something more important now than ever.
WYATT CENAC, 'BROOKLYN'
You're probably thinking "not enough comedy specials feature puppet versions of the performer while they're performing" (a relatable thing to think). Good news for you, because that's not the case in "Brooklyn." Cenac's almost apathetic brand of humor is infectious, and the puppet cutaways are only the icing on the cake.
APARNA NANCHERLA, 'THE STANDUPS'
Okay it's not technically her own special, but it would be wrong not to include Nancherla, and Netflix's "The Standups" is a fun showcase for a ton of greats. You may know her voice from "BoJack Horseman" or her face from "Crashing," but if you don't know her comedy, you need to. She's one of the freshest, funniest talents out there (and maybe the only comic who has actual, funny material about emojis).
JERRY SEINFELD, 'I'M TELLING YOU FOR THE LAST TIME'
Can you believe this guy? I mean, what's the deal with Seinfeld, right? You know what I mean? His style may be a bit dated, but "I'm Telling You for the Last Time" is a master class in relatable, observational humor. You've probably heard this special before. It shouldn't stop you from firing it up again.