2019 in Review: The Best Comedy Shows and Specials

While there was no shortage of stand-up specials in 2019 (and not just on Netflix!), there weren’t enough I loved to list five. So I expanded the criteria a bit to include some extremely clever sketch comedy and parody for a lovely list of shows that hit me right in the funny bone.

Anthony Jeselnik in Fire in the Maternity Ward
Anthony Jeselnik: Fire in the Maternity Ward (Netflix)
Any ideas that Jeselnik would change anything about his style or demeanor evaporated the second you saw the name of the special. Even in an era of heightened sensitivity, Jeselnik is as ruthless as ever. He doesn’t bitch that he’s “not allowed to joke about certain things,” he barrels ahead in a way different from some of his less enlightened peers. Still, there was a surprising tenderness to the centerpiece of this set: a monologue about taking a friend to have an abortion.

Taran Killam, James Urbaniak and John Mulaney in Documentary Now!
Documentary Now! (IFC)
This was the first season of the brilliant parody series that I’ve been able to watch as it aired, and I was so glad I didn’t have to wait. Even without regulars Fred Armisen and Bill Hader available all season, co-creators Seth Meyers and Rhys Thomas forged ahead with another unforgettable season that tackled cults, performance artists and professional bowlers. But its highlight has to be its Sondheim tribute “Original Cast Album: Co-Op,” which documents a marathon recording session in which nearly everyone loses their minds.

Tim Robinson (in hot dog costume) in I Think You Should Leave
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (Netflix)
While SNL was still floundering with weak political comedy, ex-player and writer Tim Robinson was getting delightfully weird on Netflix. Each episode was barely 15 minutes, with sketches running exactly as long as they needed to. It’s certainly not for everyone, but admitting to that is “stinky.”

The cast of John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch
John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch (Netflix)
“I don’t have kids, and that’s by choice. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘I don’t have kids yet,’ but that’s just to appease certain people.” Thank you, John Mulaney, for speaking for me. But seriously, this parody of kids shows like Sesame Street and Zoom (think a kinder, gentler Wonder Showzen) was a source of delight right as the holidays rolled around.

Seth Meyers in Lobby Baby
Seth Meyers: Lobby Baby (Netflix)
As I just mentioned, I don’t have kids, but Seth Meyers’s hilarious special focused on having two kids, and I still was in tears watching this on a plane because it was so damn funny. His bits about marriage and politics hit even closer to home. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s the pretty much the platonic ideal of an hour of stand-up.

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