2020 Comedy Special Recommendations : Pop Culture Happy Hour Comedy specials come in many forms. Stand-up, sketch, improv — and there are times when they really come in handy. But there are also so many of them circulating right now that it can be tough to find the ones that are worth your time. We're here to help. We want to share a few specials that have managed to make us laugh in 2020, despite 2020, so that when you have a moment when you can really use one, you'll have one on hand.
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2020 Comedy Special Recommendations

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2020 Comedy Special Recommendations

2020 Comedy Special Recommendations

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

Comedy specials come in many forms - stand-up, sketch, improv. And there are times when they really come in handy. But there are also so many of them circulating right now that it can be tough to find the ones that are worth your time. We are here to help.

GLEN WELDON, HOST:

We want to share a few specials that have managed to make us laugh in 2020 - despite 2020 - so that when you have a moment you can really use one, you'll have one or more on hand. I'm Glen Weldon.

HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. Today, we're making recommendations for some recent comedy specials on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

Here with me and Glen from his home in Alexandria, Va., is Ronald Young Jr. Ronald is a film and TV critic, as well as the host of the podcast "Leaving The Theater". Hey, Ronald, welcome back.

RONALD YOUNG JR: Hello, hello. Thanks for having me.

HOLMES: And also with us from her home in Brooklyn is our pal Daisy Rosario. She's an executive producer at Stitcher with the show called "All-American: Tiger Woods". It's in its first season right now. Hey, Daisy. Welcome back.

DAISY ROSARIO: Hello. Thanks for having me.

HOLMES: Well, we are going to get right to it. This is going to just be us giving you some suggestions for comedy specials that you can enjoy. And fittingly, I'm going to go to you first, Glen, 'cause you are my comedy special guy. So give me a recommendation.

WELDON: All right. My pick is Gianmarco Soresi's "Shelf Life", which just dropped. I saw it on Amazon Prime. This dropped just at the end of October. It's very recent. Now, Soresi is a young comedian. He's up-and-coming, still getting his legs under him. But he's got what you need, what's in the job description. He's got a distinctive comic voice, solid jokes. It's a good set. It really is a good set. Fair warning - or fair disclosure, I guess - there is an NPR tote bag joke in there. So if you're in the market for that...

HOLMES: (Laughter).

WELDON: The reason I'm picking this one is that, A, he's good, and I think more people should see him. But B, this is a fascinating snapshot of where stand-up comedy is right at this deeply, deeply weird historical moment. Before it starts, he talks basically to the camera very honestly and very sincerely about how hard he's had to scramble, doing Zoom sets, which are just deadly, and rooftop sets.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SHELF LIFE")

GIANMARCO SORESI: I'm looking forward to this outdoor special 'cause it's a nice way for all of the park shows and the rooftop shows and the Zoom shows and the drive-in shows - it's just so that this whole [expletive] nightmare actually means something. And it's like my eighth-grade basketball coach used to say, you miss 100% of the shots you take.

WELDON: What makes a good comedy club is what makes it deadly. You stuff a lot of people into a small room with a low ceiling so that the laughter reverberates. And of course, the other thing that would reverberate is the virus itself. So this set is in what looks like a courtyard behind somebody's townhouse. It's outdoors. It's at night with a socially distanced crowd of maybe 20, 25 people. Many in the crowd are masked. I dare you to ignore the one woman who is wearing her mask incorrectly by not covering her nose because every time the camera goes to her, that's all you see.

ROSARIO: (Laughter).

WELDON: Now, if you're the kind of person who looks to stand-up as an escape, that's not what he's doing here. He is telling jokes about coronavirus and Black Lives Matter and protesting and the election. He is doing what he's supposed to be doing. He's giving voice to our collective anxiety. He's acting as kind of a release valve. He is being specific and very personal to get at what is broadly true and what's universal.

Now, the thing is, I strongly suspect that this special will not serve that same release valve purpose in six months' time. I dearly hope it won't. Right? And he acknowledges as much because he called this thing "Shelf Life" because these jokes come with a sell-by date. They are not timeless jokes. They're not meant to be. They're written to be very much for this moment. So there is kind of an urgency here. Like, if this interests you at all, I would see it in the next month or so because these jokes aren't going to stick around, and they're not meant to. This is also - I say it again - this is a historical document, and it is a fascinating one. So this is Gianmarco Soresi's "Shelf Life" on Amazon Prime.

HOLMES: Oh, thank you very much, Glen Weldon. I am very fascinated by that pick. I did not know there was one out there of that format. But I appreciate it. Daisy Rosario, I'm going to go to you next. What is your pick?

ROSARIO: My pick, Linda, is Michelle Buteau's "Welcome To Buteaupia". If you are not familiar with Michelle Buteau, she's one of those people that you probably see her and you'd recognize her and you're like, that lady's been around, but I don't know her. And I'm saying this specifically if you're already somebody who, like, doesn't know her 'cause you should know her. She's lovely. You cannot see my air quotes right now, but she was the "host" of "The Circle" on Netflix...

YOUNG: Yeah.

HOLMES: Yeah, she was.

ROSARIO: ...Which is, like, a weird amount of hosting. That's why the air quotes are necessary. But she's just so funny. She's been around awhile. And this special, I feel like, really captures what is kind of fun and really both warm and side-eye about her, right? Like, this is not a special where she talks about everything that's going on in 2020. But because that kind of, like, side-eye attitude is such a part of who she is, you also don't feel like you're in a space where somebody is, like, ignoring it, you know?

I don't know. Like, for me, I find right now - right? - there's a weird balance between wanting to escape things, but also, if they're too escapist, it's almost distracting in a different way because it feels like I'm ignoring reality or it's, like, no. And this is a nice balance of that. I belly laughed multiple times. There are so many times - and this is very her style of comedy - where it feels like she's just telling you a couple of facts about her week. But the way that they are delivered is really funny. And there's also, like, a lovely quote that she says in it about dating that I've been thinking about a lot lately and that's been really helpful - like, helpful in that I-told-my-therapist-about-it way.

WELDON: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WELCOME TO BUTEAUPIA")

MICHELLE BUTEAU: Who's going to make you want to feel like you're going to be a better person? That is your type, really. And I don't know. Like, you guys have a type, right? But you don't even realize that you are somebody else's type.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hello.

(LAUGHTER)

BUTEAU: Hello from the other side.

(LAUGHTER)

BUTEAU: Whoever, whoever, whoever...

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

BUTEAU: Yes, honey, you are somebody else's type. You don't even know that. Like, I realized way too late in life that I am an achievable Beyonce for government workers.

(APPLAUSE, LAUGHTER)

ROSARIO: It's just a really, really great special. She looks amazing. She is just funny. The way she engages with the audience is really warm - but again, with that side-eye. Like, this is someone who is not missing the ridiculousness of our current moment but also not dwelling in it either. So I think it's just a really, really great special and really great to see somebody who I've gotten to see live many times really owning the stage for their thing. I feel like this is a really great example of, like, what it's like seeing her live. And they pulled that off, and it's on Netflix. I'm really digging it.

HOLMES: I'm very glad that you chose "Buteaupia," available on Netflix. Thank you, Daisy Rosario.

ROSARIO: Thanks.

HOLMES: Ronald Young Jr., give me a comedy special recommendation.

YOUNG: All right. So my pick is "Jason Weems: Unknown" on Amazon Prime. And I chose Jason Weems because he has such an interesting story. He's a comedian who's been around for a long time, maybe 12 or 13 years. He's been on "Last Comic Standing." He's opened for various other comedians. He's been around for a while. But he has such an engaging story that's kind of chronicled on this podcast "First Day Back" in which he talks about doing stand-up in which he dies. That happened to him in 2017. And 2018, he records this special which then doesn't come out until August 2020.

HOLMES: Wow.

YOUNG: One of the things I love about him is beyond his story about dying for five minutes from an asthma attack is that he's a very old-school comedian in 2020 which, in a way, that sometimes could be seen as a bad thing. But Jason Weems has a style that reminds me of the "Kings Of Comedy" - of Bernie Mac, of Steve Harvey, of Cedric the Entertainer - works that same, like, "Def Comedy Jam" energy. I love it. Coming out, engaging with the audience a lot and just telling you things that are just funny - no agenda, just flat-out funny. He's a father of three kids, so there's a lot of dad humor in there, which I really enjoy. I didn't think I would enjoy as much as I did, but he said stuff that just made me - surprised me as I burst out with laughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JASON WEEMS: UNKNOWN")

JASON WEEMS: Only time you get is you go in the bathroom. You go in the bathroom, you sit down on the toilet. You lock the door, touching the tub and the sink.

(LAUGHTER)

WEEMS: Somebody from the hallway's peeping beneath the door. You feel like hope is coming back into your life. Then out of nowhere, a goddamn doorknob start jiggling...

(LAUGHTER)

WEEMS: ...Fingers come through the door.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: They scratching at the paint.

(LAUGHTER)

WEEMS: It's like living with little raptors...

(LAUGHTER)

WEEMS: ...Little African American raptors.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: Now, I will say, his jokes are certainly not for everyone because, again, it's just funny with not much of an agenda. And I feel like most of the comedy that we see in 2020, typically comedians are now bringing a message with their comedy, I've seen, which I don't have a problem with. I love that. Because it was recorded in 2018 and we're in this moment in 2020, it feels good to have kind of some nostalgia for the past and just watch something with very low stakes, even though for him the stakes are very high. And as he tells his story, you'll see what I'm talking about more.

But just sitting there and enjoy that, I just felt really, really, really good watching it. So, again, that's Jason Weems, and the special's "Unknown" on Amazon Prime.

HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Ronald Young Jr. I'm making a list here for myself. I think this is going to help me get through the day.

So I was somebody who very much enjoyed the Sarah Cooper lip syncs of President Donald Trump, which she began doing, I think, sometime during 2020. She has certainly been working in comedy for quite a while. She had also written a couple books. You know, she was a known quantity to comedy people. But she wasn't, like, massively famous. And then she started doing these kind of TikTok/Twitter lip sync videos. On Mike Birbiglia's podcast, "Working It Out," there's a great episode he does with her where they try to get at, like, why were these funny and what worked about them, these little lip syncs. And she talks about how she just, like, stripped all the context out of these audio clips of the president and would just deliver them as herself.

But anyway, shortly after she became super huge for those things, they announced that she was doing a Netflix special. And it made me a little nervous because it was one of those things where you just think, I don't want this to be rushed out. I don't want it to be something that's just trying to capitalize on this one moment when I think she's so talented. But it came out in October of 2020. It's called "Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine." And it has this structure where she's, like, the host of a perky morning television program. So it's not stand-up; it's more sketch. I've heard other people compare it to, like, "SCTV." I would compare it to, like, a very manic "Saturday Night Live" episode. It goes very quickly from one little bit to another - little fake commercials, little fake news stories she has to announce.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SARAH COOPER: EVERYTHING'S FINE")

SARAH COOPER: Plus, another zoo runs out of money, and we'll sugarcoat what happens to all the animals. Hope you don't like emus. Then we'll have all the latest fall fashions you can wear to that conference call from your bedroom. Big story this morning - scientists say an asteroid is headed straight for the - breaking news. Breaking news - the president is on the line and wants to say hi. I guess we weren't able to change our number.

HOLMES: What I will say about this special is at the beginning, I was like, huh, 'cause it's such a kind of effortful format in some ways. But the longer it goes on, the weirder it gets. And it becomes kind of about the overwhelming stress as this morning show host kind of shrivels up and keeps trying to tell everyone that everything is OK. And it really captured, for me, that pressure that, like, puts your head in a vice and makes you feel like you're still trying to be like, I'm OK. I'm hanging in there. I'm doing fine, which is not just like 2020 election stuff, but 2020 pandemic stuff.

ROSARIO: Right.

HOLMES: Like, I'm doing all right. Everything's fine. So I really encourage people to seek that out. It is a weird, weird piece. It has a ton of guest stars. It does have some of that lip sync, but I think they did a really good job of balancing it so that it has - you know, as I said when I reviewed it for NPR, she's in this weird position where it's like, are you going to play the hit, you know? And she does play the hit, but she doesn't just play the hit. And I enjoyed it a lot. I think it's really interesting and strange. And if you're into it, I think you'll be really into it. It's called "Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine," and that is on Netflix.

So those are our four recommendations. You can feel free to share your recommendations with us at facebook.com/pchh or tweet us @PCHH. When we come back, it's going to be time for our favorite segment, What Is Making Us Happy This Week, so come right back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOLMES: Welcome back to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. It's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What Is Making Us Happy This Week. Glen Weldon, what is making you happy this week?

WELDON: Well, I reviewed a show for NPR on Amazon called "Truth Seekers" - just dropped. It stars Nick Frost as a broadband installer in Britain. He is also an amateur paranormal investigator in his spare time. His boss is Simon Pegg. So in a narrow sense, it's a television reunion of Frost and Pegg from the great series "Spaced" and also, of course, from the Cornetto trilogy films - but not really because Pegg really only shows up in a scene or two per episode until the end.

What I like about it is we are neck-deep in the age of Netflix bloat, and this is a really good attempt to tell a story that is discrete and self-contained. It is eight hour-long episodes, and the early ones lay track for a - kind of a series of reveals and reversals down the road. It also lets its characters, who start off kind of tetchy with each other - there's a lot of friction between them - as they grow together as investigators, there's a surprising warmth that comes into the series. And the humor is remarkably gentle. But the scares, 'cause this is a comedy-horror show, the scares are real. They do not play fast and loose with them. They take them seriously. So that is a really good mix. And when it works - it doesn't often work, but when it works, it works really well. So that is "Truth Seekers" on Amazon Prime.

HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Glen Weldon. Daisy Rosario, what is making you happy this week?

ROSARIO: So feeling happy is really hard right now in general. So like many people, I am just reverting to moments in my life where I felt safe and sane and trying to reenact them every possible junction. So my suggestion of what is making me happy is not something new. It is a rabbit hole that I have fallen down that I highly recommend. One thing that Halloween really reminded me of was watching cartoon specials when I was a kid, not just the "Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," (ph) which, you know, everybody talked about this year 'cause it was, like, on Apple only and things like that, but just, like, the Saturday morning cartoons when they would do a special episode of a Halloween thing.

So I remember watching "Garfield And Friends." And I don't know why - like, Garfield is not a character that I love overall. But for some reason, this Halloween special where him and Odie with a bunch of ghost pirates was very memorable to me. So I was able to find multiple episodes of shows that I liked as a kid on YouTube. And I have to say, waking up this past Saturday morning and literally putting some of those on while I sat, you know, curled up in a ball with my weighted blanket on my sofa was about as close to happy as I have been for a few weeks (laughter). So that's what I'm going to say is making me happy.

So check out whatever shows you were into. I mean, if it's "He-Man And She-Ra" - I'm just, like, giving away exactly when I was a child - it's probably there. There are even videos that people have made that are supercuts of the commercials from that time. I got to say, weirdly comforting to have on in the background, just weirdly comforting. So if you need a deep anxiety pick, that's mine for you.

HOLMES: Thank you very much, Daisy Rosario. I like it. Ronald Young Jr., what is making you happy this week?

YOUNG: All right. So as we are recording this, it is Election Day. But you will not be hearing this till Friday. So with that in mind, I've been watching a lot of "SNL," old episodes and new episodes. One of the newest episodes was hosted by John Mulaney. The episode itself was not my favorite, but there's one sketch in there that just made me laugh, and I've been watching it over and over. And it's called "Strollin' To The Polls" (ph). "Strollin' To The Polls" is starring the four Black cast members of "Saturday Night Live," which is Ego Nwodim, Chris Redd, Punkie Johnson and Kenan Thompson. And it's literally just a '70s video of them marching their way to the polls, dancing, singing a very, very catchy and addictive song on their way there but encountering obstacles every time they go to the polls in the form of John Mulaney popping up and saying, sorry, this poll's closed.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

KENAN THOMPSON: (As Crazy Legs Jimmy, singing) Been waiting four year, and now it's time to head down to the polls and hit that voter line.

CHRIS REDD: (As Rubber Band Ronnie, singing) Been hoping for so long for November 3, it's time to march on down, get our voices heard.

PUNKIE JOHNSON, KENAN THOMPSON, EGO NWODIM AND CHRIS REDD: (As characters) We're strollin' to the polls.

KENAN THOMPSON: (As Crazy Legs Jimmy, singing) To the polls.

JOHNSON, THOMPSON, NWODIM AND REDD: (As characters) Strollin' to the polls.

KENAN THOMPSON: (As Crazy Legs Jimmy) Y'all saw the ads? They need us.

JOHNSON, THOMPSON, NWODIM AND REDD: (As characters, singing) We're headed west, uh-huh, 'cause that call is the best.

JOHN MULANEY: We're closed.

JOHNSON, THOMPSON, NWODIM AND REDD: (Singing) OK.

YOUNG: So the video continues. They keep going about on their journey, and eventually they get to their destination. One of my favorite things about it was it was very subversive in the message that it's sending while also being very, very funny with things like Kenan Thompson's little ad libs in the song, as well as just the camera on Chris Redd's face just made me laugh several times. I could probably watch a supercut of that over and over again. So you can find it on YouTube. You don't necessarily have to watch the whole episode, but it's called "Strollin' To The Polls" on "SNL."

HOLMES: Very good suggestion - I think I'm going to go and check that out right away. Thank you, Ronald Young Jr.

What is making me happy this week? Look; it's the season. And when I say the season, I mean the Christmas TV movie season. Every year, I explain to you that between about the beginning of November and the end of the year, I burrow deeply into Christmas movies - holiday movies. They do occasionally have some Hanukkah movies now. They have gradually been making this genre of movies slightly less white...

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: ...You know, a very particular kind of progress if you want to use the word progress. But what I want to bring to your attention today is that the subpart of Christmas movies, which is not all Christmas movies - the subpart of Christmas movies that come from Hallmark can be tracked in an app. And it's called...

ROSARIO: What?

HOLMES: ...Hallmark Movie Checklist. And they have all their Christmas movies up there. You can either set it to make you a list of all of the new ones or all of the ones they're showing this year, which is not all of the ones, by the way.

ROSARIO: Oh, my God.

HOLMES: And I think the full list was, like, 130-something altogether that are going to air this year. So I've already gone through and marked off the ones in the app that I've already seen. Now, sometimes I don't remember that I've seen it because when you see the promotional art and the actors - and even when you read the summary, it can be like, I have no idea whether I watched that; I probably did - because it will also tell you when they're on next. So you can go through and say, oh, this one looks good, and then it'll say next airing, you know, at 2 in the morning on November 18 or something like that. So you can set your DVR - DVR, ask your parents.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: So that is my joy. And I will also say, I am working on - I have not yet published, but I am working on a guide to this year's new movies, Hallmark and elsewhere, as I did last year. So you can look for that. And if you subscribe to the newsletter, which is at npr.org/popculturenewsletter, you're going to be completely up to date on when that guide is up, where to find it. So that is what is making me happy this week - Hallmark Movie Checklist app.

Before we go, we wanted to remind you, if you have not already heard, we are going to be talking about "The West Wing," and we want your questions. So send us a voice message with your question to pchh@npr.org. Make sure that you record your question while walking around in a series of corridors. That is my hacky "West Wing" joke. Again, send us a voice memo with your question to pchh@npr.org.

And of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. That brings us to the end of this show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me @LindaHolmes. You can find Glen @GHWeldon. You can find Daisy @RunDMR, and you can follow Ronald @OhItsBigRon. And you can find our editor Jessica Reedy @Jessica_Reedy and producer Candice Lim @TheCandiceLim. You can find our producer Mike Katzif @MikeKatzif - K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band, Hello Come In, provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. So thanks to all of you for being here.

WELDON: Thank you.

ROSARIO: Thank you for having me.

YOUNG: Thanks for having us.

HOLMES: And thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all next week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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