Comedy Specials that are actually Story-Telling Shows

I love this little sub-genre of the comedy stand-up special. Where you don’t just get set-up, Joke, set-up, Joke, but more of an opportunity to get up on that stage and tell nice long detailed stories, with some jokes sprinkled in there.

Please post some suggestions on good examples of this.

I’ll start with one I just saw yesterday:

Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King. This just came out on Netflix, and it is absolutely brilliant. It tells an immigrant story and expertly weaves 3 stories, mixing the present and the past. Hasan talks extensively about his experiences growing up with his immigrant father. He talks extensively about his family, marrying across cultures, being muslim in America, and tells these stories in a really heart-felt and masterful way. He uses the backdrop behind him sometimes to display images that really punctuate his points. It’s really the best show of this kind that I’ve ever seen. After the first story was over, finishing with a picture of him put on the backscreen from his childhood, I had to wipe tears from my eyes and stop watching for a while, and come back for the other two stories later.

Isn’t this most specials, really? There are relatively few entirely gag-driven sets out there. Still, here are some comics that work more on the narrative end of the spectrum:

Mike Birbiglia (pretty much the apotheosis of this style)
Paul F Tompkins
Stewart Lee
John Hodgman
Doug Stanhope
Ross Noble (more rambling than coherent storytelling)

Also, it’s not technically a stand-up special, but The Moth podcast is nothing but this sort of thing.

The moth is pretty interesting (if uneven, but that’s what you’d expect from a volunteer community-based story telling collective), but the stories aren’t necessarily happy or feel good or funny.

Not feelgood, no. A lot of it is heartbreaking. But I’d say 80% of them have a humorous component.

Yeah, I listen to the Moth on NPR every week. Unfortunately, it’s a very mixed bag. Stories vary from stellar to completely uninteresting.

I guess I should have added (that are interesting) at the end of the title to the thread. ;P

I’ll have to try out those Comedians you listed above. It would be helpful if you pointed out good examples of actual specials though, not just the name of the comedian.

One that I saw recently also on Netflix that was 1/3rd this format:

Neal Brennan: 3 Mics. I highly recommend that one as well. The 3 mics in question are ones he uses for the three different formats. One Mic is for long form story-telling that we’re talking about in this thread. One Mic is for your regular stand-up special format, the kind of jokes you hear from your Louis CK or Chris Rock, etc. And the last Mic is one-line setup jokes, where even more than regular stand-up, it’s just literally set-up joke almost in one sentence. So he has the two extremes on either side, and the regular stand-up in the middle. It works very well, because on the long form story side, he’s got some really heavy stuff about depression and other serious topics in his life. So the regular standup and the short-form stand-up are used as a relief to break up the heavy stuff.

Tom Segura’s recent Netflix special had some great stories, especially the one about Mike Tyson.

Paul F. Tompkin’s Laboring Under Delusions was full of amusing stories as well.

I’m still stuck on the last one I heard about some poor russian guy who was tortured by the police to confess to crimes he didn’t commit and eventually “confessed” to some, which lead to him being in a work camp for 5 years, where many of his friends died. At least the end of his story is basically “America, I’m here now, fuck yeah.” [feelsgoodman?]

I highly prefer the Mike Birbiglia stuff, as it’s polished and not relentlessly depressing.

Well, all you have to do is put the name into Netflix. I think Stanhope and Hodgman each only have one on there. Lee may or may not be on US Netflix, but “41st Best Standup Ever” is probably the one to go for if you’ve not encountered him before. All of Birbiglia’s specials would be fine, I think he has three now. Ross Noble, I honestly couldn’t tell you which is which, given his style, and I own the DVDs. Just google him.

Oh, and a good way to get access to these in audio format is to sign up for Howl. They have a huge selection of comedy albums. You can always drop the sub after a month.

Just watched that Hasan Minhaj special and I was pretty blown away by it. What an unexpected gem!

3 Mics was another surprise that was very touching.

Be sure to catch Chris Gethard: Career Suicide as well. Deeply confessional comedy about his depression and suicide attempt.

Two comics that haven’t been mentioned yet:

Maria Bamford has rejuvenated her career as a bit of a confessional comic and her grapple with depression. Her series, Lady Dynamite, is a pretty awesome examination of her surreal life.

Some people seem to hate him, but Marc Maron is very story driven. The last few seasons of his show, Maron, are semi-autobiographical.

Edit: Check out Tig Notaro as well. Louis CK called her set about her breast cancer one of the greatest comedy shows he had ever seen and has the audio available through his website. Also, her show, One Mississippi, is drawn from her life.

Bamford is amazing (as is Lady Dynamite), but her specials aren’t really all that narrative. I guess they are kind of vignetty, but they definitely flit from voice to voice and punchline to punchline rather than weaving a long story.

Not really a storytelling one, but Sarah Silverman’s new special is out today on Netflix. It’s great.

I think Ari Shaffir’s show “This is Not Happening” on Comedy Central is a good example of this style. While it’s not as intertwined as a an hour long special it hits the same beats. The show will have a premise “Scumbag”, “Mortality” and "The Law"are a few examples and the comics each have a story that fits it. It can occasionally be hit or miss but for the most part it’s pretty good stuff.

Watched this one yesterday. Pretty great, but I think that I liked her last special (We Are Miracles) more. Probably my favorite bit was when she was talking about putting her dog down. She is my favorite of the raunchy female comics like Schumer and Handler.

Yeah…was totally not expecting this while channel surfing the other day and caught the back half of it. I could tell it was different from standard stand up when he started revealing some really personal stuff about his depression and things he’d done, and about the value of even small exchanges and contact with others. And some pretty funny self effacing humor too.

I saw a couple of specials recently that fall into this category.

John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons - If you’ve seen any of his specials before, you know he’s not really a stand-up comedian, but a storyteller who acts out incidents from his life. In this case, it’s helping his son deal with bullies in school, and helping connect him to his latin heritage. Leguizamo makes a connection here that Latin history is basically Native American history since most Latinos are largely made up of native American ancestry. That’s not something I was even aware of before I watched this special, so it was kind of eye-opening in that way. Plus I loved how his interactions with his son always seemed to make things worse for his son, with John exasperated as a result of all his failed efforts.

Ali Wong - Ali Wong is back! Her first Netflix special from a couple of years ago is definitely worth watching. It dealt with how miscarriages are a common occurrence that people don’t really talk about (me and my wife went through that). And it talked about various other really personal things about pregnancy in a really funny way. Now the new special talks in a similarly candid way about being a mother to a newborn. This one is kind of on the border between story telling and straight up stand up comedy. But it just talks about so many things that you don’t hear from people otherwise, that I just want to classify it as storytelling as a result, even though the format is pretty much straight up stand up.

Not strictly stand-up (although he did perform one New Year’s eve) but Jean Shepherd’s (or as you kids know him, the guy from A Christmas Story) radio shows are available year by year. 1969, for example

I’ll add the late Spalding Gray to this list. His monologues were something very different from the standard comedy routine, but very funny regardless. I found a link to an old HBO special where he performed one of them, about the joys and terrors of owning a home.

Loved his book, Sex and Death to the Age 14. Sad that he’s gone.

Ron White is another storyteller comedian. If you haven’t already check out They call Me Tater Salad. Very funny.

A little trivia, this show was recorded at the State Theatre in Kalamazoo, MI. Its very nice intimate venue and has been a popular place to film these specials. Its also a great place to see a concert. This is the same theatre where Tim Allen got his big break.

I tried Ron White’s latest special on Netflix, which came out last month. I couldn’t make it more than 10 minutes into that one, unfortunately.