Anjelah Johnson: The best female-led comedy specials to watch on Netflix
With Netflix currently releasing new comedy specials on a weekly basis, it’s almost impossible to keep up with what’s new, what’s worth watching, and what’s worth avoiding. When it comes to female comedians it feels even more difficult, as several truly astounding talents don’t receive the attention they duly deserve in the media. Why would you want to check out a comedian you’ve never heard of whose comedy special has barely any reviews online?
Thankfully, we spend a lot of time (possibly too much) checking out all of the Netflix Originals comedy specials whether we’re familiar with the comedian or not. With there being a little less than thirty female comedy specials currently on Netflix (out of roughly 150), you can probably make your way through this list quite easily and quickly if female comedy specials is your bag.
Here’s every Netflix Originals female comedy special available on the platform, along with a rundown of whether you should check it out or whether you should simply check out instead.
Aditi Mittal: Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say
The outspoken Indian comedian is one of the first women in her country to do standup and Mittal maintains a gloriously pugnacious presence on stage during this comedy special that reflects that.
Delivering jokes about annoying babies, being single, men’s obsessions with penis size, and taking on catcallers, Mittal’s set is punchy and animated, if a little familiar when it comes to ideas. Regardless, her set dazzles with a mischievous sense of power bolstered by a confident and dramatic comedic physicality.
Alexis de Anda: Mea Culpa
This Spanish language comedy special features the tremendous levity of Anda’s on-stage persona and her unbridled enthusiasm for outrageous jokes. Where her set shines brightest is when she’s all too happy to take self-deprecating swipes at her own proudly slutty behavior and some relatable awkward anecdotes about anal sex, gynecology, and the extreme consternation of holding a giant fart in during yoga class.
But there are also moments where Anda toes the line a little too far with some jokes sounding more tone-deaf than edgy – but otherwise, Mea Culpa is dazzlingly likeable.
Ali Wong: Baby Cobra
Taking to the stage barefoot and very pregnant, Wong provides a ferocious set of material that proudly subverts how an expectant mother should be talking and acting. Though some of her jokes concerning finding the perfect husband and being perfectly happy to live off his riches wear a little thin, her set soars when she’s challenging stereotypes or offering searing observations about men & women.
Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife
Wong returns to the stage two years after Baby Cobra just as barefoot and just as pregnant with another baby.
In many ways, Wong’s second Netflix Originals comedy special is stronger than her first, with the comedian ruminating on her newfound fame, the absurdity of gender politics, and telling a joke so funny she once made a friend queef. This is a victory lap of female success delivered with oodles of vitality and brash irreverence.
Amy Schumer: The Leather Special
Easily the most disappointing high-profile comedy special from Netflix, The Leather Special is as tired as a pair of vintage leather hot pants with jokes that are just as old. Schumer leans heavily on focusing the majority of her set on sex and body parts in a way that lacks inspiration, sophistication, or even funny punchlines.
It’s not just that her set lacks originality or variety – it’s also that her delivery is completely off timing-wise, with Schumer being all too reliant on serving “jokes” with a smug grin or a knowing raise of the eyebrow (because she’s daring to say something naughty!) in lieu of a solid setup.
Anjelah Johnson: Not Fancy
The former NFL cheerleader has a wealth of fantastic experiences and anecdotes that she draws on with great aplomb and hilarity in Not Fancy. Johnson’s irresistible charm and sparkling personality are absolutely dazzling, especially when she juxtaposes her shining character with some startling self-deprecating humor.
Where the set falls down is when Johnson takes aim on topics beyond her own personal scope, which ultimately fractures the rhythm of the special and stunts the flow of jokes.
Chelsea Handler: Uganda Be Kidding Me Live
A companion special for her New York Times bestselling book of the same name, Uganda Be Kidding Me sees Handler at the very top of her game, delivering a subversive take on traveling that’s brazenly irreverent and provocative.
Unafraid to push buttons and boundaries, Handler’s set is unapologetically politically incorrect but also gloriously self-deprecating, with the comedian able to poke fun at her ludicrous (and cliched) sense of privilege as a white lady on vacation in Africa.
The result is a comedy show with all the casual flair of a pal sharing a slideshow from a madcap adventure over too much wine and a show that’s bawdy and brilliant and revels in being of the worst possible taste.
Chelsea Peretti: One of the Greats
This is an absolute gem of a comedy special and probably one of the best on Netflix, highlighting Peretti as one of the most unique and underrated comedians of her generation. Her set flows fluidly between one joke and the next, with Peretti’s signature vocal fry making already solid punchlines snap and sizzle.
There’s such a diverse variety of topics to Peretti’s jokes that bound between such subjects as how to “de-dick” a banana, how to know whether people come from a shit or a puke family, and the overdone tropes of male standup sets that the show is consistently full of delightful surprises. It’s tirelessly funny and Peretti’s perspective is nothing short of iconoclastic.
Christina P: Mother Inferior
Christina P is extremely likeable throughout Mother Inferior and her set is so finely tuned and well crafted that it bounces along with the perfect sense of momentum. Her dark sense of humor is stupendously funny, as are her searingly honest takes on motherhood.
Her quick-witted interactions with the audience and her smart reading of how the crowd receive some of her edgier jokes highlight Christina P’s wealth of experience as a standup star – this is a masterful show full of memorable quips.
Cristela Alonzo: Lower Classy
There’s some beautiful pacing to Lower Classy which sees Alonzo demonstrating some terrific self-deprecating humor alongside subtle political jabs that don’t overload the set with social commentary.
The Mexican-American comedian brings a staggering blend of topics to Lower Classy that sees her divulging some hilarious analogies on why she can’t give up on supporting her struggling sports team, her strange childhood fantasies, and how to sneak into nightclubs as an older woman. It’s a delight from start to finish and Alonzo’s sense of timing is impeccable throughout.
Enissa Amani: Ehrenwort
The German comedian strives to be cheeky and clever and some of her jokes certainly hit the mark on both, but for the most part Ehrenwort feels like one everlasting setup that never quite finds it way to a solid punchline. Instead, Amani ruminates on a variety of mundane topics that comes across more as an on-stage production of one-way small talk rather than a comedy set.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
Powerful, angry, emotional, and downright hilarious, Nanette is a masterpiece of comedy that finds the narrow barrier between heartbreak and laughter and proceeds to break it down with a sledgehammer of political and personal statements. This is no ordinary standup comedy show – there are no huge belly laughs and by the end you’ll be sobbing with rage and heartache rather than crying with laughter.
But the lack of a traditional comedic format doesn’t diminish Gadsby’s incredible achievement with Nanette, which deconstructs the very fabric of comedy via the manner with which she analyzes her previous desire for on-stage “humiliation” and her newfound desire to quit.
There are some incredibly witty takes on what it means to carry the burden of being a “lesbian comedian”, how she identifies as “tired” more than anything else, and some shatteringly commanding speeches about rape culture and everyday inequality that are truly breathtaking. But there’s also a lot of original and searingly funny jokes in here too.
One particularly memorable tirade against Picasso offers a delirium of laughter that perfectly underscores her final bruising point of the show. It’s astonishingly good.
Iliza Shlesinger: War Paint
Taking to the stage in her hometown of Dallas, Shlesinger’s set is incredibly polished, if a little basic with the comedian riffing on drunken exploits, the horrors of dating for women, and some subtle observations about society.
War Paint is a mediocre special that highlights her comfort with saying whatever the hell she wants, however she wants, while being as boisterously politically incorrect as possible. War Paint is as striking and fresh at some points and limp and well worn at others, making for a fractured show overall.
Iliza Shlesinger: Freezing Hot
Shlesinger’s perspective offers more of the same of her perspectives on men & women – but her observations are far sharper and her delivery more astringent, making her second Netflix Originals special far more engaging than her first.
The beats of the show are improved, but her overreliance on gender observations as the pivotal force of her show makes her routine repetitive and a little old-fashioned.
Iliza Shlesinger: Confirmed Kills
The third comedy special from the provocative comedian is perhaps her worst. A routine on the outlaw “Party Goblin” who resides within all of us sounds like something your college roommate came up with the one time she tried her hand at standup, while a misguided bit involving an awkward impression of a “confident” black woman doesn’t come across well and lacks the humor to be as swaggeringly cheeky as Shlesinger seems to think the joke is.
The only confirmed kills in the set involve the jokes that continuously bomb throughout it.
Jani Dueñas: Grandes Fracasos De Ayer Y Hoy
A Chilean comedian with a biting sense of humor, Dueñas provides an acidic take on being a single woman over 40. Full of sterling, cynical takes on ageing, her decision not to reproduce, and how to switch your cigarette to “whore mode” (the only dating advice any modern woman needs, surely!), Grandes Fracasos De Ayer Y Hoy is one of Netflix’s finest hidden comedy gems that’s more than worthy of your time.
Jen Kirkman: I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)
The outspoken comedy veteran details a slew of mistakes, missteps, and misfires in the lead up to (and subsequent life beyond) her 40th birthday and the result is a triumphant celebration of failures – or at the very least a celebration of the things society deems to be failures.
Divorced, childless, and living on her own, Kirkman details a fling with a 20-year-old drummer, the discovery of some grey public hairs, and her struggle to conjure up a fantasy worth a decent wank (and it’s clear she couldn’t be happier). Acerbic and exuberant, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) is a feminist masterclass in comedy and one of the most outstanding comedy specials from Netflix.
Jen Kirkman: Just Keep Livin’?
Kirkman’s second comedy special sadly doesn’t hit the same heights as her first, with the comedian coming across as a little less self-assured in her material and overall shaky delivery. It’s a shame because the jokes are there and for the most part so is the setup, but so many flounder at the punchline and provide little more than a light jab when you know Kirkman can deliver a fierce punch.
Regardless, there’s still a lot to love about the special which offers some biting observations about gender politics alongside some terrifically quirky anecdotes that are nonetheless entertaining (even if they aren’t always an absolute riot of laughter).
Katherine Ryan: In Trouble
Referring to herself as being “like Taylor Swift with a soul”, Ryan utilizes her sweet, shining facade to full effect in unleashing a tremendous assault of R-rated comedy upon her audience. In Trouble starts off slow but the Canadian born British comedian soon picks up and once it gains momentum, it screeches off the rails into a non-stop sprint of provocation with sadly mixed results.
There are some failed attempts at funny rape metaphors that simply don’t land and an unfortunate impersonation of Nicki Minaj as the “mammy” archetype that doesn’t quite service the point Ryan is making about white privilege. But there’s also something terrifically raw and unrefined about the show that’s also admirable and refreshing.
Lynne Koplitz: Hormonal Beast
It’s easy to see the influence Joan Rivers had on Koplitz (the two became great friends in the late comedian’s final years) as she evoke’s much of the incredible caustic power of the legendary comic.
Describing herself as being like “Barbie” but “years later, after she sold the dream house and she’s living in her loft,” Koplitz offers a blunt interrogation of society’s obsession with motherhood and discusses the reality of menopause via some hilarious analogies and anecdotes.
Including the time her family thought her mom had gone “crazy” during a “cold cut incident” in 1985 which she now completely understands.
Malena Pichot: Estupidez compleja
In a set that champions feminism while arguing the case for why it’s totally cool to let a man buy you dinner, Pichot’s comedy special is smart, cool, and gleefully transgressive. At only 50 minutes, it’s on the shorter side of most Netflix comedy specials, which only makes it easier to enjoy.
With jokes about how sex gets easier in your thirties and eating the morning after pill “like candy”, the show doesn’t reinvent the feminist comedy wheelhouse – but Pichot’s quickfire delivery of her material is energizing and killer enough that you won’t even care.
Maria Bamford: Old Baby
There’s a fearless, if slightly uncomfortable flow of honesty to Old Baby that sees Bamford delivering some unflinching truths about family trauma and mental illness. Accomplishing her dark comedy with a taste for the absurd, the wry, and the heartfelt, Bamford’s set bounds between unflinching optimism and darkness.
Old Baby pitches some familiar comedic foundations like observations about Facebook, bad neighbors, and Hollywood falsities alongside a heavy-hitting focus on her public struggle with mental health.
Old Baby never comes across as being bleak despite the chasm of suffering it leaps from. In fact, the show is exhilarating and giddy, providing a sense of union for hardship and drawing lightness from sorrow. Bamford shines as she plays peekaboo with her audience, always returning to the stage with an unparalleled buoyancy.
Natalia Valdebenito: El especial
Fusing activism with irreverence, El especial proves that Chilean comedian Valdebenito may be one of the loudest and funniest voices of her generation. The ferociously feminist set is full of wonderfully timed takedowns of misogyny and jokes exploring reproductive rights and why women deserve respect.
There’s also a lot of terrific observational humor here like a majestic riff on why she dislikes animals and a hilariously spot-on analysis of all the different “girlfriends” every woman has hiding in plain sight within her friendship group.
What comes through strongest in the show is that Valdebenito is possibly one of the most energetic and charismatic comedians of her generation, with a fluid set packed full of memorable zingers.
Sarah Silverman: A Speck of Dust
By now you’re hopefully familiar with this acclaimed show from Silverman, courtesy of a now notorious (and ludicrously smart, despite the subject matter) poop joke that had everyone talking in 2017 when the special was released. It’s a great joke and it highlights the charm at work in A Speck of Dust, which is by far Silverman’s most personal standup special to date.
The comedy is introspective without being (as Silverman suggests) “self-indulgent”. It’s an aspect of her performance that’s heightened by her killer sense of craft and timing, which she uses to full effect with a self-referentiality in which she points out the absurd mechanics of her own set. The whole show is precise but still warmly off-the-cuff, and it’s one of the best on Netflix.
Sofía Niño de Rivera: Selección Natural
Rivera is known for breaking new ground in Mexico with her self-deprecating humor with which she takes aim not only at herself, but also at her home country (where she was warned “standup doesn’t even exist”). Selección Natural is packed full of black humor and lovingly delivered colorful language that provide the tonal foundations for the set.
However, those unfamiliar with the comedian may want to check out her 2016 comedy special Exposed first, as many jokes offer enjoyable callbacks to her earlier material. There’s a lot to love about Rivera’s set, but those not from (or simply unfamiliar with) Mexico may fail to understand some of her more culturally-centric observations about her home country.
Tig Notaro: Happy to be Here
Notaro gained mainstream notoriety in 2012 with a landmark comedy special at Largo in Los Angeles where she announced how a cancer diagnosis was the cherry on top of a miserable year, punctuated by the death of her mom and a difficult breakup. Happy to be Here offers an exultant companion set to that iconic performance, with Notaro remaining just as honest but exhilaratingly happier.
The genius of her show is in her manipulation of the material, using the standards of structure and audience expectations to flip setups and punchlines on their head so we’re never entirely sure where the laughter is going to draw from.
With an impressive variety of subjects being delved into including being a new mother, complicated fan interactions, and being mistaken for a man, Notaro’s delivering is masterful and surprising and showcases the bright side of confessional comedy.