13 of the funniest stand up comedians to stream online now
- Credit: Idil Sukan.
Stand-up comedy has it roots in the music hall but it has never been old fashioned. It has always been about today’s world, a tool for the working classes to strip away the pretensions of our so-called ‘betters’. Laughter can be a great leveller. Here’s a selection of the best stand-up shows to enjoy online
They say that stand-up comedy is the new rock’n’roll. As pop and rock acts have got bigger, their shows more expensive and more complex – ‘You gotta put on a show’ – musicians have tended to stay put in one venue and urged audiences to come to them.
As we all know nature abhors a vacuum and the world of stand-up comedy saw an opportunity to escape from the backroom of your local pub and onto the stage of a proper theatre. It increased the size of the audience without losing that sense of atmosphere.
Comedians are now the workhorses of show business, touring the length and breadth of the country in a way that rock bands used to do. However, today’s comedians are sharper, more political, more socially aware than the comedians of the old, family-friendly variety circuit.
This is punk rock comedy – sharp and observational – dominated by youngsters still in their 20s. John Lennon famously said: ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30’ and this seems to be the creed by which stand-up comedy exists. By your 40s, you’ve become mainstream, you’ve lost your edge, you’re doing big gigs at Wembley or the O2, you’re hosting Saturday night telly like Michael McIntyre or appearing on QI like Bill Bailey or running marathons and dabbling in politics (Eddie Izzard) or even becoming a West End composer like Tim Minchin.
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Mainstream TV is no longer the natural home of the stand-up comedian. There are inconvenient watersheds and too many people to be offended. Shows like the BBC’s Live At The Apollo and chat shows like Channel 4’s The Last Leg provide opportunities for up and coming comedians to gain a little TV exposure but mainstream telly very rarely gives them the opportunity to take flight.
Outside the comedy club and the touring venue, the best place to experience cutting edge stand-up comedy is online and on pay TV channels.
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Here is a selection of choice selection of stand-ups both famous and not-so-famous
Katherine Ryan: Glitter Room and In Trouble
London-based Canadian comic Katherine Ryan is well known from her Live At The Apollo and panel show appearances on the BBC but these two Netflix specials show Ryan in her natural environment passing judgement on modern life, being a single parent and coming to terms with the fact that in her daughter Violet, she is unwittingly raising a demanding, upper-class English girl.
Oh, and there’s also some revealing observations on her rural Canadian roots.
The League of Gentlemen – Live Again!
Part stand-up, part sketch show, part theatrical experience, The League of Gentlemen are probably the natural heirs to Monty Python’s crown and this is the equivalent to the pioneering group’s critically acclaimed run at Drury Lane.
Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith reactivated their beloved Royston Vasey grotesques for this 2018 show, with some genuine pathos amid the unsettling humour and gooey slapstick.
Rob Delaney: Jackie
American-born Rob Delaney has been living in London since he and Sharon Horgan co-created Catastrophe, a TV comedy which set made audiences and critics alike sit up and take notice.
Being US citizen living in the UK gives him both an intimate knowledge of our world but also an outsiders eye which gives him plenty of opportunities to highlight the ridiculousness of much of our obsessions.
He’s shocking, hilarious, disgusting and devastating all in the space of minutes, tackling such subjects as weight gain and parenting in the 21st century.
James Acaster: Repertoire
Television regular James Acaster has committed all four of his R-titled stand-up shows to film. Recognise, Represent, Reset have been joined by the latest show Recap which has been designed to tie his flights of fancy together.
Tall tales of being an undercover cop, a juror and a criminal mastermind-turned-snitch, respectively. Recap is a new show set in witness protection. It’s easy to fall for the self-effacing, unassuming character Acaster presents. The shows can confound audiences but are equally rewarding and precisely constructed. He finds new perspectives on the most mundane subjects. He’s dry, absurd, awkward and utterly brilliant.
Bill Hicks: Relentless
The original bad boy of America’s comedy circuit. Relentless was Hicks’s final release before his death and showcases the power of his nihilistic truth-telling. The Iraq war, smoking/drugs and gun control all get his uncompromising treatment. He is remembered for his skilful slicing up of the Bush administration, but, equally, this special is a reminder that his evangelical oratory made for brilliant comedy.
Billy Connolly: An Audience With ….
Journey back to the 1980s with ITVs late night Audience With series which put famous names on stage in front of a celebrity audience. The series brought out the best in such luminaries as Kenneth Williams, Victoria Wood, Dame Edna Everage and, of course, Billy Connolly.
Putting these big names in front of their peers was an inspired move because it raised the stakes, they had to bring their A game or they could be out-shined by their audience. The result was a brilliant performance and some great laughs. In between his tall tales there are also some revealing moments taken from when he earned his living as a Clydeside welder.
Flight of the Conchords: Live in London
Recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo during their 2018 world tour, this show reveals the Kiwi musical comedians at the top of their game, treating a sell-out crowd to a blissfully entertaining show, stuffed with old favourites, beautifully wrought newbies and deadpan banter.
Their idiosyncratic world view earned musicians Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement a BBC radio series and then an American television series that aired for two seasons on HBO. Their show remains as fresh as ever.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
Another wonder from down under, Nanette turned this small-town Tasmanian into global comedy superstar recognition. Whereas many comedians present themselves as witty, clever, confident people, Gadsby offers something different, a quieter, more perceptive look at the world.
Some deconstruct society, others deliver biting satire or reveal their emotional vulnerability, but few combine all three. Her approach to comedy is best summed up in the line: “I may as well come out now … I identify as tired.”
Jayde Adams: Serious Black Jumper
Long-term fans of Jayde Adams will know her for the glitz and glamour, the costumes, props and musical numbers but now Jayde is on a mission to be taken more seriously, Bristolian accent and all.
The solution? To delve into her wardrobe for that all-important Serious Black Jumper what she describes as the uniform of a celebrity who wants to be seen as a “successful independent woman”.
Along the way we get treated to a Steve Jobs makeover, disco-dancing, celebrity feminism, body image, social media influence and compassion.
Russell Howard: Recalibrate
Russell Howard’s hour-long special Recalibrate sees the Bristol comedian on a mission to find the joy in life by bringing fans back to what’s important in the world. He takes on politics, social media and the inescapable fact that he looks like Ellen DeGeneres. Possibly the most outwardly feelgood entry on this list Howard brings a warm glow to audiences with his trademark positive outlook and infectious smile.
Dara Ó Briain: Voice of Reason
TV mainstay and Mock The Week host Dara Ó Briain’s headed out on the road last year for his Voice of Reason tour and this gig was recorded at a Stand Up For Shelter benefit evening. Dara brings his distinctive wit to such issues as having too much technology at home… something we’re perhaps rather grateful for at the moment.
Jerry Seinfeld: Jerry Before Seinfeld
US TV giant Jerry Seinfeld goes back to his roots for this one-off stand-up special shot in the same Manhattan club where he got his start in the 1980s. This 2017 gig finds Jerry wistfully looking back on his life with some witty and well-sculpted material.
Miles Jupp: Fibber in the Heat
The exception that proves the rule – while most modern comedians relish their sharp, satirical punk-like alternative view on the world, Miles Jupp is a gentle throwback to old England, a world of village greens and cricket on a Sunday afternoon.
In this show, Jupp tells the true story of his youthful derring-do: of how a young, cricket-obsessed Jupp bluffs his way on to an England tour as a “journalist”, then rubs shoulders and drinks heavily with his commentator heroes. Wonderfully witty and proves you don’t have to be a comedy attack dog to be funny.