DID YOU READ

The 10 most innovative stand-up comedy specials of all time (with video)

The 10 most innovative stand-up comedy specials of all time (with video) (photo)

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Stand-up comedy is one of the most beloved art forms there is, and it’s also one of the most difficult to master. For every Louis C.K., there are a hundred Jeff Dunhams. People often make lists of the best comedians of all time, or the best comedy albums, but when it comes to actual comedy TV specials, which is what every comedian strives for these days to get into heavy rotation on Comedy Central, it’s a different story. There’s a million of them – some are good, some are decent, some are iffy, and some are awful. Here, however, are some of the most innovative, groundbreaking comedy specials that have ever been made – shows you should really see if you’re a fan of comedy at all (Note: specials are listed chronologically).


George Carlin at USC (1977)

Any mention of innovative comedy specials has to start with George Carlin, who forged the ideal comedian’s career model with his incredible longevity, unstoppable work ethic, and 14 HBO stand-up shows. This one in particular, his first, expanded on the controversial bit he became most known for – the Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television. Carlin started out his comedy career with his partner Jack Burns writing sketches and straight humor, believing he wanted to be like Danny Kaye. In the late 60s, he’d begun a unique transformation into a counterculture observer, being one of the first to really skewer conventional wisdom and that easygoing, free-flowing attitude was on full display, and at the time of this broadcast, the courts were deciding on whether or not his intellectual act was legally obscene, and it carried a stern warning before the encore about the bad words. That’s innovation, right from the get-go.

If we didn’t want to mention a wider variety of comics, Carlin would earn another spot on this list with Jammin’ In New York (1992), which he termed the turning point in his career. With a tighter structure and focused, aggressive timing, he completed a second reinvention of himself into a counter-everything observer, setting off in the direction he’d take for the rest of his life. He made giving up hope on his entire species brutally funny, noting “the planet is fine, the people are fucked.” He inspired generations of comedians with his absolutely unprecedented longevity. He’s the one, he’s the only.

 


Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1978, film release in 1979)

Richard Pryor broke all the barriers and all the rules. In this concert filmed in Long Beach, CA, he established himself as one of the most influential comedians ever. He’d been working for quite some time before this as a controversial figure, after fights with censors that ended his NBC show early and a lot of public events in his personal life, but this show laid everything bare with hilariously blunt honesty, from his run-ins with the police, drug use and getting his ass whipped by his family to his near-fatal heart attack, hitting racial issues head-on with a fascinating amount of humanity. Pryor took this to another level with his 1982 show Live on the Sunset Strip, when he recounted the catastrophic fire that almost killed him. As crazy as his life was, he always found a way to make things completely relatable – to the point where it almost sounds normal and understandable that he’d be taking a gun and shooting out the wheels of his wife’s car so she won’t leave him.

 


Sam Kinison: Breaking The Rules (1987)

No one brought more sheer ferocity to the stage than this screaming ex-preacher from Peoria who left the ministry after the demise of his first marriage and became a comic to scream about women, religion and everything else under the sun. This special happened before he went full-on obnoxious rock star, when he was still diving headfirst into the open wound that was his emotional turmoil over two failed marriages and disenchantment with evangelism. There’s no filter for the anger, there’s no subtlety to graphic sexual conversation and there’s certainly nothing close to political correctness considering his underdeveloped attitude towards gays and the general ignorance about the AIDS epidemic (the 80s were a different time, you know). But there’s enough visceral venting and cleansing in this show, especially with the classic little piano-accompanied encore, that it feels like the Church of Sam never stopped, it just got a different kind of sermon.

 


Bill Hicks: Relentless (1991)

Nobody was going in the direction Bill Hicks went. He was far enough ahead of his time that his evisceration of the first Bush administration’s warmongering was still completely relevant when applied to the second Bush administration’s warmongering. He attacked religious hypocrisy, championed chain-smoking and pornography, encouraged everyone in the advertising business to commit suicide. His brutally, sometimes smugly honest and seemingly hateful derision was balanced with this strange optimism about how conceiving of the future of humanity in exploring outer space could be best achieved through hallucinogenic drug use. He was a walking cult of personality, crusading against every injustice he saw while constantly banging his head against the ignorance and apathy of the masses. He’s also the reason Denis Leary is not on this list.

 


Janeane Garofalo: HBO Comedy Half-Hour (1995)

She’s always been more of a acidic, sardonic commentator than a garden-variety comic, making no effort to be slick, polished or rhythmic in her delivery – she even brings a notebook on stage and apologizes to the audience about needing it due to her own bad memory. Here, fresh off of her bumpy stint on a transitional year of Saturday Night Live (which she described as making her feel like “the Native American who accepted the pox-infested blankets from the U.S. Cavalry”), Garofalo had a delightfully dangerous anger to work through about supermodel-as-celebrity as well as her own deep-seated neuroses, evidenced by her complete inability to understand applause. This is the one where she hit all those 90s hipster guys who were crushing on her square in the self-doubt by asking her audience if, during sex, they’ve ever wanted to just punch their partner in the face and yell “STOP IT! STOP FUCKING ME!” Many of us were never the same again.

 


Chris Rock: Bring The Pain (1996)

Everything changed for Chris Rock once he picked up the mic in Washington D.C., and it changed for racial ideas across the country as well. For years, racist white people would justify themselves by saying that they weren’t using the N-word for all black people, but just most of them, and there were ‘good ones’ who were exempted from their scorn. Now, suddenly, this kinetically-charged black comedian was pacing the stage like a prize fighter and emphatically talking about the civil war going on – “there’s black people, and there’s niggas, and niggas have got to go!” That detonated everything. Rock had fully formed his voice after picking up the baton from Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, his career went into the stratosphere and he was widely considered the best comic working in the game for long afterwards. This show is exciting, fascinating and mind-blowing to this day.

 


Eddie Izzard: Dress To Kill (1998)

Ah, the Executive Transvestite. “Cake or death” is when America took full notice of this improvisational genius who clowned around on stage indulging in the goofiest of ideas on alternative histories, all the while making the fact that he was wearing makeup and women’s clothing a non-issue rather than the focus of his act. The scope of this show is wide, covering big topics like World War II, international relations, languages and the history of religion and civilization in an entertainingly educational manner, while also able to focus on small personal moments like his own sexual growth in the same way. Only Izzard could reference “the United Nations Security Council of My Virginity.” He follows wild tangents for as long as they yield fruit, and manages to make them all funny little side journeys into his weird imagination. He has a method all his own that few could even imitate, much less pull off.

 


Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion (2005)

This special is an all-out assault on the form, as “Zach Gaspifinaski” intersperses his rambling, inexplicably piano-accompanied wordplay and long stretches of haranguing people in his audience with video clips from his time on the road and a sketch-interview with his fake estranged twin brother Seth. He cultivates this aura of a miserable yet highly goofy alcoholic and one never knows what the hell will be coming out of his mouth next. In fact, it might be nothing at all, as his ending bit involves a children’s choir singing “The Greatest Love Of All” while he rips pages out of a large pad of paper detailing his miserable childhood. Honorable mention goes to Demetri Martin: Person (2007), which also really monkeys around props like the “Large Pad” and musical instruments, but it’s all done in a lot more polite and amusingly nerdy observational fashion.

 


Louis C.K.: Shameless (2007)

Perhaps the best comic working today, Louis C.K. really launched his career to the next level with this, the first of his full-length specials that really signified his intended trajectory of following Carlin’s example, throwing out all his old material and crafting a brand new hour of comedy every few years for each new special. While not without the occasional political insights and social commentary, he instead turned most of the power of brutally, uncomfortably honest observation onto himself, his self-loathing, his others-loathing, and, over the course of the subsequent specials Chewed Up (2008) and Hilarious (2011), his disintegrating marriage and his frustration with fatherhood. He just keeps getting better and more incisive with each new special, but Shameless has the saddest handjob in the world, and the start of Louis saying all the things we think but would absolutely never say – mostly about verbally abusing one’s own children.

 


Reggie Watts: Why Shit So Crazy? (2010)

Watts got some attention after opening for Conan O’Brien on his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour for accomplishing the rather stunning feat of deconstructing everything in the world in about ten minutes. He brilliantly blends his considerable musical skills and vocal talent with an intellectual, non-linear parody of the entire format of stand-up comedy, bouncing from accent to accent, non-sequitur to non-sequitur in defiance of all conventions. Effortlessly moving from hip-hop cool to the nerdiest of nerdy ideas, he’s so much more about form than content that he bravely refuses to even be quotable. His is a fascinating performance that really needs to be seen with one’s own eyes to be truly appreciated, and those who do become rabid devotees. It really doesn’t get more innovative than this.

 

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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