2018 was an incredible year for stand-up comedy. Thanks to Netflix’s continued persistence to flood your recommendations with new hourlong specials from a diverse array of comedians, it was impossible to be starved for laughter. Not only did we see dozens of specials this year, but we saw a surprising number of stand-up showcase series on various platforms and networks, an amount we haven’t seen since the original comedy boom. There’s never been more stand-up available from the comfort of your own home than now!
We saw the resurgence of big names we hadn’t seen on stage in a long time this year. Adam Sandler, Ellen DeGeneres, Kevin James, and Ron White made their triumphant (or lackluster) returns. Prolific favorites continued to put out new hours: John Mulaney, Jim Gaffigan, Katt Williams, Jim Jefferies. Chris Rock put out his fifth stand-up special, his first since 2008’s experimental Kill The Messenger. Meanwhile, comedians I’d never heard of dropped multiple hours of material via a newly-formed category: the multi-episode stand-up special (thanks for that, Dave Chappelle).
This year may have brought about the most diverse cast of comics. Comedy fans were able to watch industry darlings and virtual unknowns; English-speakers as well as Spanish-, French-, Malaysian-, and Swedish-speaking comedians; performers of every shade and sexual orientation; men and women; alt comics and comedy purists. Comedians played with the form in a way I have never seen before—usually, we just get a Bo Burnham special once in a while that makes us go, “What?” But this year we saw PowerPoints, music, dancing, one-person shows, pre-special sketches, on-stage duos, roast battles, heartfelt moments that make you feel instead of laugh, and specials that made you question what counts as comedy. One guy did his special with no audience, somehow one-upping Maria Bamford performing for her parents in her living room.
Comedians like Jerrod Carmichael and Bo Burnham moved from in front of the camera to behind it. Stars like Bill Burr and Amy Schumer used their celebrity to promote up-and-coming powerhouses like Paul Virzi and Sam Morril. Netflix dominated by releasing dozens of stand-up specials—of varying lengths—while HBO, once the king of comedy, released just two hourlong specials: Drew Michael and Pete Holmes’s Dirty Clean.
I hope most people will agree that having more diverse comedians available is good for comedy. It can attract those who never took an interest in the very white, very male artform to try someone who looks or sounds more like them. Sadly, there are some who will claim ‘diversity hiring’ is giving away opportunities to those who aren’t funny or haven’t ‘earned it.’ Which is so strange, because you’ll hear those guys—usually guys—get super quiet when one of our own puts out an hour of meh.
What many comedians and comedy nerds didn’t agree on was what counts as stand-up or even comedy. The lines between in which stand-up comedy live are becoming thinner and thinner, and 2018 may have been the sledgehammer smashing through that brick wall many of the late greats stood in front of because one comedy club owner in the ’60s was too cheap to cover it up. This change can be scary to those comfortable living in the box of one person, one mic, one stage, one audience, one hour. That will always count as comedy, and there’s no sign of that going away with strong traditional sets from W. Kamau Bell, Iliza Shlesinger, Dave Smith, Chris Rock, and Ted Alexandro this year. The walls coming down instead allow more Bo Burnhams, more Demetri Martins, and more Hannah Gadsbys to try something a little different while also being funny.
It’s an exciting time for comedy and there’s no doubt that we are presently in a Comedy Boom 2.0.