Divine Comedy: 25 Best Stand-Up Specials and Movies - Rolling Stone
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Divine Comedy: 25 Best Stand-Up Specials and Movies

From classic HBO specials to arena-comic concert flicks, these bits continue to crack us up


For every person who's attended Kevin Hart's shows on any of his tours, there are dozens of fans who know his work and have cracked up at his 120 m.p.h. riffs simply by seeing his appearances on TV comedy specials and crazy-successful concert movies. Those who drove down to their local arena and saw the current contender for the world's most successful stand-up comic in person might check out 2011's Laugh at My Pain or 2013's Let Me Explain and think of them as souvenirs: "Hey, remember when he told that joke on stage?" But for the rest of us, this is the primary way we see Hart's act — a second-hand high that's often just as potent as sitting in the good seats.

Still, comedy specials and concert movies aren't just the next best thing to being there; nine times out of 10, they are the primary way we experience stand-up comedy overall. Those favorite bits of yours from George Carlin, Robin Williams, Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, et al? You almost assuredly know them from seeing their HBO specials and Comedy Central half-hour showcases. There's an entire generation of comedians who weren't even born when Richard Pryor released Live in Concert who can recite his best lines and mimic every one of his gestures, just from watching that movie a gajillion times.

So we're counting down the 25 best stand-up comedy specials and concert films of all time, from the first HBO special (big up Robert Klein!) to the classic alt-comedy time capsules and today's live-from-Madison-Square-Garden multiplex hits. Get ready to laugh til it hurts.


‘Richard Pryor: Live in Concert’ (1979)

"This is what every comic is striving for and we all fall very short," Chris Rock wrote on his website of this landmark movie. "It's the perfect concert." When comedian Patton Oswalt first saw it, he claimed it "woke up more shit in my head than most other movies I'd seen…the idea that you could see a [film]  that was just someone talking — that was new." Ecstatic, wild, profane and full of life, the hour and a half of Live in Concert is an eruption of astute observation, biting social critique, explosive physical bits and Pryor personifying everything from car tires to his heart attack. The comic dominates the stage and his audience throughout, whether confessing his drug habits and marital issues, drawing out long, gentle moments — like the one that showcases his impression of a suddenly frightened deer — or hammering home one-liners. (Such as the one regarding his dad, who died while having sex: "My father came and went at the same time.") As the first, full-length stand-up concert film, it's a milestone. As a document of Pryor firing on all pistons, it's both peerless and invaluable. ML

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