Whether they came out as conventional TV specials, albums, digital streams or even mixtapes, there were plenty of great stand-up sets to check out this year. And thanks to services like Netflix, it’s never been easier for comedy fans to find them—or harder for comics to stand out from the crowd.
Unfortunately for them, not every comedy special and album that came out this year can be named one of the best. Here are 10 that definitely can. Determined after considerable hand-wringing and a closely guarded (completely proprietary) voting process, we’re confident that these are the finest stand-up offerings of 2014.
Neal Brennan’s takes on race and politics recall his Chappelle’s Show days, and even his delivery will remind some of his former partner. But Brennan doesn’t play a character. In fact, he’s so down-to-earth there are times when even he seems surprised by the reaction a joke is getting. Women and Black Dudes proves that Brennan can carry a show by himself. It’ll be interesting to see where his name pops up next.—Mark Lore
Jerrod Carmichael may be an up-and-comer, but he certainly doesn’t act like one. At 26, the Winston-Salem native already boasts the ease and confidence of a seasoned veteran. The comedian’s highly conversational approach is on full-display in HBO’s Love on the Store, his Spike Lee-directed stand-up special. And while not every joke hits the mark (Carmichael’s readily acknowledges when a bit dies), there are more than enough hilarious and thoughtful comedy nuggets here to rank Love at the Store as one of the best comedy debuts in recent memory.—Mark Rozeman
I knew that Barry’s Crowd Work Tour—a set of dates where he took the stage with zero prepared material, interacting with the audience and using his quick wit as his guide—would be a raging success. And watching this film from director Lance Bangs, which follows the comedian on his West Coast run of dates, has proven me dead right.—Robert Ham
Bill Burr’s onstage persona is sharp, unwavering and nearly arrogant. This attitude defines him as a comic, and is even evident in his latest special’s title, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way. But make no mistake, Burr’s concern for your feelings is anything but authentic. Unless, of course, we interpret “I’m Sorry” as an expression of pity rather than regret. In that case, “It’s pathetic you feel that way” would truly be an appropriate alternate title for Burr’s raucous special—and a perspective that arms Burr with the observational insight required to continuously churn out incredible sets.—Maren McGlashan
Mark Normand’s Still Got It is packed with jokes. Normand’s voice, straight from vaudeville, fires joke after joke, all impeccably built and precision engineered to land exactly a second ahead of where the audience’s expects. Listeners come away not knowing much about Normand; he talks about race, religion and women, but seems less interested in his opinions as he is in mining those topics for perfectly crafted jokes. Still Got It showcases Normand’s Jerry Seinfeld-like observations and Mitch Hedberg-esque wit strongly enough to make the case that he could be the successor to both.—Casey Malone
By now most people know about Jim Gaffigan’s obsession with food. It’s his bread and butter. Over the course of several albums and comedy specials the lovable lug has dissected Hot Pockets, McDonald’s shame spirals and the beauty of bacon. Gaffigan’s comedy is sort of like a funnier Supersize Me—you’re either completely disgusted by what he’s saying, or you’re secretly thinking about how delicious a Big Mac sounds.—Mark Lore
He hit his stride as he imagined offing himself in front of a display of Lean Cuisine meals while Toto’s “Africa” played over the system and his incredible experience performing for 400 drunk casino patrons that apparently involved him responding positively as people yelled listings from his iMDB profile to him.—Robert Ham
My Comedy Album is, in a fashion, an extension of the spirit of Gethard’s public access TV show (The Chris Gethard Show, natch) in that it has a very inclusive, exploratory feel. His stories, whether they focus on his experiences doing drugs or losing his erection while being fellated, have a therapeutic quality. In relating some of his most awkward moments, you can almost hear the weight being lifted off Gethard’s shoulders.—Robert Ham
Like previous Buress routines, Live is an enjoyable mixture of bizarre anecdotes, cultural commentary and uniquely Buress-ian non sequiturs. Of course, given the comic’s rising star, the biographical humor concerns topics like international travel and an encounter with Scarlett Johansson instead of shitty roommates, but none of that has dulled Buress’ signature weird edge. Live From Chicago is another welcome offering from the undisputed master of rap and masturbation jokes.—Hudson Hongo
After years of paying her dues, Chelsea Peretti has more than earned her moment in the spotlight. Considering the special’s title, it’s tempting to ask the obvious question: Is Peretti indeed one of the greats? Long answer—for anyone who has tracked her growth, it’s clear that she has always been a voice to be reckoned with. In this way, her special only reiterates what any serious comedy fan had long ago determined. Short answer—yeah, she’s pretty friggin’ great.—Mark Rozeman