Weekend Binge: In honour of Jerry Seinfeld’s return, here are the top 5 stand up comedians streaming online

More than local comedians, it’s Indians abroad that are producing some of the best comedy of our times. Aziz Ansari and Hasan Minhaj are just two of the stellar comics on our list.

weekend binge Updated: Sep 23, 2017 10:36 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Stand Up Comedy,Comedy,Stand Up Special
From left: Hasan Minhaj, Jerry Seinfeld and Trevor Noah.

Every week, we will curate a collection of titles - movies, TV, general miscellanea - for you to watch (and in some cases, read, or listen to), in a series we call Weekend Binge. The selection will be based on a theme which binds the picks - which could be extremely blunt in certain instances, or confusingly abstract in some. No rules apply, other than the end goal being getting some great entertainment to watch.

While the idea is to base the theme on the week’s major events - it could be the release of a new movie, or show - we could also use this opportunity to comment on our world in general, and turn to art to wrap our heads around some of the more difficult stories of the past seven days.

On September 19, after years of staying out of the spotlight, Jerry Seinfeld returned to the stage - the same stage on which he first started out - for an hour-long stand up special for Netflix. Seinfeld is one of the several A-list comedians to have inked deals with the streaming service - others include Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer and Louis CK - which makes the service the place to be, claiming the position HBO proudly occupied for decades.

And Seinfeld didn’t come cheap. Some reports peg his deal at a cool $100 million - it will also include another future special and the rights to his web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. But Seinfeld’s return - as welcome as it was - gives us an excuse to talk about something we’ve never really discussed here: Stand-up comedy.

India is certainly experiencing somewhat of a golden age for comedy - even to the point of saturation. One look at the almost exclusively desi stand up library on Amazon Prime Video should attest to that. While most of it is rather ordinary, there are, of course, many Indian comedians that show promise - although they’re almost all still very raw as writers and performers. Also, they tend to play it safe - Indians are prone to outrage, there’s no debating that. We positively thrive on it, so to expect subversive humour in a style similar to that of, say, Sarah Silverman, is wishful thinking at best, and a fatwa at worst.

But I digress. Without any further ado, here are the top 5 stand up specials perfect for this, or any other, weekend.

Louis CK

Louis is the greatest comedian working right now - mostly, because aside from being the greatest comedian working right now, he also happens to be one of the finest filmmakers. It’s common for comedians to juggle between different mediums, as much as they gravitate towards the stage in the end, but it’s unusual for them to be as insightful as Louie. He is, and there should be no debate about this, one of the foremost philosophers of our time. And while his new stuff has been growing steadily weirder - it’s way more surreal than his early HBO specials - he’s a master at provoking audiences, at making them laugh at taboo topics. All of which cements his world view: That deep down, we’re all tragically messed up.

Stand out stand-up: Oh My God

Aziz Ansari

Aziz’s comedy is a lot like his persona. It’s a persona he’s been developing since his days on Parks & Recreation - to the point that it’s quite unclear if the real Aziz is less of a metrosexual than the character he plays on, say, Master of None. There are, for example, videos of Aziz making rustic homemade pizza in his custom wood fired oven available online. His life, like most comedians’ lives, informs his comedy - and the astute observations he makes about modern relationships, life as an immigrant in Donald Trump’s America, (and pasta). So much pasta.

Stand out stand-up: Live at Madison Square Garden

Norm Macdonald

Norm’s comedy isn’t for everyone, it should be made clear right upfront. Not because he talks about dicey things (or, maybe he does; his latest special does involve Hitler, after all) - but he has a unique ability to turn the most ordinary observations - you know, about things like bike pedals - into rambling stories with allusions to Russian literature, appearances by men named Gregorovich, and the lingering threat of rape jokes, all delivered in a deeply unsettling deadpan tone. But if Norm clicks for you, you should consider yourself the luckiest person in the world - or, at least on Netflix. Because he’s one of the most underrated comedians ever.

Stand out stand-up: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip & Trickery

Trevor Noah

Strangely - or, not strangely, but interestingly, rather - Aziz isn’t the only immigrant on this list. Trevor Noah, the South African comedian, often revisits his turbulent youth in his material. Growing up in a pre-apartheid South Africa, when his black mother and white father’s relationship was illegal, has given him unique insight into what it’s like coming from the ‘third world’ - which makes his comedy very relatable, at least to Indians. And it’s this same relatablity that got him the job as host of the Daily Show, following in the rather large footsteps of Jon Stewart.

Stand out stand-up: Afraid of the Dark

Hasan Minhaj

Homecoming King is a masterpiece. It’s the best special of the year, and not just because it’s hilarious - it is - but it pushes the boundaries of the medium with more passion than any other special in recent memory. Hasan tells a funny, and often heartbreaking autobiographical story about growing up in a strict immigrant household, caught between two worlds, in a show that uses the camera, the lights, and the set unlike any comedy special I’ve ever seen. It’s a euphoric moment for comedy, made all the more special because of Hasan bhai’s Indian heritage.

Stand out stand-up: Homecoming King

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Sep 23, 2017 09:03 IST