The cancellation of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – Britain’s biggest stand-up festival – will have been a serious blow for comedy fans.
Would-be punters can at least get their fill of laughs from Netflix, which has been releasing recordings of stand-up shows for years. Here are eight of the best:
Bill Burr – Paper Tiger
US comic Bill Burr has been winning plaudits all over the place for his unapologetically brash delivery and hard-hitting jokes. Having risen from the comedy clubs of New York, he’s now a cult sensation for comedy nerds.
Don’t let Burr’s shouty style worry you: behind the macho image lies a seriously brainy comic with a surprisingly compassionate worldview (keep an ear out for Burr’s bittersweet reflections on his disciplinarian father, which add a welcome depth to his work).
If you enjoy Paper Tiger, you won’t want to miss Burr’s recent tête-à-tête with comedy podcaster Richard Herring, in which the fast-talking comic emerges as a thoughtful and witty critic of cancel culture.
Katherine Ryan – Glitter Room
Canadian exile Katherine Ryan – who’s been living on this side of the Atlantic for twelve years – will be recognisable to British viewers from her regular appearances on comedy panel shows.
Yet it’s in her full-length shows that Ryan – a perceptive comic and a deft mimic – gets the chance to let her ideas breathe, showing us what she’s capable of. Her second Netflix special – recorded in Hollywood last year – is a hilarious take on the joys of single motherhood.
The best bit? Her attempt to persuade a sceptical and snobbish audience on the merits of the Kardashians – ‘a matriarchy of shape-shifting sisters who either destroy men or turn them to women…’
Phil Wang – the Comedy Line-up
Former Footlights president Phil Wang is the latest Brit to get the thumbs up from Netflix – albeit by contributing a shorter set (15 minutes) to the network’s showcase of up-and-coming acts.
Even so, spend just five minutes watching Wang and you can see what the fuss is about. The deceptively-clever one-liners, the constant curve-balls, the playful wrong-footing of his audience’s nervousness around race – Wang is truly a master of his art.
Wang had been set to record his first full-length Netflix special this year, but the pandemic put things on ice. Either way, expect to hear a lot more from him soon.
Frankie Boyle – Hurt Like You’ve Never Been Loved
While his rapid-fire style and bruising putdowns might have fallen from fashion slightly, it’s hard to find many performers who can write a leaner gag than Frankie Boyle.
His 2016 Netflix show, filmed in front of a suitably-lubricated Glasgow audience, is full of scalpel-sharp jokes about all the topics you’d expect – from Scottish independence to Operation Yewtree.
For a more recent – and slightly mellower – offering from Boyle, watch his excellent travelogue from his native Scotland. All three parts are available on iPlayer.
Bridget Christie – Stand up for Her
Of the hundreds of stand-up shows on Netflix, you won’t find many filmed in a venue as intimate as Hoxton Town Hall, a former East End music hall that seats just 300 punters.
London-based Bridget Christie (often introduced, somewhat ironically, as the wife of cult comic Stewart Lee) has consistently impressed the critics with her articulate and exasperated take on all things gender equality. And here you can see why.
Though this 2016 performance was originally recorded by the BBC, it’s since been added to Netflix where it more than holds its own alongside the A-listers.
Greg Davies – You Magnificent Beast
If topical comedy isn’t your thing, you’re in safe hands with Greg Davies: the master storyteller and purveyor of unabashed silliness.
From his unique reflections on ageing to his ever-compelling anecdotes about his previous career as a teacher, everything in Davies’ full-length Netflix special is as typically over-the-top as you’d expect.
While there are a few blue jokes along the way (including a cringe-inducing routine about an unfortunate selfie) this remains a great slice of comedy for all the family. Well – most of them anyway.
Hannah Gadsby – Nannette
Given she’s often held up as the epitome of woke comedy, you might not expect to find Hannah Gadsby’s name in the same list as Bill Burr and Frankie Boyle.
The reason is simple: Gadsby is an exceptionally-skilled comedian. And while Nannette – which moves from self-deprecating jokes about Gadsby’s sexuality to something much darker – might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s still an era-defining piece of stand-up.
Oh and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s best to avoid spoilers.
Russell Brand – Re:Birth
It’s safe to say Russell Brand divides critics. Though it’s been years since he was primarily described as a stand-up, Brand found fame as a comic with his off-beat, zany routines.
Just watch this excellent performance from 2018, when the ever-youthful A-lister squeezed back into his skinny jeans for a show inspired by the birth of his second daughter (an event he attributes with cosmic significance).
Keep an eye out for Donald Trump, who appears in an unexpected cameo from his pre-White House days – shortly followed by Brand’s compelling description of his equally-surreal visit to Trump Tower.