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Your Guide to Amazon's Stand-Up Comedy Bonanza

The streaming service is gunning for Netflix, releasing their first five stand-up specials in the space of a week.
  • Alice Wetterlund, Alonzo Bodden and Jim Gaffigan headline Amazon's first crop of stand-up specials.
    Alice Wetterlund, Alonzo Bodden and Jim Gaffigan headline Amazon's first crop of stand-up specials.

    Friday August 23rd is a big day for fans of stand-up comedy with Amazon Prime subscriptions. That's when the streaming service will release four stand-up comedy specials at once, complementing last week's much heralded release of Jim Gaffigan's 80-minute special Quality Time. And while five stand-up comedy specials do not a formidable vertical make, it does indicate that Amazon is moving in hard on an area of particular strength for their biggest rival, Netflix.

    Netflix has been in the stand-up comedy game longer than they've been doing pretty much anything else (besides, you know, mailing you movies in red envelopes), starting with their first original stand-up special Bill Burr: You People Are All the Same. Those early years featured some truly acclaimed work, like Mike Birbiglia's My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, and fostered some professional relationships that bore fruit elsewhere on the platform, like when a pair of Aziz Ansari specials presaged Master of None, or when Ali Wong's specials preceded Always Be My Maybe. The nearly 200 stand-up specials Netflix has produced since 2012 have included comics that represent the past, present, and future of stand-up: Chris Rock, John Mulaney, Amy Schumer, Tig Notaro, Hasan Minhaj. Hannah Gadsby's 2018 special Nanette brought a huge amount of critical acclaim and attention to Netflix's comedy riches. With big-inventory shows like Friends on their way off the platform, Netflix's stand-up comedy offerings may soon be the most robust single genre of programming they offer.

    So it's no small thing that Amazon appears to be challenging Netflix's supremacy. And while five specials up against nearly 200 is a laughable mismatch, it's worth noting that Gaffigan made his Amazon special two years after his last one for Netflix. He's the first  feather Amazon has in their cap, a hugely respected veteran comedian whose dominant milieu is the stand-up special. Even if you only know Gaffigan as the "Hot Pockets" guy, that's still one of the 10 or 15 best stand-up routines in a generation.


    Less well-known are the four comics (well, five comics performing in four specials) whose shows arrive this Friday. Here's a quick primer:

    Alonzo Bodden: Light Heavyweight: A longtime stand-up, Bodden may still be best known for finishing as runner-up in the second season of Last Comic Standing, then returning in Season 3 (which was an all-star season for the first and second casts) and winning the whole thing. His comedy rides a topical/observational divide with an incredibly smooth, easy delivery. He's pretty much impossible not to like, which is why he's popped up everywhere from NPR to Game Show Network to ABC's Fresh Off the Boat.

    Alice Wetterlund: My Mama Is A Human And So Am I: As a stand-up and improv comedian, podcast co-host, and TV guest star, Alice Wetterlund is running the gamut of comedy outlets in 2019. She's a UCB veteran, and hosts podcasts on Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but you're most likely to know her from her role as Carla, the "girl coder" on HBO's Silicon Valley.

    #IMomSoHard Live: Speaking of the different paths to success for 2019 comedians, Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley went and created a viral web series called #IMOMSOHARD, where they talk about, funny enough, motherhood. And while that topic has certainly been in the ether of late, with Netflix's Workin' Moms and The Letdown having cornered the market recently, Hensley and Smedley's combination of stand-up and improv and… frankly, wine, set them apart.

    Mike E. Winfield: StepMan: This promises to be a focused, personal stand-up set from Winfield, who talks about marrying an older woman and stepping (no pun intended) into the role of new parent to a kid who's a lot like him. As Winfield's website puts it "Step Son AND Step Homies!"

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hannah Gadsby: Nanette, Alice Wetterlund, Ali Wong, Alonzo Bodden, Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari, Bill Burr, Chris Rock, Hannah Gadsby, Hasan Minhaj, Jen Smedley, Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney, Kristin Hensley, Mike Birbiglia, Mike E. Winfield, Tig Notaro, #IMOMSOHARD, Standup Comedy