Chris Rock Creates a List of His 13 Favorite Standup Comedy Specials

We know Ellen DeGeneres as the super­star host of her own talk show and the voice of cud­dly, for­get­ful fish Dory. No doubt many of her younger fans have no idea she was a standup com­ic, before The Ellen DeGeneres Show, before even the 90s sit­com Ellen, which most­ly gets men­tioned for the “com­ing out” episode that sup­pos­ed­ly end­ed her career almost two decades ago. But even if all the TV and movie star­dom had nev­er come her way, come­di­ans like Chris Rock might still remem­ber Ellen as one of their favorite standup comics.

Rock adds DeGeneres to his list of “Favorite Standup Spe­cials” for her 2003 HBO per­for­mance Here and Now, which you can see in part above. “Most comics just talk about what they see,” he writes, “This is the first time I heard some­body talk about what they felt.” Ellen works clean, and in that respect she’s in a minor­i­ty on Rock’s list (she’s also the only woman). Even the come­di­an Rock com­pares to Andy Grif­fith— “Blue Col­lar” com­ic Ron White—gets a raunchy aster­isk next to that ref­er­ence. And indeed, he’s both down home and dirty. So what con­nects the come­di­ans on Rock’s list?

Aside from the fact that they’re all big names, not much, it seems. In choos­ing these 13 spe­cials, Rock seems drawn not to a par­tic­u­lar genre or brand of humor, but to the skill­ful, mov­ing per­for­mance of com­e­dy: dirty, clean, polit­i­cal, top­i­cal, observational—it’s all good as long as it’s fun­ny. A good com­ic can make ‘em laugh by riff­ing on the mun­dane annoy­ances of dai­ly life, or by telling uncom­fort­able truths with a smile like Dave Chap­pelle, above, whose spe­cial Killin’ Them Soft­ly also appears on Rock’s list of favorites.

Like Rock, Chap­pelle knows his com­e­dy his­to­ry, and fans of The Chap­pelle Show know too—at least when it comes to the leg­endary Paul Mooney, a comedian’s come­di­an and one­time writer for Richard Pry­or. Mooney’s spe­cial Jesus is Black. So Was Cleopa­tra. Know Your His­to­ry makes the list for “more edge than any­thing you are ever going to see.” And his one­time boss Pry­or gets top billing for the “per­fect” Live in Con­cert 1979—“what every com­ic is striv­ing for,” says Rock, “and we all fall very short.”

Speak­ing of truth-tellers, the great George Car­lin makes the list for his spe­cial Jam­min’ in New York. Car­lin spared no one, and come­di­ans love him for it, even if few peo­ple have the courage or the wit to do what he did. Rock has come close, with rou­tines that make peo­ple laugh as they squirm in their seats. His deliv­ery is all his own, but we can see Car­lin’s bristling social cri­tique in his act as much as Richard Pry­or’s riffs on race and sex.

Oth­er big names on the list include Steve Har­vey, Eddie Mur­phy, the-once-beloved Bill Cos­by, George Lopez (“the Mex­i­can Richard Pry­or and Bill Cos­by at the same time”), and even Andrew Dice Clay for his The Day the Laugh­ter Died, “a com­e­dy album only a come­di­an could love.”

But it isn’t sole­ly about laugh­ter or can­dor for Rock; as he not­ed in his Ellen pick, it’s also about feel­ing, and in the case of one spe­cial, Bil­ly Crystal’s one-man-show 700 Sun­days, the com­e­dy sits side-by-side with pathos. Drawn from a bit­ter­sweet auto­bi­og­ra­phy of the same title, Crystal’s show pre­miered in 2004 and was revived in 2013 and filmed by HBO (trail­er above). “Bril­liant, touch­ing and f*cking fun­ny,” says Rock, “First time in my life I cried at a com­e­dy show.”

Round­ing out the list is Sam Kin­i­son, whose unfor­get­tably unhinged role in Rod­ney Dangerfield’s Back to School brought thou­sands of curi­ous new fans to his clas­sic album Loud­er than Hell. “The last orig­i­nal com­ic,” says Rock. “Most comics are deriv­a­tives of Pry­or, Cos­by, or Sein­feld. Sam remind­ed you of Bil­ly Gra­ham.” I’d say he was more Jim­my Swag­gart, if Jim­my Swag­gart screamed obscen­i­ties at starv­ing chil­dren. See Rock’s full list below.

  1. Richard Pry­or Live In Con­cert 1979
  2. Paul Mooney: Jesus Is Black. So Was Cleopa­tra
  3. Dave Chap­pelle: Killin’ Them Soft­ly
  4. Eddie Mur­phy: Deliri­ous
  5. Bill Cos­by: Him­self
  6. George Car­lin: Jam­min’ in New York
  7. George Lopez: Amer­i­ca’s Mex­i­can
  8. Steve Har­vey: One Man
  9. Bil­ly Crys­tal: 700 Sun­days
  10. Andrew Dice Clay: The Day the Laugh­ter Died
  11. Ron White: They Call Me Tater Sal­ad
  12. Ellen DeGeneres: Here and Now
  13. Sam Kin­i­son: Loud­er Than Hell

via Austin Kleon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear 30 of the Great­est Standup Com­e­dy Albums: A Playlist Cho­sen by Open Cul­ture Read­ers

Steve Mar­tin & Robin Williams Riff on Math, Physics, Ein­stein & Picas­so in a Heady Com­e­dy Rou­tine (2002)

Bill Hicks’ 12 Prin­ci­ples of Com­e­dy

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.