John Mulaney

"John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City" is just one of many hilarious comedy specials available on Netflix.

The number of specials a comedian has on Netflix doesn’t determine whether they’re talented or what their skill level is. However, the “rule of three” is a common writing principle that suggests events and characters that come in trios are funnier and more effective. So, this list is composed of good things that come in the sweet spot of threes: three comedians with three specials each. With a range of comedic styles and backgrounds, Jerry Seinfeld, John Mulaney and Jo Koy bring hilarious stories to their Netflix standup specials that are made of a range of material. 

Jerry Seinfeld – “23 Hours to Kill,” “Jerry Before Seinfeld” and “Jerry Seinfeld: I’m Telling You for the Last Time”

Sometimes it can feel like everything in the world is just annoying and dumb, and it can be nice to hear it from someone who agrees while putting it in the right words with a distinct voice and tone that only Jimmy Fallon can famously impersonate. From legendary comedian and comedy writer Jerry Seinfeld are three specials on Netflix: “Jerry Seinfeld: I’m Telling You For the Last Time,” “Jerry Before Seinfeld” and “23 Hours to Kill.” 

Released in 1998, “Jerry Seinfeld: I’m Telling You for The Last Time,” is an Emmy-nominated comedy special filmed months after the finale of his sitcom, “Seinfeld,” where Seinfeld delivers some of his most solid material on a sold-out international tour. The premise of the show is putting all this material to rest for the last time, so he’s covering all of it, observing everything down to the smallest everyday annoyances of life and dumb people everyone is bound to come across. Classic bits include attempting to foil criminals, traveling on airplanes, staying in hotels and questioning the point of the silver medal in the Olympics and the invention of the helmet. 

Before becoming a writer of the groundbreaking sitcom “Seinfeld,” the legendary comedian was making waves in the standup world. Released in 2017, “Jerry Before Seinfeld” answers the questions: “Where did Jerry Seinfeld come from? How did he do it?” The special highlights Seinfeld’s early work at the site of his first performance: The Comedy Strip in New York City. The standup portion is broken up by interviews in which Seinfeld talks more about his childhood, being obsessed with comedy and his early career. His set covers some of his most iconic material while joking about the good times growing up, like wild dogs in the ‘60s and the filth of New York City, but he truly shows he’s a veteran behind the mic when he takes audience interactions and constructs them into entire bits on the spot.

Finally, one scene that makes the special truly remarkable is the beautiful imagery of Seinfeld writing comedy throughout his career. Seinfeld sits in the middle of a New York City street among every single sheet of legal pad paper he wrote on with a Bic clear-barrel blue pen that he’s held in an accordion folder since 1975.

“23 Hours to Kill,” released in 2020, is Seinfeld’s comeback special. He shares objections to social normalities, ridiculous habits and common phrases that society has accepted, such as the phrase, “It is what it is,” and the poor design of bathroom stalls. Although these topics sound mundane, Seinfeld’s work is brilliantly thought out. This description may sound like the special is made up of more mature yet mundane subjects, but that’s because people have to see it to understand just how much thought Seinfeld has brilliantly put into his work. Even in his more personal bits from being in his sixties, Seinfeld tells jokes about family fights on vacation and relationships that make people feel like they’re living the same life. He not only shares his revelations about life and why Pop-Tarts are such wonderful creations, but also why being in his 60s is the best and why he’s looking forward to getting older. 

John Mulaney – “New in Town,” “The Comeback Kid” and “Kid Gorgeous”

In a sharp suit, John Mulaney delivers laughter to an audience with an air that’s buzzing from the first minute he steps on stage to the last second when he steps off. Obsessed with crime shows, questioning all the questionable things in social institutions and recounting tales from his own life, Mulaney is becoming a new household name in the comedy world.

Released in 2012, “New in Town” introduces Mulaney as a self-described man who appears as a child who’s had some strange experiences and some interesting observations to share. For example, Mulaney asks if anyone else has ever noticed that quicksand hasn’t really been a problem like people thought it would be while growing up. Although he looks just like a tall child, he has some insane yet hilarious stories his friends have told him after nights of getting into some questionable and shady business.

As the special goes on, audiences learn that Mulaney is known for his old-fashioned demeanor while doing impressions and making references in his material that has audiences giving massive laughs in return. He awkwardly and hysterically transitions into jokes that include how middle schoolers are the meanest people on the planet, embarrassing childhood memories, giving the dirt on Delta Airlines from a bad experience and a strange interaction on the street with a homeless man.

“The Comeback Kid,” released in 2015, brings all-new Mulaney material to the table, including the power of the phrase, “That’s my wife!” While he doesn’t have kids and says he has poor relationships with babies, Mulaney jokes about how much he understands the kind of stress kids are constantly under. Mulaney’s bits further include subjects like training his best friend and French bulldog, Petunia, and realizing how strange and almost disturbing the “Back to The Future” franchise is.

Filmed at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, “Kid Gorgeous” is Mulaney’s latest special, released in 2018. His childhood stories increase in both insanity and hilarity, from his mother’s experience seeing a ghost to school assemblies with JJ Bittenbinder’s “Street Smarts” talk from the Chicago Police Department. He shares some of the street smart tips he learned from Bittenbinder, like how to escape when, not just if, he gets kidnapped. But not all bits are from his childhood. Mulaney gives advice and relays experiences from college while expressing the struggles of getting to his 30s.

Jo Koy –  “Jo Koy: Live From Seattle,” “Jo Koy: Comin’ In Hot,” and “Jo Koy: In His Elements”

Koy reaches audiences of every race and ethnicity while performing impersonations of family members like his mother and his son and doing bits about growing up and raising a son of his own. In every special, Koy performs to the point where laughs from the theater sound like massive waves crashing on the sand at a beach, but the beach is, well, a standup comedy act.

In “Jo Koy: Live from Seattle,” which was released in 2017, Koy gives real talk and shares stories about the awkwardness of growing up in a Filipino household, raising a privileged kid and personal relationships. Audiences can’t rest from laughing hard while Koy impersonates his Filipino mother trying to cure everything at home with Vicks VapoRub and having her spirit destroyed when he tells her he wants to pursue a career in comedy rather than in nursing or postal service. 

Released in 2019, “Jo Koy: Comin’ In Hot” is recorded in the beautiful state of Hawaii. In this special, Koy’s message is to embrace the stereotypes, especially if they’re funny, and to not let them be a bother. He embraces cultural stereotypes and makes an entire show out of them while making an audience of every race and ethnicity laugh and feel good. He also compares the stories of his childhood to his son’s privileges, knocking him down a peg whenever he gets the chance. Overall, Koy’s message is to tell people to laugh at the stereotypes ... and fix their credit. 

“Jo Koy: In His Elements,” released in 2020, is similar to “Jerry Before Seinfeld” – Koy takes this standup special back to his roots. Bringing Netflix to the Philippines, Koy reveals the story of how he got his name and shows highlights of every aspect of the beautiful Filipino culture. Jumping between the set, various performances and previously recorded clips, he features various Filipino artists in Manila inspiring younger generations and makes it known that anything is possible.

Each of these comedians has established their own brand of standup comedy and influenced future generations of comedians and comedy fans alike through their specials. While fans may hope to attend live comedy shows again and for more specials to be released soon, these comedians have definitely left their mark for generations to come. 

Contact Caitlin Fernandez at fernance@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.