Live Stand-Up Comedy vs Netflix Specials on TV: Which is better?

If you have a pulse, chances are you love a good laugh. And there's nothing quite like live stand-up comedy. There's something about being in a room full of people laughing together that just can't be beaten. But lately, it seems like Netflix and other streaming platforms have been cranking out more and more top-notch comedy specials. So, it begs the question, which is better? And why? While ultimately, it’s a personal preference, we’re going to take a deeper look and what makes the various forms of stand-up comedy so special.

Laughter Is Contagious

While the reasons behind it are more difficult to explain, we all remember our childhood when we’d have fits of uncontrollable and inexplicable laughter. Sometimes it wasn’t even over anything funny, we were just caught up in the moment and couldn’t control it. If you’re lucky enough to have close friends, we hope you’re still able to have laughing fits now that you’re grown up…or as grown-up as you’re going to get. This same principle is present when you’re attending a live stand-up comedy show. When you’re surrounded by other people who are also there to laugh and share the same love of comedy, you’re more likely to laugh out loud.

On the other hand, when you’re watching on Netflix, the comedian’s set doesn’t appear as funny compared to watching comedy live. The set could be just as funny, but without being immersed in the live crowd, and hearing the nuances of that crowd, the experience isn’t perceived as funny as the live show.  You don’t have a crowd around and you can’t interact as much with the environment. For the same reason that watching a funny TV show alone in your quiet living room won’t bring out the ‘laugh-out-loud’ moments that you’ll get when being around other people. We may not know the exact science behind it, but laughter is contagious, and it adds so much to the live stand-up comedy experience. 

Increased Level of Intimacy

When you’re sitting in a dimly lit, quiet room, you’re a part of the environment. It’s real, almost tangible. You can hear the details and subtleties in the laughter of the audience. You can hear the inhales and exhales of the comic through the speakers. The audio is crisper. You can look into their eyes. All those seemingly small things add so much ambiance and intimacy to the entire experience. None, of which, you get when you watch it on a screen. The only intimacy you have is the comfort of sitting in your gitch with a bag of Doritos. The screen is a sort of barrier between you and the heightened experience.

But when it comes to watching comedy live, you’re immersed in the experience. So much, that in smaller venues, stand-up comics often stick around and interact with fans. There is zero chance you’re able to get that when you’re at home on the couch.

Forced Focus

We’re going to go out on a limb and assume you’re not the world-class jerk that pulls out their phone in the middle of a stand-up comic’s set to start texting. In a world more connected than ever, putting down your phone is increasingly more difficult to do. But there’s something magical about being disconnected for a period and losing yourself in stand-up comedy. This sort of forced focus is foreign to many but has a surprising impact on your comedy experience. When you’re at home, it’s perfectly fine to pick up your phone every few minutes, but that distraction takes so much away from the overall experience. When you disconnect at a live show, you let all the intimate nuances noted above creep in and take over so you can forget about life for a moment and simply laugh.

A Numbers Game

Let’s call a spade, a spade. Netflix and streaming services help get comedians noticed and provide a farther reach compared to comedy clubs. But in doing so, the options are limited. If you have a lot of screen time, you can plow through comedy specials and catch up fairly quickly. In contrast, visiting comedy clubs to watch comedy live will provide you with a substantially greater variety, multiple nights each week. This results in a virtually endless number of options to watch new stand-up comedy.

Let’s Get Real

Now, we’re no stranger to the magic of television. Overdone editing, laugh tracks, scene cuts, censorship. it’s all part of the television process. Netflix comedy specials are not excluded from this either. A bunch of edits can make the punchline look lackluster or contrived. 

That doesn’t happen at a live comedy show in a club. There are no fake laughs, cut scenes or tired editing. You get to witness every cough, every real laugh, every breath, and every joke the way it was intended. There are no theatrical effects, it’s simply you, the artist and their raw comedy. 

While you might think that all the editing is a good thing, and in many sitcom cases it is, it detracts from the up close and personal intimacy that comes with live entertainment. That in and of itself is part of the magic of live stand-up comedy.

Support Local

As we’re slowly crawling out of the COVID-19 years, many of the local comedy clubs around North America are reopening their doors to the crowds. Many comedy clubs have closed for good, but for those fortunate enough to remain open or even reopen, they’ve been slapped around and are looking to rebound. 

Sure, streaming comedy specials is easy when you don’t even have to put pants on to watch one, you can get an infinitely better experience while supporting the comedians, the comedy clubs and their staff who try hard to make your night out a special one. Instead of supporting a massive corporation, take a night out and support a local comedy club, its staff, and the funny people it showcases. It’s a win-win.

Final Punchline

There is absolutely a case to be made for live stand-up comedy and Netflix comedy specials, and rightfully so. Comedy is a beautiful thing, irrelevant of the medium through which it’s conveyed. There’s a time and place for both to thrive.

With that being said, the comparison stops there and it’s clear they are quite different in terms of what the comedy fan will get out of them. If we’re talking about the overall convenience of it, Netflix wins. 

But if we’re talking about the user experience and the true impact comedy can have on us, then live comedy shows take the cake. Drawing from the unique intimacy that comes from being in the same room as a comic that feeds off the audience’s energy and alters their set accordingly, that magic can’t be replicated on a screen. Adding the sheer variety comedy fans have when given the option to come again and again to a club where no two shows are ever alike can be an attractive thing.

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