From Hacks to Seinfeld, the best stand-up comedy TV shows

While it might seem simple to portray stand-up comedy on screen – just point the camera at the subject while cracking jokes, and you’re home free – a truly satisfying series about the ins and outs of live comedy and stand-up comedy is a rare find. Often the on-screen stand-up has to be really funny (an audience of laughing people won’t save the scene from that), or, alternatively, the jokes themselves and the camera have to reflect where the character is at that time. their life or in their stand-up career. However, there are a few TV series that do all of the above and also manage to root us for their protagonists throughout. 90s slapstick sitcoms like Seinfeld to newer, darker dark comedies like hacksthe following titles are exceptional in their portrayal of stand-up comedy.


Seinfeld (1989 – 1998)

Written in the instantly recognizable style of the co-creators jerry seinfeld and larry davidWith its dry, irreverent take on the bizarre situations of everyday life, it’s hard not to love every moment of Seinfeld. The show follows Jerry and his friends Elaine (Julia Louis Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander), and Kramer (Michael Richards) as they navigate their daily lives in New York City. Not only has the series won 10 Primetime Emmys over its nearly decade-long run, it has become an integral part of pop culture.

Seinfeld was ahead of its time as it rejected and deconstructed typical ’80s and ’90s sitcom storylines, which often relied on a moral-driven life lesson. Although often described as a “show about nothing”, the series is really anything but. Indeed, when David and Seinfeld went to NBC for the first time to discuss the series, they pitched it as a show about how a comedian gets his stuff. Indeed, that’s the premise of every episode: it’s stand-up comedy at its rawest, though it only briefly shows true stand-up comedy. Plus, while on the surface it might seem like a silly episodic series about the details of daily life, it really focuses on the joy and beauty of the friendship between these four characters.

RELATED: 10 Underrated Seinfeld Episodes Worth Rewatching

The Bernie Mac Show (2001 – 2006)

This sitcom, created by comedian Larry Wilmorefollows Bernie Mac as a character loosely based on the deceased real-life comedian. When Bernie learns that his sister is going back to rehab, he must raise his three children with his wife Wanda (Kelita Smith). Among the many awards the series won was a Primetime Emmy Award and the prestigious Peabody Award.

The Bernie Mac Show, which was heavily inspired by real Mac stand-up acts, walks the fine line between being both deeply emotional and outwardly hilarious. As Bernie navigates unexpected parenthood, each episode is layered with his dry, acerbic humor. However, a big part of the series also relies on the chemistry between Bernie and Wanda. Smith in particular delivers a standout performance throughout the show as an often frustrated, witty, and compassionate wife. It’s a must-have watch because it highlights Mac’s incredibly sharp mind and incredible range.

The Jim Gaffigan Show (2015 – 2016)

Written by Jim Gaffigan himself, and co-produced by him and his wife Jeannie Gaffigan, the series follows the comedian as he navigates life as a stand-up while raising five children in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Although it only lasted two seasons, the show received largely positive reviews, thanks to the smart writing and smart performances. If you’re a fan of Gaffigan’s stand-up, you’ll love the series.

The series works brilliantly for a number of reasons, one of which is the combination of Gaffigan’s classic deadpan delivery and his signature observational humor that emphasizes the trials and tribulations of the parenthood. Not only does the stand-up portrayal feel authentic to Gaffigan’s real-life performances, it also depicts the difficulty of juggling a career in comedy and romance, friendship and family. Gaffigan proves once again that he is a master of writing and acting.

Crashed (2017 – 2019)

This HBO series was based on Pete Holmes‘real life and co-created by Holmes and Judd Apatow. crackle is perhaps one of the most serious and heartfelt journeys into a struggling artist’s rise in the fierce and competitive world of stand-up. While the series is studded with stars with guest appearances from comedians like Artie Lange and John Mulaneywhat gave the show such success was the strong writing that combines both pathos and a style of gallows humor.

The series is brilliant in the way it portrays stand-up comedy, as it emphasizes a stand-up evolution. The series begins with Pete as he lives a quiet, sheltered suburban life with his wife Jessica (Lauren Lapkus), whom he met at a Christian college. Immediately, Apatow and Holmes draw a parallel between Pete’s love life and his stand-up act. He is incapable of taking risks and finds comfort in familiarity. However, as the series progresses, Pete’s stand-up act evolves as he begins to gain confidence in his relationships, friends, and himself.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017 – )

It is a series that is deeply difficult not to love, thanks to the strong palpable chemistry between Rachel Brosnahanby Midge Maisel and Alex BorsteinIt’s Susie Myerson. At the start of the show, Midge is a diligent and witty 1950s housewife who sees the bright side of everything. However, when her husband leaves her, she subsequently realizes her stand-up talent through the mentorship formed with the pessimistic Susie. Thanks to stellar direction, the TV legend’s clever writing Amy Sherman Palladinothe show has won 20 Primetime Emmys.

The series bounces and swings between genres and moods: it’s both drama and comedy, it’s a period piece that also feels incredibly contemporary and relevant. It is meticulously crafted in its recreation of 1950s costume, production design, and the stand-up world, which is in some ways vastly different from today and in others similarly terrifying. It’s delicious, heartbreaking and really, really funny.

I die here (2017 – 2018)

A series that ended much too soon, I die here follows a small circle of stand-ups as they jostle for fame and success in 1970s Los Angeles. The series has received positive reviews thanks to the excellent cast, which includes Ari Graynor (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and Jacques Lacy (The White Lotus). Plus, it’s a real insight into the world of stand-up comedy at that specific time, and how much a stand-up’s success depended on whether it landed a gig on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

While the cast is large, the creator David Flebotte does a great job of distinguishing each character’s comedic style throughout the series. One of the best moments occurs in the pilot, when Cassie Feder (Graynor) takes down a heckler in a way that sets her character beautifully. It’s not a sterilized, clean representation of the stand-up world. Indeed, Flebotte depicts the daily struggles of stand-up comedians that still resonate today, despite the setting decades away.

Hacks (2021 – )

This series full of black humor comes from the brilliant trio originally vast city: Lucie Aniello, Jen Statskyand Paul W. Downs. hacks explores the twisted mentorship that forms between a young television writer titled Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) and legendary comedian Deborah Vance (John Smart), when unexpected circumstances bring them together. The sharp, often emotional writing, electric direction, and stellar performances earned the series three Primetime Emmy wins and an abundance of nominations.

Perhaps one of the show’s most fundamentally brilliant aspects is its portrayal of the clear generational divide in the world of comedy. Often conflict arises because Deborah comes from a different set of standards learned over decades of jostling. Also, the way the creators portray Deborah while she does stand-up still reflects and indicates how she feels in her personal life. The quick edits of her performance reflect her sense of power on stage, while the intimate close-ups during more raw and emotional performances reflect her sense of insecurity. It’s a masterclass in making stand-up comedy for the screen, and there’s never a dull moment between Deborah and Ava.