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What to stream: Recent comedy specials that offer laughs, speak to moment

It would be a bit too easy to say something like, “maybe you could use a laugh right now,” and use that as a hook to suggest some streaming comedy specials. Mostly because the sharpest, most interesting comedy isn’t escapist entertainment, but rather, funny because it’s true, using humor to slice through heavy topics and culture wars in order to reveal intimate insights within. That being said, the jokes do help the medicine go down, making it possible to even discuss certain topics: sexuality, politics, family dynamics and more.

This is the context for highlighting several recent new comedy specials worth checking out on streaming services. Netflix and HBO Max are the premiere destinations for original stand-up comedy content online, as Netflix has poured resources into producing original comedy specials (the Netflix Is A Joke Fest just wrapped up in Los Angeles), and HBO Max has a huge library of stand-up specials from over the years.

One new HBO Max comedy special is Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel,” directed by fellow comedian Bo Burnham, whose Netflix special “Inside” became a sensation last year. Carmichael, who created and starred in three seasons of the lightly autobiographical “The Carmichael Show” (now streaming on Hulu), and whose directorial debut “On The Count of Three” hits theaters later this week, takes to the stage to share some secrets about himself. Burnham shoots Carmichael with a relaxed intimacy as he unburdens himself of family secrets and personal revelations. He interacts with the audience, who challenge, query and support him throughout the process, and while “Rothaniel” isn’t a laugh-riot, but more of a confession, Carmichael draws out the humor in some dark topics, and the material is handled with care by Burnham. Stream “Rothaniel” now on HBO Max.

Another comedy special that’s similarly confessional but created and performed with an entirely different approach is Catherine Cohen’s musical comedy extravaganza “The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous” now streaming on Netflix. Cohen has been touring and performing the show for years, including an award-winning run at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest, and it’s a dizzy, delirious and delightful hour of stand-up, monologues and songs performed by Cohen, with songwriting collaborator Henry Koperski on the keys. Cohen’s milieu is the challenges of being a young woman, and she tackles body issues, dating and sexuality with a brash, unabashed attitude. Her stage persona is a blend of old Hollywood cabaret floozy, glamorous diva and a self-deprecating over-sharer; her material is dense, self-aware and razor-sharp, with a dash of gross-out humor and a distinctly feminist streak. Plus, she’s got a Broadway-quality singing voice. Brill captures the whirlwind of Cohen’s energy as she storms the stage in a hot-pink rhinestone romper and white go-go boots, the dynamism of his camera angles and swift edit highlighting the way she commands the stage and matches her energy. Stream “Catherine Cohen: The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous” on Netflix now.

More comedy to check out: the most recent season of “The Standups” on Netflix, featuring 30-minute sets from up-and-coming comedians, including Naomi Ekperigin from “Mythic Quest” on Apple TV+, Janelle James from “Abbott Elementary” on Hulu and Melissa Villaseñor from “Saturday Night Live.” Queen of the Netflix special Ali Wong has a new hour in “Don Wong,” now on Netflix, and legendary stand-up Tig Notaro experimented with the form of the stand-up special with the fully animated “Drawn,” streaming now on HBO Max.

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