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14 Quotes From Some of the Best Stand-Up Specials Ever

The most memorable comedians transcend simply making people laugh. Through their unique perspectives, insightful observations, and authentic storytelling — all injected, of course, with impeccable and distinct timing — comics can capture the zeitgeist of their time, forge new paths, and create legendary stand-up specials in the process.

Two of the most notable comedy specials in recent memory did just that: Bo Burnham’s Inside (2021) and Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette (2018) were remarkable departures from the typical stand-up format.

Burnham captured the anxious cabin fever and societal unrest of the COVID-19 pandemic from his Los Angeles home, without any crew or live audience. Meanwhile, Gadsby traded standard punchlines for a personal deep-dive that examined marginalized comedians and was praised as a new, innovative form of modern stand-up.

But the trail leading up to these experimental specials was blazed by many other untouchable talents: Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, and Wanda Sykes are just a few comedians whose stand-up specials are still lauded today for their groundbreaking performances, provocative topics, and timeless techniques.

From those legends and beyond, here are 14 of the best lines from some of the most outstanding stand-up specials of all time.

I like a woman with a head on her shoulders. I hate necks.
Steve Martin, "A Wild and Crazy Guy," 1978

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The world is so [messed] up. Systematic oppression, income inequality, the other stuff … And there's only one thing that I can do about it, while being paid and being the center of attention.
Bo Burnham, "Inside," 2021

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Everywhere is walking distance if you've got the time.
Steven Wright, “A Steven Wright Special,” 1985

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There’s something about a rejected kiss that is the most personal type of rejection … You’re just like, “I think we should connect mouths,” and the other person’s like, “I do not think we should connect mouths.” And those are two very different mouth agendas.
Mike Birbiglia, “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend,” 2013

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People praise my husband for coming to all of my doctor's appointments with me … he's the hero for playing Candy Crush while I get my blood drawn.
Ali Wong, “Baby Cobra,” 2016

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There’s something about the ice cream truck that makes kids lose it. And they can hear that [thing] from 10 blocks away. They don’t hear their mothers calling, but they hear that … ice cream truck.
Eddie Murphy, “Delirious,” 1983

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When two planes almost collide, they call it a “near miss.” It's a near hit! A collision is a near miss! BOOM. “Look, they nearly missed.” Yes, but not quite!
George Carlin, "Jammin' in New York," 1992

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I got into an argument with a girlfriend inside of the tent. That’s a bad place for an argument. Because then I tried to walk out — and slam the flap! How are you supposed to express your anger in this situation? Zipper it up really quick?
Mitch Hedberg, “Comedy Central Presents: Mitch Hedberg,” 1999

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[Our education system] doesn’t work. That’s why we have shows [like], Are You Smarter Than a 5th-Grader? … People sitting at home, playing along. “Ooh, I think I know this one.” You’re supposed to! You’re 32!
Wanda Sykes, “I’ma Be Me,” 2009

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Thank you for coming to see me at Radio City Music Hall. I love to play venues where if the guy who built the venue could see me on the stage, he would be a little bit bummed about it. Look at this. This is so much nicer than what I’m about to do.
John Mulaney, “Kid Gorgeous at Radio City,” 2018 (Source)

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After years of therapy I figured out why I don’t care for the airplanes. I don’t like the crashing and dying in the airplane. That’s what it is.
Norm MacDonald, “Nothing Special,” 2022

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I don’t identify as transgender. I mean, I’m clearly “gender not-normal,” but I don’t think even lesbian is the right identity fit for me. I really don’t. I may as well come out now. I identify … as tired. I’m just tired.
Hannah Gadsby, “Nanette,” 2018

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Everybody says how easy it is to cook, but it is not any easier than not cooking.
Maria Bamford, “The Special Special Special,” 2014

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Do the people that work in these little shops in the airport have any idea what the prices are every place else in the world? “Yeah, $14 tuna sandwich. We think that's fair.”
Jerry Seinfeld, “I’m Telling You for the Last Time,” 1998

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Featured image credit: Vera Anderson/ WireImage via Getty Images

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About the Author
Nicole Villeneuve
Nicole is a writer, thrift store lover, and group-chat meme spammer based in Ontario, Canada.
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