Five life-changing comedy specials

Downloadable shows from back when they were on the verge of greatness

Experience the best at their best 10

Pre-emptive audience laughter. Lazy material. When a comedian gets famous it can all go to pot. Here are five downloadable shows from five modern geniuses back when they were on the verge of greatness

Hannibal Buress - Animal Furnace

What's so funny? The chiller-than-thou delivery might not be to everyone's tastes but few do it better than Buress. This is the former Saturday Night Live writer's second album and the one on which he really found his funny feet.
Sample line: (Reading out preview of his own show from local newspaper) "'Comedian brings diversity to campus'. You realise the type of diversity I bring is very temporary? Because I'm leaving as soon as I get my cheque."
What happened afterwards? Hannibal was namechecked repeatedly by Louis CK. He's since become internationally famous.

Listen on Spotify.

Experience the best at their best 5

Patton Oswalt - Werewolves and Lollipops

What's so funny? Cross Louis CK's "smart schlub raging against an unfair world" schtick with a pre-Run Fatboy Run Simon Pegg's out-and-proud nerdiness and you get Oswalt. Here he is when he still had a bit of fire in his substantial belly.
Sample line: (On KFC's Famous Bowl) "I just want a light-brown hillock of glop. If you could put my lunch in a blender, and liquefy it, and then put it into a caulking gun and inject it right into my femoral artery, well, even better."
What happened afterwards? Pixar cast Patton as Remy the Rat in Ratatouille. He's proper Hollywood now.

Listen on Spotify.

Experience the best at their best 6

Stewart Lee - 90s Comedian

What's so funny? Lee's a critical darling with his own (mediocre) Observer column these days but when this was released the guy was drifting in a post-Lee and Herring hinterland. This performance announced him as this country's pre-eminent Serious Comedian.
Sample line: (On modern terrorists) "It makes you nostalgic, doesn't it? For the good old days of the IRA. They gave warnings. They were gentlemen bombers."
What happened afterwards? A few more great shows and a BBC2 series cemented his legacy. He also released a terrific book which forensically pulls apart every joke in this performance.

Listen on iTunes.

Experience the best at their best 7

Daniel Tosh - True Stories I Made Up

What's so funny? Do not be fooled by his deceptively wholesome vibe – there is a streak of unalloyed viciousness coursing through Tosh's material, a monstrous compulsion that seems to compel him to search out the most awful subject matters and mine them mercilessly for nervous laughter.
Sample line: "Money buys happiness. You ever see a homeless person skip? They can't."
What happened afterwards? Tosh found enormous fame presenting his Tosh.0 TV show. Imagine an actually enjoyable version of Rude Tube, featuring segments such as "Is It Racist?"

Listen on Spotify.

Experience the best at their best 8

Louis CK - Chewed Up

What's so funny? For ages Louis CK was a comedian that other comedians gushed about in interviews. This show – which proceeded decades of professional and personal failure – is like watching a sweaty phoenix rise from a fire of pizza boxes, self-hating porn binges and crippling social anxiety.
Sample line: "A man will cut your arm off and throw it in a river, but he'll leave you as a human being intact. Women are non-violent, but they will sh*t inside of your heart."
What happened afterwards? Well, Louis CK is probably the most famous (decent) American comedian in the world at the moment. So, that.

Listen on Spotify.

Experience the best at their best 9