Best comedy shows to watch online (and why you should)

Living Well | Joanne Brookfield | Posted on 17 April 2020

In times of isolation, laughter really is the best medicine. Here's how to get yours online.

Here’s your word for the day: gelotology. No, it’s not the study of hair-styling products used by teenagers in the 1980s, it’s the study of laughter and its psychological and physical effects on the body. 

Whether you’re a belly laugher or a titterer, a snorter or a cackler, giggler or wheezer, we all do it. From a newborn’s first mirthful gurgles through to spluttering your drink out your nose when a mate tells a great joke, laughing is one of those great human traits that unite us all.

Joel Creasey

Joel Creasey.

Nazeem Hussein

Nazeem Hussein.

Diana Nguyen

Diana Nguyen.

When we laugh our intercostal muscles – the muscles between our ribs that expand and contract to draw air into our lungs as we breathe – kick in, contracting rapidly to produce strange involuntary sounds. “When you start laughing hard, you start squeezing air out from your lungs under much higher pressures than you could ever produce voluntarily,” says cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott in her Why We Laugh TED Talk.  This repeated spasming can be why we get breathless with helpless laughter or even say that we can ‘laugh so much it hurts’.

Scientists also tell us that laughing releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which creates a natural and healthy high and also reduces stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine. It not only feels good, it’s good for you, with research also showing that laughing increases blood flow, reduces inflammation, and boosts our immune system by strengthening T-cells.

Melbourne-based humour academic and veteran stand-up comedian Justine Sless is working on a Masters thesis that examines how humour can function as an antidote to trauma. “Jews and comedy have long been connected and much has been written about this humour being used as a survival mechanism,” she says. “Now stuff is being written about Aboriginal humour as a survival mechanism, too.” 

People who can share some levity together not only make themselves feel better but also strengthen their relationships.

When comedians tackle some of life’s darker aspects, it can have a therapeutic benefit for both performer and audience. “Audiences have told me they enjoy my jokes and stories because they’re so relatable,” says stand-up comedian Annie Louey. “I often have Asian-Australians tell me it was the first time they’ve heard material that speaks to them. Being told I’m relatable by audiences is the nicest compliment because it means I’ve successfully tapped into our shared experiences with people from all walks of life,” she says.

Shared experience is the key. Robert Provine, an American psychologist dubbed an “authority on laughter” by the New York Times, found that laughter is “30 times more frequent in social than solitary situations”, meaning that it is contagious and one of the ways we bond socially. 

With the cancellation of this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival due to the COVID-19 crisis, we can’t gather as live audiences to enjoy all these benefits, but we can still enjoy comedy online.

While the pandemic has caused extreme stress and hardship for many, Sophie Scott cites research that shows people who can share some levity together not only make themselves feel better but also strengthen their relationships, which is especially useful during quarantine. In tough times, she says, if we can find a way to laugh, it’s effectively saying: “We can do this. We can laugh together. We’re going to get through this. We’re going to be okay.”  

Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld.

All you need is LOL neon sign

Laughter really is the best medicine.

Amazon Prime Aussie stand-up specials

Amazon Prime's stand-up specials.

Five of the best places to get your laughs online 

Catch up on the Melbourne International Comedy Festival's previous shows 

While we wait for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival to return in all its live glory, you can relive memories from previous years via their YouTube channel TheMelbComedyFest. Raw Comedy, Upfront, Deadly Comedy, The Gala and Comedy Up Late plus many more clips can all be found there. 

Amazon Prime time

Streaming service Amazon Prime is rolling out a series of 10 new stand-up specials from Australian acts, including comedy legend Judith Lucy, Dancing with the Stars winner Celia Pacquola, Tom Gleeson, Tommy Little and more. 

Netflix comedy

If you have Netflix, you can watch specials from Nazeem Hussain, Joel Creasey, Urzila Carlson and Cal Wilson, who were all selected to be part of the Comedians of the World series. And if you want to watch arguably the world’s most popular stand-up, Jerry Seinfeld has a new special, 23 Hours to Kill, dropping on 5 May. 

Have a One Night Stan

Meanwhile, over on streaming service Stan, have a One Night Stan with your favourite Aussie comedians. Get ready to LOL (laugh out loud) with Aussie chucklemasters including Judith Lucy, Wil Anderson, Celia Pacquola, Tom Ballard, Sam Simmons and Tom Gleeson. You can also kick it old school with some classic Hamish& Andy comedy gold, including their Gap Year, Caravan of Courage and Reministmas specials. 

LOLs on demand

Laughter addicts, look no further than ABC iview, where you can find everything from international stand-up specials to classic Aussie comedy. Think Adam Hills: The Last Leg, Shaun Micallef's Mad As Hell, Tom Gleeson's Hard Quiz and Spicks & Specks Specials on repeat. And don't miss the Melbourne International Comedy Festival: Comedy Care Package. Hosted by comedy legend Denise Scott, this LOLfest brings you some of the best past performances from the biggest names in homegrown stand-up.

Or, if you prefer to hear the hilarity... 

Although she was bullied during high school for it, comedian Diana Nguyen is now a proud snort-laugher. “In the past two years I’ve been creating video content on LinkedIn and accidentally snorted on my videos,” she says of how her hashtag #embracethesnort came to be. She has also produced her SnortCast comedy podcast. “The magic to inspire people to laugh from their inner child is a source of great joy for me,” she says. Other wildly hilarious audio delights include Wil Anderson's Wilosophy, the Aunty Donna Podcast, the Betoota Advocate Podcast, Tony Martin's Sizzletown, The Union Jack Off with Daniel Muggleton and, for the sports lovers, Cricket Unfiltered