Can you believe that Saturday Night Live has been on the air for 43 years? This is a comedy show that your dad and possibly even your grandfather watched in his youth. Talk about multi-generational programming. Could any other show keep a jittery public grounded from President Nixon to President Trump, satirize the culture so perfectly from the swinging seventies to the Internet-addicted aughts? People can complain all they want that the show “isn’t as good as it used to be” or “should’ve been cancelled years ago.” Not watching SNL is like pretending you don’t care about Facebook. Your feelings of intellectual superiority have kept you out of the larger cultural conversation.
Picking just 30 sketches to represent SNL’s best was more difficult than we thought. We left off at least two dozen skits that probably deserved to be included. You might disagree with some of our choices. And that’s a good thing! That just demonstrates how much great material the Not Ready For Prime Time Players have produced over the years. For more laughs, check out these 50 Puns So Bad They’re Actually Funny.
Wild and Crazy Guys!
The Festrunk Brothers, Yortuk (played by Dan Aykroyd) and Georg (Steve Martin), are two immigrants hoping to make time with some beautiful American foxes. They’re pretty confident in their chances too, given that, according to Yortuk, “there are no other pair of Czech brothers who cruise and swing so successfully in tight slacks.” And for more great laughs, don’t miss the 75 Jokes So Bad They’re Actually Funny.
A Van Down By The River
The late Chris Farley’s finest hour, as he introduced the world to Matt Foley, a motivational speaker who’s “35 years old, thrice divorced, and living in a van down by the river.” Farley manages to capture the same manic energy of John Belushi in his prime. Also, he was always cracking his cast mates and guests hosts up—which is definitely one of the 20 Things Everyone Secretly Finds Hilarious.
Blue Öyster Cult can’t seem to get through a recording of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” without their producer insisting that “I gotta have more cowbell, baby!” We agree. To paraphrase this scene’s most famous line, we’ve got a fever! And the only prescription… is more cowbell.
David S. Pumpkins
It’s still hard to believe that Tom Hanks was initially reluctant about doing this sketch. I mean, we get it. On paper, it makes no sense. But it’s comedy surrealism at its absolute best. Who the heck is David S. Pumpkins anyway, and why is he featured in 73 of the Haunted Elevator’s 100 floors? We may never know for sure. And for more things that are undeniably funny, here are the 30 Hilarious Words for Everyday Problems.
Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood
Eddie Murphy had so many brilliant characters in SNL, it’s hard to pick just one. But his version of the children’s TV host Mr. Rogers was sublime satire. “I always wanted to live in a house like yours my friend,” he sings in the beginning, slipping into his trademark sweater. “Maybe when there’s nobody home, I’ll break in!”
The video that launched Andy Samberg’s career—and really put Youtube on the map—and made his comedic songs the most hotly anticipated segments on the show, features two white dudes gangster-rapping about a visit to the movies. Some of the references may be dated, but one thing that still rings true: Mr. Pibb and Red Vines still equal crazy delicious.
Tom Brokaw Pre-Tapes
This 1996 sketch by Dana Carvey is funny even if you’ve never heard of Tom Brokaw. Preparing for a vacation, the NBC news anchor pre-tapes some possible news items, including “Gerald Ford was mauled senselessly by a circus lion in a convenience store.” As Brokaw’s producer reminds him, they’re “just covering our bases.”
It would’ve been just another mildly entertaining game show parody, if not for the bizarre rivalry between Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond) and Alex Trebek (Will Ferrell). Connery can’t stop insulting the beleaguered host, constantly making inappropriate comments about Trebek’s mother. If only the real Jeopardy was this delightfully weird. And for more fun with celebrities, here are the 20 Craziest Celeb Rumors of All Time.
In a different time, debates about gender equality and sexism were oddly funny, or at least they were in this 1978 sketch, which pitted Jane Curtin against Dan Aykroyd. Imagine if a Twitter throwdown happened face to face, with insults thrown around like hand grenades? It’s hard to imagine something like this being allowed on the air in 2018. And you know what? That’s a good thing.
Some SNL sketches are timeless, like this 2003 commercial parody for Mom Jeans, a pair of denim pants that came with a 9-inch zipper and casual front pleats. “Cut generously,” the voice over tells us, “to fit a mom’s body.” Some things never go out of fashion. And for more style items you definitely shouldn’t wear, here are the 50 Things No Woman Over 40 Should Own.
A Holiday Wish From Steve Martin
Steve Martin has some wishes for the new year, and one of them is having the children of the world join hands and sing in the spirit of peace and harmony. Just as long as it doesn’t interfere with his other wishes, which include untold riches, revenge against his enemies, and a 31-day orgasm.
Chris Farley shirtless, in a skintight black pants, dancing seductively? Thank goodness video footage of this exists, otherwise nobody would believe it really happened. A 300-pound Farley doing a nearly-naked Worm could have been the 90s Bigfoot.
Don’t we all have a friend like Debbie, who seems to ruin every social gathering with her dour observations? Hopefully they aren’t as bad as Rachel Dratch’s character, who isn’t above telling friends about Mad Cow Disease during a Disney vacation, reminding them it “can live in your body for years, before it ravages your brain.” (Insert sad trombone sound.)
White Like Me
This Eddie Murphy sketch from 1984 was so ahead of its time, so boldly controversial and scathing in its satiric exploration of racial dynamics in America, that we could easily imagine Dave Chappelle doing it today. For more great TV humor, don’t miss the 30 Most Outrageous Late-Night TV Moments Ever.
The most perky and enthusiastic cheerleading duo of all time (not to mention the least appreciated), Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri were the greatest thing to happen to school sports since athletic supporters. Who else would show up to a chess tournament with cheers like “U.G.L.Y., you ain’t got no alibi, you’re ugly, hey hey, you’re ugly.”
Stuart Smalley (played by Al Franken) was the soft-spoken and painfully insecure king of daily affirmations, and his shining moment was this 1991 exchange with Michael Jordan. He somehow convinced the NBA legend to look at his own reflection and say, “I don’t have to dribble the ball fast or throw the ball in the basket” without cracking up.
Bill Murray Sings the Star Wars Theme
Our national love affair with Bill Murray began with Nick the Lounge Singer, who finally gave lyrics to everybody’s favorite science fiction theme song. Sing along, you know the lyrics: “Star Waaaaaars! Nothing but Staaaar Waaaaars! Gimme those Staaaar Waaaars! Don’t let them end!”
Brian Fellow’s Safari Planet
Tracy Morgan’s most ridiculous character was inspired by a high school friend of his ex-wife—a “gay man who imagined stuff in his head and thought he knew everything,” Morgan claimed in his autobiography, I Am the New Black. The sweetly innocent host, whose knowledge of animals is just slightly above that of a 4 year old, delights in making observations like, “I once saw a video of a monkey washing a cat. That’s crazy!”
Toonces the Driving Cat
Spoiler alert: Cats should not be trusted with driving automobiles.
Stefon’s Halloween Tips
Sometimes the best SNL moments happen when cast members are having a hard time keeping a straight face. This 2012 scene featuring nightlife expert Stefon is a case in point, with Bill Hader barely able to get his lines out without bursting into giggles. As it turns out, he didn’t know any of his lines ahead of time, so he was reading everything for the first time live on air. “It’s like a whole country watching (writer) John (Mulaney) and I laugh at our sense of humor,” Hader said in an interview.
Wayne’s World Meets Aerosmith
We had a hard time choosing between the many adventures of Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey), but we ultimately settled on this 1990 scene featuring special guests Aerosmith, if only for Wayne’s realization that his mom is alone in their kitchen with the rockers. “Oh, no, she’s gonna say something stupid,” he cries. “This is brutal!”
Melissa McCarthy’s impression of the (former) White House press secretary is pure comedy gold, proving yet again that Saturday Night Live still delivers some of the best political satire anywhere. And for more political humor, here are the 25 All-Time Greatest One-Liners by Politicians.
Space: The Infinite Frontier with Harry Caray
Whether he’s explaining why his friends call him Whiskers or why the sun is his favorite planet because “when that thing burns out we’re all gonna be dead,” this scene is overflowing with laugh-out-loud Farrell quotables. We still have no idea how Jeff Goldblum made it all the way through without bursting into laughter.
The Hanukkah Song
Adam Sandler manages to rhyme more words with Hanukkah than we thought possible. Fine, so maybe supersonicah, harmonicah, gin and tonicah, and marijuanikah aren’t “real” words. But with a song this funny and catchy, we’re not complaining.
A Greek restaurant where the only thing on the menu is “cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger!” Want fries and a Coke with that? Sorry, “no fries, chips, no Coke, Pepsi.” It shouldn’t be as funny as it is, but somehow it ends up being one of the best ensemble scenes by the original cast.
What makes this Dana Carvey character so consistently hilarious and, well, special? Could it be, oh I don’t know…. SATAN?!!
James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party
You have this Eddie Murphy sketch to blame for every time somebody gets into a hottub while singing that familiar ditty, with full James Brown staccato, “Hot tub! Rub a dub in the hot tub!”
Old Glory Insurance
Adam McKay, former SNL head writer (and director of such comedy classics like Anchorman and Talladega Nights) named this 1995 commercial parody as his favorite contribution to the show. We couldn’t agree more. Honestly, if it really existed, we might even buy insurance that protects us from robot attacks. Hey, we don’t know what Elon Musk has been up to!
Will Forte was always at his best playing over-the-top, melodramatic characters, and none worked quite as well as the Falconer, a hirsute survivalist with a loyal falcon named Donald. In this episode, the falcon flies away to get food for his starving master, and ends up gorging on lobster and sleeping with the Falconer’s ex-wife.
Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton Address the Nation
Was there a more powerful piece of political satire in 2008 than Sarah Palin, as played by Tina Fey, insisting “I can see Russia from my house?” As Fey explained in her book Bossypants, the sketch could’ve easily been a “dumb catfight between two female candidates,” but because of the smart writing and razor-sharp performances, it ended up being a “sketch about feminism and you didn’t even realize it because of all the jokes. Suckers!”
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