Saturday Night Live takes a lot of flak. Sketches either aren’t edgy enough or they’re too edgy and all of them run too long. It’s too political. The cast sucks. All of the casts of the past are better than the cast of the now. The writers suck. Michael Che is a hemorrhoid. Colin Jost is whiter than a gym towel in a blizzard. There’s not enough representation. It’s nearly impossible for a musical guest to actually sound good on that stage. The hosts are meh. All of the cold opens are unfunny and they feature unfunny non-cast guests.
I disagree. Except maybe about the cold opens. Those have become a bit tiresome.
I’m not saying that SNL can’t be wildly uneven, but you’d be amazed what works in the room and in rehearsals and then bombs on the night. Yes, it’s rare to get an episode that we think of as “great” but over the course of several seasons, SNL keeps cranking out quality comedy. It’s true that if you’re a fan of more progressive, harder hitting comedy, you can certainly find the brand of comedy on SNL to be very milquetoast and if you’re fairly conservative, anything Kyle Mooney does is like a harbinger of the end times.
Despite all of that, SNL churns on and surges forward. And in the years everyone thinks it sucks, namely: every year, they keep printing money.
I know. Everyone’s a critic. But do me a favor. Write a joke. Write one joke and see how long it takes you. Then tell that joke to your best friend, your teenager, your crazy uncle at Thanksgiving and your boss. Tell them all at the same time. And make sure it kills for all of them.
Comedy is hard, friends. Really, really, really hard. I’ll die on the hill that comedy is infinitely more challenging than drama and I’ll shout it from the mountaintops that all of the awards shows are disproportionately skewed to reward dramas as if they were the highest evolution of the art form. They are not. I know we can’t query Shakespeare, but if we could he’d 100% be with me on this.
But, alas, that’s a fight for another day.
Today, let’s traipse through the proverbial tulips and watch some of the best SNL sketches of the last five years. I’ve tried to pick a smattering of options. Wacky humor and thinkers. Physical humor and social commentary. And when you see the smorgasbord of offering here, again – just in the last five years – your tone may soften a bit about the relative quality of Saturday Night Live.
1. The Science Room
Adam Driver can do sketch comedy as well as anyone who ever hosted the show. You can see it over and over again in the sketches he’s in, with this as the crowning gem. I’m usually fairly reserved with my laughter but when he hucks the tape dispenser I lost it.
2. Meet Your Second Wife
Oh god, it’s scathing. Unapologetically and willfully scathing. Such a masterful piece of social commentary. Brilliantly written. Brilliantly cast and acted. Just a vicious, eviscerating piece of comedy.
3. Diner Lobster
More of a thinker, this one takes an anecdotal font reference and spins a dramatic yarn from it. You have to admire Ryan Gosling giving it everything he had.
5. Grouch (Joker Parody)
This is my favorite on the list, just because I don’t think you can do this type of sketch any better. It’s a comedy masterclass. Tight, inspired and utterly flawless.
6. Levi’s Wokes
I’m about as progressive as it gets and I found this hysterical. I know it rubbed some people the wrong way, but change is hard, and chronicling the voyage through comedy is a necessity.
7. The Fliplets
8. Sitcom Reboot
This is essentially a one-joke sketch but the skill and reactions of Cecily Strong coax out a bit more. If you like the joke, you’ll like the sketch.
9. Black Jeopardy
This sketch launched a series of other Black Jeopardy episodes but this was my favorite. Class warfare dressed up in a funny hat. An amazing example of using comedy to make people think.
10. Floribama Shore
This ensemble piece delivers joke after joke. Saoirse Ronan kills it as Trish. The writing is just machine-gun-fast jokes. “My favorite food is gum.” Having Luke Null’s Pontoon do the ooh wah ah ah ah from Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness.” Aidy Bryant’s Quartney had me snort laughing. “I’m a freak in the sheets and a Benghazi truther in the streets.” Add some pretty high end special effects and Chris Redd’s note-perfect straight man and you’ve got a winner.
11. Best Christmas Ever
12. The Actress
13. The Librarian
What do you do when your host is one of the most gorgeous people on the planet? You play against type. Margot Robbie has almost too much fun with this role. I have it on good authority that she’s legit the coolest, nicest person ever, so that kind of makes it more awesome.
14. Leave Me Alurn
Rachel Brosnahan anchors this ad for a much needed product. It’s funny because it’s true. Leave Me Alurn’s social commentary has a light touch but emphasizes the lengths women have to go to get a little space.
15. The Science Room
The original, with Sam Rockwell, who is a generational talent.
16. Nephew Pageant
Of all the ones on this list, this is the one that didn’t quite land, but I adore writer Anna Drezen’s sensibilities. The combination of Kit Harington’s acting, the awkwardness of the aunt/nephew relationships, the graphics, and the categorization of nieces with pets? It worked for me. Aidy Bryant just keeps hitting doubles, too. Her superimpositions are magical, especially when she sings happy birthday to all the nephews for no goddamn reason. A nephew is a song you can hug. Come on.
17. House Hunters
Yet another send up of the home based reality genre, but this had some zingers. It ends up a little too far over the top, but has enough laughs to make up for it. And Liev Schreiber drinking white wine felt like an inside joke to me.
18. Fashion Coward
SNL does ads and products so well. This Emma Stone sketch is vicious.
19. Del Taco Shoot
20. World’s Most Evil Invention
I mean, this one you either applaud or jeer. I applaud it. It’s so disturbing and yet so good, and a biting social commentary about monsters in plain sight.
21. Marrying Ketchups
22. The Christmas Candle
Emma Stone flexing her comedy chops again! This earworm of a song may rattle around in your kitchen all day. But the soft focus and hairdos are great.
23. Amazon Echo
We still yell ODESSA at our Amazon Echo because of this sketch. Ahhhhh, there’s nothing better than poking fun at the elderly.
24. A Thanksgiving Miracle
Matthew McConaughey almost sucks the life out of this sketch, but it somehow keeps together. Also too close to home for many in a polarized political era.
25. Girlfriends Game Night
I don’t love this sketch, I’ll be honest. I think most of it misses the mark. But people breaking and the stupid physical comedy of a wheelchair running into things somehow saves it.
26. America’s Funniest Cats
I adore this sketch. I mean, first of all, somehow the French and the outfits make Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon so damn hot. Like fan your face hot. But Adam Driver again kills it and the concept works. The ending is also cringe-level terrible, which I sometimes love. Getting out of sketches is an art form, and this otherwise excellent sketch fails miserably at it.
27. 5 Hour Empathy
We all want to experience what oppressed people are enduring, right? Right?
28. Sports Announcer
This is also a near perfect sketch. This is how you do racial-based humor without being racist. Chance the Rapper is so, so good in it.
29. Wells For Boys
“Some boys live unexamined lives, but this one’s heart is full of questions.” This is another social commentary sketch, considering alternative product lines for more sensitive souls. As a father of a boy like this, I grinned ear to ear throughout.
30a. Sam Adams
The next two kind of go hand in hand. Bill Burr nails this. I watched this with my better half (we live just outside Boston) and she was like “I don’t know who I hate more, the Bill Burr character or the fakey-fake Boston Whole Foods cartel.” It’s so accurate. It’s not an exaggeration. This is like 75% of the people in my hometown. No shit. (Mikey Day plays the same character in another Boston-based sketch after this one.)
30b. Dunkin Donuts
When people want to know who does the most spot-on, effortless, Boston accent? It’s probably Casey Affleck. This sketch, again, is 100% accurate. These are basically my neighbors.
This isn’t an SNL sketch, but it pairs nicely with the last two. It’s from former SNL head writer Seth Myers, who grew up in Cow Hampshire. Enjoy.
Did I miss one of your favorites? Throw it into the comments!
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