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10. "Synchronized Swimming," Saturday Night Live, 1985






This fondly remembered mockumentary was a precursor to Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. Martin Short and Harry Shearer play brothers training to qualify for an Olympic category that doesn't exist, choreographed by Christopher Guest (who is obviously taking Guffman's Corky St. Clair out for a test drive here). "Men have never done synchronized swimming," says Shearer, and the reason why is evident from the duo's irresistibly silly routines. It's proof that, as a comic value, self-delusion stands the test of time. — MM

9. "Not for Ladies Only," Saturday Night Live, 1976

Start with the fact that these are two of the greatest comedians ever to share a stage. Gilda Radner's Baba Wawa was the first parody of a living newsperson, and the idea to pair her with the likewise phonetically impaired Marlene Dietrich (here, Madeline Kahn as Marlena Deutschland) was genius, resulting in this exchange, an interview segment in which the two women stumble over and around each other in search of an L. — MM

8. "Consumer Probe," Saturday Night Live, 1977






An early SNL talk-show sendup that's rarely been surpassed. A consumer-affairs reporter (Candice Bergen) confronts a shady toy manufacturer (Dan Akyroyd), who sees nothing dangerous about his products: Mr. Skin Grafter, Johnny Switchblade and Bag of Glass. — MM
7. "Nairobi Trio," The Ernie Kovacs Show , 1956






Ernie Kovacs was a sketch-comedy pioneer and visionary. On his shows in the 1950s, he experimented with visual effects and blackouts, choreographed orangutan operas and messed around with his closing credits, setting an ironic prankstery template for David Letterman and SNL. His most representative sketch was probably this one, in which he put three men in ape suits and had them mime to a twee piano tune. Like a lot of Kovacs's work, it's not exactly funny, just remarkably offbeat — and recognizable in dozens of comic descendants. — MM

6. "The Idiot in Rural Society," Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1970






While it doesn't have that born-of-chaos quality that marks the majority of Monty Python's most loved and quoted sketches, "The Idiot in Rural Society" remains one of their strongest bits. A mock documentary on the daily routine and role of a village idiot, it's five minutes of John Cleese playing a dignified rube discussing his history and training regiment for being a gibbering idiot who runs into things. "Idiot" embodies how smart the Pythons could be while being silly and how ably they could subvert just about anything. — JC

5. "The Coneheads at Home," Saturday Night Live

The visitors from the planet Remulak, who managed to live among earthlings as a nuclear family of immigrants "from France," sent up suburban conventions, consumption and cluelessness. Discussing the "gelatin pools of Remulak" over a meal of "chicken embryos and shredded swine flesh," they made the normal seem alien and vice-versa. This early sketch, featuring Steve Martin as an IRS agent, is probably the best. They set the bar for SNL "family" sketch characters; none others were done quite as well. They even managed to avoid the shitty SNL spinoff movie for longer than most: almost two decades. — MM


4. "Samurai Hotel," Saturday Night Live, 1975

The best performance in a sketch ever? SNL's first recurring character was undeniably one of its greatest; John Belushi broke the mold for recurring characters with his Samurai, mumbling, grunting and gesturing in a secret language that elevated a parody of kung-fu movies into the comedy stratosphere. — MM
3. "Argument Clinic," Monty Python, 1972






The best Monty Python sketches have always revolved around a go-nowhere argument — a pet-shop clerk telling a customer his parrot's not dead, King Arthur arguing with a serf over whether she's his subject — so it's fitting that they eventually got around to "The Argument Clinic," in which a man pays a professional arguer (John Cleese) to have an argument with him. The argument becomes about what exactly constitutes an argument — the client thinks it's a collective series of statements that constitute a proposition, and Cleese thinks, no, it isn't. — WD

2. "Who's On First?" Abbott and Costello, 1942






Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's most famous live radio bit, the ultimate paean to comic misunderstanding, was showcased in a couple of their films, many of their radio and TV appearances, and in a command performance for FDR. A simple request for the names of the St. Louis ballplayers creates more confusion the more information is provided, as Costello, a peanut vendor, fails to understand that Abbott, the manager of the team, is providing the players' names even though it sounds like he's randomly repeating back-question words. Though the joke's concept isn't original (the format was common to burlesque and the premise is about as profound as a greeting-card pun), the impeccable delivery and crafting make every "Third base!" seem divinely inspired. Pretty much every sketch group, comedy show and comedian since then has studied the sketch; many have reprised it, including Johnny Carson, South Park, The Simpsons and Kids in the Hall. And it's one of those jokes that's universally funny: who hasn't experienced the kind of escalating bafflement that makes you threaten someone with a broken arm or hit yourself in the head with a baseball bat? — Ada Calhoun
1. "Dead Parrot," Monty Python, 1969






The premise: a man (John Cleese) attempts to return his brand-new parrot to the pet shop, having realized that the bird is quite obviously dead. The pet-shop owner (Michael Palin) refuses to believe that the parrot is dead, and therefore refuses to let him return it. That's it. While many high-concept sketches have won a deserving place on this list, the Dead Parrot Sketch is something rarer: a simple concept  executed with pure comedic brilliance. Cleese and Palin are perfect foils, and much of the joke stems from the rational man growing increasingly hysterical, while the irrational one remains perfectly calm, offering one ridiculous explanation after another ("You stunned him, just as he was wakin' up! Norwegian Blues stun easily.") Just as each new generation keeps discovering the Beatles, hundreds of thirteen-year-olds are right now watching this sketch on YouTube for the first time, and incorporating the phrase "pining for the fjords" into their vocabularies. Unlike that unfortunate parrot, this is one joke that will never die. — GW

 

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Commentarium (34 Comments)

Apr 22 10 - 5:37am
TOC

Nice to see Ernie Kovacs getting a top 10 nod.

Jun 20 10 - 11:06pm
Jomes

Whoever made this list must be 70 years old. There are MANY SNL moments from the 90's that were MUCH funnier than anything on this list.

Mar 27 11 - 3:21am
Erik

Suck twenty dicks.

Nov 03 11 - 5:17am
Rob

I agree. This list sucks. It's also incorrect. "We're two wild and crazy guys" was the first recurring character. Not the Hotel Samurai with Belushi. Lame..

Jul 01 10 - 7:53pm
Scott

The dead parrot sketch is not that clever, or even relatively amusing. Showing that to any intelligent youth of today and not even being able to raise a slight chuckle makes it obvious, that some of this list is here for retro reasons and nothing else. That doesnt mean its the worst thing ever comedy wise (try conan o brien instead, lol) but the parrot sketch can only be considered a classic in the eyes of the easily amused...

Mar 27 11 - 3:22am
Erik

Suck thirty dicks.

May 22 11 - 2:37pm
Eric

40

Aug 05 11 - 4:45pm
800

800

Jul 01 10 - 7:57pm
Kevin

I never found the parrot sketch to be that great either, but the movies were great!! :)

Jul 23 10 - 12:52am
Mikem

Whitest kds u know abe lincoln sketch shouldve been up there

Aug 04 10 - 6:08am
tonydal

The only thing dumber than these choices is the idea that there are many SNL moments from the 90s that can top them.

Aug 04 10 - 8:32pm
Caped Stare

No Peter Cook and Dudley Moore?
No John Clarke?
No Big Train?
This list is deeply flawed.

Aug 11 10 - 7:08pm
Captain Obvious

They just picked popular old sketches.

Aug 14 10 - 2:01am
The Man

1) Chris Farley's original "Matt Foley" sketch is one of the best ever.
2) Two Phil Hartman sketches come to mind. "The Sinatra Group", Charlton Heston narrating Madonna's "Sex"
3) Rick James is legendary, but the funniest "charlie murphy true hollywood stories" is the Prince basketball sketch ("After it was all over, he took us in the house and served us pancakes....")

Aug 28 10 - 7:09pm
Warrick Hunt

It's completely stupid to argue with the choice of top 50 sketches. Despite this, stupid people always have to add their two penneth don't they ?
It's quite obvious that nobody else is likely to choose the same 50 sketches as listed here. Everyone has their own sense of humour and therefore it's always going to be down to personal choice.

Sep 23 10 - 2:58pm
rg

mike myers japanese game show w chris faley

Oct 18 10 - 9:41am
Sean

Audition of an audition (mr. show) is one of my personal all time favorites

Apr 06 11 - 12:48am
Jim

Came here to post this... I am glad to see the Pre-Taped Call-In Show get love, though (sorta similar, "meta" premise).

Oct 27 10 - 10:11pm
Dan

It'd be a lot nicer if a good 2/3 of the videos weren't blocked...

Nov 22 10 - 10:47pm
Adam

Mr Show "change for a dollar" simple and perfect.

May 08 11 - 5:21pm
Gabe

That's def. my choice for greatest sketch of all time. It grows more relevant with each passing year.

Jan 09 11 - 2:22am
Mitch

Mr. Show: "Thrilling Miracles!" I've never seen a sketch with so many complete mood twists, and none with such dark premises.

Jan 22 11 - 12:55pm
Seb

i didnt think the dead parrot was funny at all, there was some pretty good sketches on that list tho, good job.

Jan 22 11 - 11:50pm
bxs

Jim Ignitalsky taking the drivers test on Taxi was the funniest skit every

Apr 03 11 - 11:05pm
Seb

That's not a sketch...this is a sketch comedy list, not a funniest moments in all tv list...so clearly, sitcoms are out...

Oct 19 11 - 8:10am
RickDVD

If so, Mork's Mixed Emotions would rank right up there in the top 10 as a wonderful show. It still stands up today as creedence to Robin Williams' comedic brilliance. Then again, many of the things Robin did on Mork were unscripted, highly unusual for a network television program.

Sep 18 11 - 9:39pm
mistercoughy

Firesign Theatre was much funnier and more brilliant than most of the people shown here.

Sep 23 11 - 1:54am
Lacking

With no Fry and Laurie, Big Train, Mitchell and Webb, Armstrong and Miller or most glaringly Rowan Atkinson (No One Called Jones! Fatal Beatings! A Warm Welcome!), I can't really get behind this list.

And not that I expected him to be included (because he's Australian and unknown outside of the country), but Shaun Micallef's absence is also unfortunate.

Oct 14 11 - 4:48pm
rjh

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ty68LPKRQQQ

How anyone can do such a list and not include this, I don't know!

Oct 19 11 - 8:12am
RickDVD

What about Theatre Stories from SNL? That was a hoot, with Mike Myers and Steve Martin.

Nov 03 11 - 5:18am
Rob

This list is horrible. This is the first article I've read on this site. It will also be the last.

Dec 18 11 - 9:13pm
Msn

I can't believe they didn't include the Wayne Brady as a total bad-ass on the Chappelle show.

Apr 21 12 - 1:58am
Hajilicious

Bullshit list! Where the hell is Chappell? "Black White Supremacist" was genius!

May 07 12 - 4:41pm
Joe

Way too many sketches from SNL.