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The 50 Greatest Commercial Parodies of All Time

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50 Greatest Comedy Sketches  

 

It didn’t take long after the rise of TV commercials in the mid-twentieth century for comedians to take note of just how ridiculous most of those commercials were. Doctors selling cigarettes, housewives defending their laundry detergent as if any other detergent (the menacing "Brand X") were a threat to the American way of life — boob-tube marketing was a bottomless pit of material, and was bound to be soaked up by the sketch-comedy boom that followed shortly thereafter.

Parodies of such ads began popping up in the early ’70s on shows like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. But it was Saturday Night Live‘s 1975 debut that ripped the genre wide open. Madison Avenue’s glib, cheeseball patter became fodder for regulars like Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner, and some of their successors — most notably straight-man kingpin Phil Hartman — built an entire career on it. As advertising grew more sophisticated, so did the satires that chased it. In today’s irony-saturated comedy landscape, it’s difficult to find a sketch show that doesn’t do fake ads in one form or another.

In this feature, we’ve assembled fifty of the best. Unfortunately, many of SNL‘s most infamous are no longer available online, due to NBC’s copyright-enforcing blitz a while back. But we did manage to unearth a surprising number of classics still lurking in the corners of the internet, along with plenty of timeless bits from Chappelle’s Show, MADtv, In Living Color and SCTV. This list is an assemblage of our own personal favorites, and we encourage you to take us to task in the feedback section over what we missed. And now, without further ado, a word from our sponsors.


50. "Annuale," SNL, 2008


Most women we know find the idea of a once-a-season menstrual cycle creepier than Joe Francis coming at them with a camera. Unlike boob jobs, waxing and diet pills, that shit just doesn’t seem natural, and the Annuale sketch shows that even a big-pharma, pink-tinged ad campaign can’t dispel that. Plus: Kristen Wiig moves one step closer to goddess-hood by making out with a dog. Take that, Vanity Fair. — NA


49. "Levitol," MADtv, 2006


The "ask your doctor if *blank* is right for you" genre has been sent up a thousand times, but a few stand out, this one for its initial realism and subsequent devolution into madness. The weird doctor-patient power dynamic hasn’t been made any more comfortable by the raft of TV ads encouraging us to ask about particular medicines, a fact that this parody nails perfectly. And there’s just something about those gardening gloves — are we wrong in thinking this wouldn’t work without them? — WD

48. "Fashion Tampons," In Living Color, 1991


In Living Color was never known for its commercial parodies, but they had a few classics, one of them being "Fashion Tampons." "Stylish, comfortable and fun," they go with any outfit. The idea of tampon companies claiming their own tampon is far, far superior to all the others is the joke here — as is an entire dress contructed of small tubes of cotton, with earrings to match. — WD

47. "Woomba," SNL, 2004


One pleasing development over the last decade has been the increasing pop-culture visibility of vaginas. (It’s hard to imagine Victoria Jackson endorsing "the little pink robot that cleans your noony.") For our money, the sketch starts to lose focus once it plays up the "vagina-cleaning robot runs amuck" premise — it would be more satirically on-point to have Fey and company acting incongruously unfazed. Still, the concept is gold. — PS


46. "Xerox Assjet," SNL, 1997


This list might feel supersaturated with SNL nostalgia, but the truth is that their commercial parodies have often been their strongest work, showing restraint without losing their topical appeal. Yes, people using copy machines to make pictures of their asses is funny. But what makes "Xerox Assjet" funnier than an actual photocopied ass is the authenticity of Will Ferrell’s smooth businessman and a non-plussed Tim Meadows expressing his disapproval of subpar ass copies. — JC

45. "Coin Slot Cream," SNL, 2006


There’s a cream for every crevice of your body, and the idea that the one designed for under your eyes is radically different than the one designed for the rest of your face is ridiculous. But that doesn’t stop the marketers from telling us as much, as Lindsay Lohan rightly points out while selling cream designed specifically for the northern ridge of your butt crack. — WD


44. "Tylenol BM," SNL, 2005


Alec Baldwin, comedic genius, can do no wrong. (We bet he could even make screaming obscenities into his daughter’s voicemail simply hilarious.) Watching Baldwin’s businessman sell Tylenol BM — with his cheerful morning-after grin, despite his wife screaming, "Did you shit the bed?" — almost makes me want to buy the fake product. If any pharmaceutical companies get their advertising claws in Baldwin, we’re screwed. — NA


43. "Colonel Belmont’s Old-Fashioned Horse Glue," SNL, 2000


This sticky, adhesive sketch pillories commercials that appeal to the Restoration Hardware crowd — yuppies who fetishize authenticity, DIY projects and rustic settings. "When it comes time to fix that refrigerator magnet, or put together a little house of popsicle sticks, you don’t want some cheap, synthetic glue. You want pure mutilated horse paste." It’s easy to believe such a line was lifted directly from Martha Stewart Living. — NA

42. "HiberNol," SNL, 1993


Over-the-counter medicines like NyQuil basically promise to induce a coma so you can remain unconscious while your cold runs its course — it’s a popular product in our culture of discomfort avoidance. If we could just expand that remedy so it covers the entire flu season, half of America would probably opt to slumber from November to April, living off our ample body fat. It’s no riddle why they cast Chris Farley for this one. — WD


41. "Excedrin Racial Tension Headache," SNL, 2004

This whole bit is basically one long buildup to the final line, which we will not give away here. Queen Latifa is grand as the frustrated office worker whose coworkers call her Denise, "which is stressful, because my name is Linda." Few comedians handle racial jokes with deft, and Latifa employs just the right mix of discomfort and sass in this sketch. — WD

 

50 Greatest TV Comedy Sketches  

 

40. "Dissing Your Dog," SNL, 2001


Passive-aggression is never as sweet as when it’s bundled up with Will Ferrell and a pack of puppies, especially because all involved are cuddly, squeezable and look like they’re smiling even when they’re not. But in this sketch, Ferrell’s sarcastic, back-handed put-downs work far more effectively than actual communication, and provide a cutting perspective on the training methods of parents whose kids won’t obey. — CM

39. "Rise," SNL, 1979


America is a nation of germophobes, and of particular concern are public bathrooms. Steve Martin does a lovely job of satirizing our fear of toilet seats (not to mention doorknobs, payphones and anything else not touched exclusively by ourselves). Declaring public bathrooms "dirty, disgusting and germ-ridden," he plays off a culture obsessed with sanitization mainly because of what we’ve been told by the people selling us an increasingly ludicrous line of disinfectants. — WD

38. "Nikey Turkey," SNL, 1990


This is an amazing flashback to African-American TV comedy from the early ’90s, when In Living Color ruled the sketch landscape, Kid ‘n Play dictated style and camera angles were floaty, wobbly and craaaazy! Chris Rock looks startlingly young, and his facial expression when he peers into the camera and urges, "Pump it" in that faux-sexy moan is a comedic moment to pause and rewind. — WD

37. "Steve Martin’s All-Natural Penis Beauty Creme (New Formula!)," SNL, 1994


Celebrity endorsements are the most meaningless of marketing strategies. But apparently they work — the Joan Rivers’s loofah (extra abrasive!) is selling like hotcakes at Bath and Bodyworks. This concept is skewered with glee by Steve Martin, who was never a regular SNL cast member and so appears in few ad parodies. But if he was going to lend his name to just one product, it’s no surprise it’s this one. — CM
36. "Bug-Off," SNL, 1995


Pest control can be sadistic. What goes on inside those diabolical little black roach traps? Probably something similar to what happens in this commercial. Mixing the extreme violence of children’s cartoons with people’s total disregard for insects as a legitimate life form, "Bug-Off" shows us just how cruel we can be when Disney-grade imagination meets chemical science. — WD
35. "The Young and the Wrestling," SCTV, 1980


The premise is ridiculously basic; it’s literally rooted in a play on words. But linking soap-opera melodrama to professional wrestling’s hysterics is an astute correlation. Tony Rosato is a sheik — why? In soap opera and professional wrestling, you just don’t ask those sorts of questions. Nor do you ask why Rick Moranis ignores his opponent, and instead pile-drives a nightgowned Andrea Martin. — WD

34. "Cookie Dough Sport," SNL, 1997


You can literally feel your heart slowing down when you watch someone pounding cookie dough straight from a bottle. The gross-out is the go-to method when it comes food-related humor, and "Cookie Dough Sport" plays it with aplomb. It’s also a delightfully effective skewer for performance drinks that have "high-fructose corn syrup" near the top of their ingredients list. — JC

33. "Oops I Crapped My Pants," SNL, 1998


All right, so it’s not brilliant. It’s a fairly transparent attempt at scatalogical humor that panders to the masses. But there’s nothing wrong with a foolproof laugh at elderly incontinence. Nothing wrong with that at all. — WD

32. "Petchow Rat Poison," SNL, 1996


Will Ferrell became the commercial force he is today thanks to his ability to play exaggerated and unbelievable characters like Ron Burgundy, so it’s easy to forget how strong his straight man really is. Ferrell’s Hank Petchow doesn’t flip out his audience with jokes built on wild incongruity. Instead, he slowly builds guffaws with subtly violent dialogue and a weirdly malevolent folksy cadence. — JC

31. "Mercury Mistress," SNL, 1998


"Introducing the new Mercury Mistress: The world’s first car you can actually have sex with." Step aside Kate Walsh — this "freaky European gymnast" will turn on a dime and turn on any man who slips into her. Optional features include extra shock absorbers that can handle even the most severe weather conditions. The message that men want to have sex with their cars is obvious, but that doesn’t make a Fleshlight under the license plate any less funny. — Alexandra Godfrey

50 Greatest TV Comedy Sketches  

 

30. "Kotex Classic," SNL, 2002


Sometimes SNL goes a bit overboard on the vaginal-product parodies, but this one cannot not be highlighted. The 1950s were a strange time for feminine hygiene — sanitary napkins involved an elaborate system of buckles and snaps. The show’s female dreamteam collaborated on this ad for Kotex Classic, the brand more women choose because "it’s so complicated," sending up ads for feminine products that boast their Zen-like simplicity, as if any of today’s tampons and maxi pads are that complex. — WD

29. "Compulsion by Calvin Klein," SNL, 1987


Hartman shines in this parody of ludicrously self-important perfume ads, which now seem amazingly dated and beautifully ’80s. "A translucent figure, glowing in the light and fire of her overwhelming passion," breathes narrator Hartman about the woman who can’t stop cleaning, and who’s neurotic hysteria captures the very essence of contrived Calvin Klein ads from the era. — CM
28. "Home Stenographer," Chappelle’s Show, 2003


Anyone who’s been in a relationship knows that winning an argument means mastering one tactic: deny, deny, deny. "I never said I thought you were fat! I never said I think your best friend is hot!" Better pray your partner doesn’t have a home stenographer who’ll take down your every word in brisk, efficient shorthand. Only the makers of the Wrap-It-Up Box could come up with so useful a product. — WD

27. "Puppy Uppers," SNL, 1976


SNL has a thing for dogs. Maybe it’s because it’s filmed in New York, where even in freakishly cramped living situations people are willing to carve out a surprising amount of space for a large, hyperactive pet. In this SNL classic, Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman learn how to perk up a listless pooch the pharmaceutical way — with Puppy Uppers and Doggie Downers, two products for pets that are remarkably similar to the pills many people use to get through their day. — CM
26. "John Madden for Vagicil," MADtv, 2006


There are three types of impressions people try to do. The bad ones (Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando), the pretty good ones (a category that encompasses most TV sketch shows), and the ones so perfect they’re indistinguishable from the person being imitated. Frank Caliendo’s John Madden impression falls into this third category — it’s one of the best things on MADtv, and it basically doesn’t matter what Caliendo says or does. Usually he’s hawking some product — in this case, a feminine itch cream — with a bluster and incoherence that makes Madden himself the overall parody. You don’t need to be a football fan whatsoever. — WD
25. "Zoloft," MADtv, 2006


Anyone who watched primetime television between 1999 and 2003 is familiar with the Zoloft Depression Egg. Its ubiquity was cloying enough, but it was Pfizer’s attempt to personalize a psychological malady with an adorable mascot that was truly offensive. This bit goes for a few lame low-blows ("tendency to waste votes on green party," indeed), but the straight tone works remarkably well overall. — JC

24. "Royal Deluxe II," SNL, 1977


Dan Aykroyd was the obvious casting choice for the motormouthed pitchman selling the Royal Deluxe II (which was one pimp car, by the way) by demonstrating its ample shocks via a bris performed in the backseat. It’s one of those nail-biters, where you know the baby isn’t really a baby and the rabbi isn’t really a rabbi and the car probably isn’t even moving, and you’re watching through your fingers anyway. — PS

23. "Extremely Stupid People," SNL, 1976


As commercial satire, this sketch is pretty thin gruel; as an SNL moment, it’s immortal for Candice Bergen fumbling — before completely destroying — her straight-woman role. The sweet smile that Gilda Radner wears as she twists the knife and Bergen bursts into laughter in the background is timeless. Proof positive that SNL was usually more endearing when it went badly. — PS

22. "I Wanna Be a Ho," SNL, 1981


With his incongruous sign affixed to the aluminum-siding wall behind him, and his stilted, scripted arm gestures, Beverly Hills Cop-era Eddie Murphy set the bar high for mail-order adult-education commercial parodies. "Are you a female high-school dropout between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five?" asks Velvet Jones. "Are you tired of lying around in bed all day with nothing to do? Well, you never need get up again." His book, I Wanna Be a Ho, is backed up by a genuine ho testimonial and promises to turn around the lives of young women for just $19.95. "What more could a woman ask for?" — WD

21. "Uncle Jemima’s Pure Mash Liquor," SNL, 2000


What’s better than re-appropriating racial stereotypes? Tracy Morgan re-appropriating racial stereotypes while cross-dressing and swatting at cartoon Disney-esque songbirds. Uncle Jemima wants to sell you his Uncle Jemima’s Pure Mash Liquor. Why? Because "you like to get bent just as fast as possible." A truly off-the-rails take-down of feel-good food commercials. — NA

50 Greatest TV Comedy Sketches  

 

20. "Valtrex," SNL, 2006


In this Valtrex ad, Alec Baldwin and Amy Poehler play a husband and wife who are confused when suddenly, in the midst of a long-term, monogamous relationship, one of the partners tests positive for genital herpes. Thank God the husband read about a study that explains everything away. And remember, as the commercial says, "Ask your husband if you need Valtrex. He may know more than your doctor. Doctors don’t know everything." — NA

19. "Colon Blow," SNL, 1989


Among the many things the comedy world lost with the death of Phil Hartman was his uncanny voice, which seemed to distill the unctuousness of the American huckster to its essence. That voice made him perfect for recurring Simpsons characters like Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz; it also (combined with his ’50s-commercial-pitchman’s face) elevates this throwaway scatological gag into a minor classic. — PS
18. "Bad Idea Jeans," SNL, 1990


This spoof of a ’90s Guess Jeans ad is just a series of really bad ideas being casually coughed up by thirtysomething yuppies wearing acid-wash denim with a red label in the crack. "Well, I thought about it, and even though it’s over, I’m going to tell my wife about the affair." And, "Now that I have kids I feel a lot better having a gun in the house." It’s a beautiful lampoon of clueless upper-middle-class male suburbanites who think they know everything. The pickup basketball game they stride toward at the end of the parody is just the icing on the cake. — WD

17. "Schmitt’s Gay Beer," SNL, 1991


Ads for domestic beer are essentially soft porn for straight guys, but they’re so ubiquitous that we don’t find them all that sexually explicit, which is why "Schmitt’s Gay Beer" is so brilliant. Swap out the women for men, the bikinis for banana hammocks and the breast implants for ham-hock pecs, and what originally looked like good, wholesome horsing around in a pool looks like late-night pay-channel programming. — WD
16. "Crystal Gravy," SNL, 1993

Crystal Pepsi was a grouper in a barrel, to be sure, but SNL made the most of their parody. The bit combines a great recreation of Pepsi’s bullshit new-agey commercials — right down to a soundalike for Van Halen’s cheeseball "Right Now" in the background — with the pure sight gag of a hair-gel-like substance oozing all over dinner. God, the ’90s, huh? — PS
15. "The Love Toilet," SNL, 1991


The Love Toilet is a perfect storm of commercial parodying: a mix of great comedic writing with a commentary on groan-inducing "I want to smell your morning breath" love. The voiceover asks, "Why not share the most intimate moment of them all?" Why not, indeed? A young Kevin Nealon and a fresh-faced Victoria Jackson make goo-goo eyes at each other, their panties strung around their ankles. — NA

14. "Wrap-It-Up Box," Chappelle’s Show, 2003


The best fake commercials offer one of two things: a product you would never in your life actually purchase (i.e., the Bass-o-matic), or a product you would kill to have, if only it were really on the market. The Wrap-It-Up Box is of this latter category, the perfect device to subvert our culture of politeness, where everyone feigns interest long after interest has shriveled and died. — WD

13. "Happy Fun Ball," SNL, 1991


Sadly, the days of truly hazardous children’s toys are long gone, so "Happy Fun Ball" doesn’t pack the straight parody punch it did almost twenty years ago. It does, however, bear a striking resemblance to modern commercials for pharmaceuticals. Viagra is, technically speaking, a type of Happy Fun Ball, so the litany of warnings remains hilariously relatable. Plus, the idea of taunting an inanimate rubber ball is laugh-worthy all by itself. — John Constantine

12. "G-R-R-R Detergent," The Lily Tomlin Comedy Special, 1975


Few people know that Lily Tomlin used to do real TV commercials, usually with a subtle wink at the vapid marketing behind detergents and breakfast cereals, making her one of the first satirists of advertising back when it was oh so earnest. This parody of an ad for G-R-R-R Detergent holds up remarkably well several decades later — it’s all in Tomlin’s believably flustered delivery. Everything is encapsulated in that moment when she first notices the lipstick stain on her husband’s shirt and stares into the washing machine for just a second too long. — WD

11. "Stretch Marks by Patti Caldwell," SNL, 1980


A close second to Eddie Murphy’s "Buhweet Sings," Gilda Radner portrays Patti Caldwell, whose album, Stretch Marks, "for career women in their late-thirties," is hilariously depressing. Songs like "I Used To Be Quite Interesting, Really" and "Kids — It’s Academic Now (Too Risky)" are accompanied by a montage of Patti looking alternately empowered and destroyed, but always in taffeta. — WD

 

 

10. "Mom Jeans," SNL, 2003

Mom jeans have been ubiquitous in the suburbs for years, but no one ever noticed them until SNL permanently injected the phrase into popular culture. Nine-inch zippers and casual pleats — why do WASPy moms wear such hideously cut denim apparel? They seem specifically designed to direct a maximum amount of attention to an unflattering ass. But the moms love the mom jeans, perhaps because they agree with the commercial’s chipper voiceover when it proudly declares, "You’re not a woman anymore — you’re a mom!" — WD

9. "H&L Brock," SNL, 1976


This one’s only a partial clip of an oldie, but we’d be remiss not to include John Belushi’s Lowell Brock of H&L Brock, who has seventeen reasons why you should come to him for all your tax needs. Reasons that include borderline criminal acts, promised with such deadpan sincerity that Belushi, probably a little out of his element in this long-running sober sketch, ultimately reaches a breaking point. — WD

8. "Hey, You!" SNL, 1977


One function of these commercial parodies is their ability to drill straight down to the absolute truth about a product. Take perfume. "Not all women are looking for Mr. Right," the voiceover purrs seductively. "Sometimes they might just want a little company for the evening." So true. It would have worked even without the final shot of Gilda Radner hailing a cab in her evening dress the next morning, but that outro elevates this bit to timeless. — WD
7. "First CityWide Change Bank," SNL, 1988


This parody is so realistic it could run on regular TV, bookended by ads for Subway and Verizon, and you’d probably never even notice it was a fake. "First CityWide Change Bank" makes fun of the very idea of commercials for banks — who chooses a bank based on anything other than how many ATMs they have near where you live? Phil Hartman’s CityWide experience is the best of them all: four guineas, two crowns, four shillings and ten pence in exchange for his five-pound note. Thank God for such an essential financial institution. — WD

6. "Samuel L. Jackson Beer," Chappelle’s Show, 2004

Samuel L. Jackson beer

Bad parody goes after obvious, already-ridiculed targets (like, say, Britney Spears); great parody nails the subtle absurdities that no one had yet identified. Samuel L. Jackson was such a bad motherfucker — the ultimate personification of cool — that no one really noticed he’d been coasting on his "bad motherfucker" shtick ever since Pulp Fiction. Enter Dave Chappelle, the greatest impressionist of his generation. Nailing Jackson’s gun-toting-preacher cadence ("Mmm, mmm, bitch!"), Chappelle then takes the sketch into outer space in his usual good-natured fashion, recasting Jackson’s greatest rants before going out with a moment of literal scenery-chewing. — PS

5. "Jewess Jeans," SNL, 1980


This could just be a song on the radio and you’d still laugh out loud, but seeing Gilda Radner prance around in gold-lame piping and a halter top is not an image we’ll soon forget. "She’s read every bestselling book/She’s a gourmet blender cook/She’s got that Jewish loooooook . . . " Radner does what was probably one of pop-culture’s earliest JAP impressions, back when such women were known for tortoise-shell glasses and ridiculously long, dangly necklaces. Semetic jokes are essentially today’s default humor, but this early pioneer set the stage, and placed the bar as high as her platform heels. — WD
4. "Buhweet Sings," SNL, 1981


Before Daddy Day Care and the other jalopies that reduced Eddie Murphy to bizarre self-parody, the man was indeed legit, and this skit recalls the heady, fuck-you-FCC days of Raw and Delirious. He’s in fine form as an all-grown-up Buckwheat, playing to the point of absurdity the original Buckwheat’s painfully caricatured, borderline minstrel-show speech patterns. His afro and grin get the audience howling before even a word is spoken. — CM
3. "Robot Insurance," SNL, 1995


Old people are a prime marketing demographic, and the best way to sell them something is to scare the living shit out of them. "Robot Insurance" is the best parody of an elderly-targeted commercial that’s ever been made, and without Sam Waterston (who’s satirized his own sober reputation for John Waters before), it wouldn’t quite work. His ridiculously grave delivery is the joke itself, when he ominously intones, "When they grab you with those metal claws, you can’t break free, because they’re made of metal, and robots are strong." — Will Doig

2. "Little Chocolate Donuts," SNL, 1977


It’s the simplest possible setup: John Belushi trumping a flock of trim athletes in a decathlon. Just the sight of that paunch making its way around a track is worth a laugh, but it’s Belushi himself who’s the ultimate payoff. As the posterboy for unclean living, he relies on "little chocolate donuts" to stay fit, and the half-smoked cigarette dangling from his chubby hand puts this one over the top. — Peter Smith
1. "Bass-o-matic," SNL, 1976


Dan Aykroyd is a born salesman. He’s got the relentless patter of an auctioneer, looks completely at home in a patterned suit and grins like a huckster who’s got you in the palm of his hand. I actually want to buy a blended bass after watching this video, which is probably why Aykroyd’s pitchman persona came to define much of his career (we still think Ray Zalinsky was the best thing about Tommy Boy). "Bass-o-matic" was one of SNL‘s earliest forays into the commercial-parody genre that it would eventually come to dominate, and no one could have jumpstarted it like Aykroyd and his quick-and-easy fish preparation device. — Caitlin MacRae