Tonight I present the final 4 (ish) of my top 25 SNL sketches series, including numbers 1-4.
4. The Sarcastic Clapping Family of Southhampton
from episode 16.12 – Kevin Bacon, Original Air Date 02/09/1991
(Apologies for the poor video, it was the only one I could find. TRANSCRIPT for those who need it.)
SNL has been around for so long that every generation who’s watched it (there should be 3 of them, now) will either think that their era is the best or that SNL “wasn’t as good as it used to be in the 70s/80s/90s/before Will Ferrell left. A lot of these opinions depend on the strength of both the writing and of the cast, and it is rare that an era so gelled these two qualities together than is evident in the shows from the late 80s/early 90s. Lacking the penchant to over rely on recurring characters that writers and cast today often do (I’m looking at you, Kristen Wiig!), this era produced many standalone sketches of brilliance that stand the test of time. Led by the always dramatically hilarious Phil Hartman, the Sarcastic Clapping Family of Southampton is a sketch that has always been ingrained in my head from the first time I saw it. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. Nice.
3. White Like Me
from episode 10.09 – Eddie Murphy, Original Air Date 12/15/1984
It is unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on the season in question) that I have been unable to see very many episodes from the Dick Ebersol period of SNL, the early 80s experiment that occurred after the original cast and producer Lorne Michaels left the show before the disastrous 1980 season. The best thing that supposedly came from this period is that it was the launching pad for arguably one of SNL’s greatest exports: Eddie Murphy. While Murphy has effectively shunned the show that gave him his start (never appearing at cast reunions or providing much insight into his time there), he was perhaps at his funniest during these times. This pre-taped gem not only is utterly hilarious, but also manages to tackle race relations in a manner that Dave Chappelle dreams he could accomplish.
2A. Nude Beach
from episode 14.02 – Matthew Broderick, Original Air Date 10/15/1988
Also known as “the penis sketch,” this is probably one of the most infamous sketches in SNL history, and it’s so hard to come by that I’ve never actually seen the whole thing. I would do a write-up about it but this lady does a much better job at explaining its awesomess. Suffice to say, no video is available online. That being said…
2B. Celebrity Jeopardy (with John Goodman)
from episode 22.19 – John Goodman, Original Air Date 05/10/1997
…clocking in and sharing the number 2 spot is the CLASSIC Celebrity Jeopardy sketch, probably the most famous thing to come out of SNL in its long history. With 14 sketches over a 15 year span, it was very hard to pick just one (let alone one that doesn’t feature Sean Connery), but in the end I had to go with the Brando/Donahue/Reynolds bit (the Stewart/Connery/Reynolds one is already all over most of the DVDs). Before he was fired, Norm MacDonald’s un-caring Burt Reynolds was the recurring guest, which freed up Darrell Hammond to tackle other impressions such as this perfect take on talk show host Phil Donahue. As usual Norm just has fun with Burt and annoys Trebek in a less childish way than Connery would later do, but I think the real winner here is John Goodman channeling a perfect senile Marlon Brando. As a whole the Celebrity Jeopardy sketches represent the best part about SNL in the 90s, and is one of the few sketches that will almost always have something funny in it no matter how many times they drag it out every time Will Ferrell hosts.
1. First Presidential Debate (Bush/Gore)
from episode 26.01 – Rob Lowe, Original Air Date 10/07/2000
You may wonder why this is what I consider to be the best SNL sketch of all time. This is one of the few on this list that I actually remember coming out when I was younger, and in retrospect it sums up perfectly the political and social power that SNL can have at its pinnacle. Before the Tina Fey/Palin sketches of this past season, this was the benchmark for SNL political humor. The sketch pits then Governor George W. Bush (Will Ferrell) against Vice President Al Gore (Darrell Hammond at his peak) in a satire of the actual debates occurring at the time. The crux of the sketch isn’t necessarily the great impressions (Ferrell’s Bush is more of a caricature than anything), but of the ingenious ability of the writers to nail down the two candidates traits to two words that the media was able to pick up and run with: “lockbox” and “strategery,” the latter of which became synonymous with the Bush administration. Some have said that the public voted not based on the real candidates but rather their SNL portrayals, and whatever that says about America, it sure says a lot about SNL’s raw power and influence that continues to this day, no matter how many times Andy Samberg punches things.
In my next entry, which hopefully won’t be 4 months from now, I’ll list some runners up.