The 50 Best Comedy Sketches of the Decade – Vulture

Posted: December 16, 2019 at 5:43 am

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From Liza Minnelli and her lamp to Too Much Tuna, its been a great decade for sketch comedy.* Illustration: by Ari Liloan

From Liza Minnelli and her lamp to Too Much Tuna, its been a great decade for sketch comedy.* Illustration: by Ari Liloan

Sketch comedy has always been one of the genres trusted forms, but as comedy has evolved grown shorter, longer, bigger, stranger, launched numerous podcast networks where does that leave good old-fashioned sketch comedy? Surely not in the dust. But sketch comedy has shifted in the wake of our far-too-online era, and often for the better. Over the last decade, the internet era opened doors to writers, creators, and comedians who didnt come up through the traditional (and perhaps dated) comedy-theater route. As a result, it would be too vague to call sketch more diverse; what it is is more specific and in a lot of cases, more cinematic. Thats how we wound up with Inside Amy Schumers 12 Angry Men or Key & Peeles Aerobics Meltdown. Even SNLs oddball favorite Darrells House is mostly built on a joke about, well, editing. What has endured from the decades sketch comedy, then, is not so much timely and immediate satire but well-made, frequently contextless, and joke-heavy material.

Weve worked to alphabetically (its only fair!) round up some of this decades best comedy sketches. Weve limited ourselves to sketch-comedy TV shows a list of the decades best internet and late-night sketches would be far bigger and stranger than can be catalogued though longform sketch shows like Documentary Now and At Home With Amy Sedaris make appearances below. Saturday Night Live, the behemoth of the sketch show genre, makes up a majority of the list, though the show transitioned out of the goofy Hader/The Lonely Island/Rudolph/Wiig era into the sharp and strange current era of the show. The decade also bid farewell to some of the old and beloved Key & Peele, Portlandia and welcomed the new and exciting A Black Lady Sketch Show, I Think You Should Leave. The list below ranges from popular favorites (Did you think you could end the decade without one more viewing of David S. Pumpkins orContinental Breakfast?) to bizarre marvels (Sammy Paradise is a highlight, though the singular Maya Angelou Prank Show is worth a revisit) and everything in between.

Have you ever seen 12 Angry Men? Amy Schumer asks a pedestrian at the end of her episode of the same name. Yeah, he says, to which Schumer then asks, Wouldnt you love to see a remake of that? and the man grimaces. No, he says, wincing. And yet Schumers remake in all its black-and-white, star-studded glory would go down as one of the more audacious and well-made pieces of comedy of the decade. Twelve men including John Hawkes, Jeff Goldblum, Kumail Nanjiani, Paul Giamatti, Vincent Kartheiser, and Chris Gethard argue behind closed doors about whether Schumer is hot enough to be on television. Its tempting to say its thesis is dated some four years later, but the conversation over what types of bodies, especially womens bodies, we see on TV still echoes, and Schumers take is the funniest of them all.

Donald Glovers 2018 SNL episode is one of the decades strongest featuring another favorite, Friendos and its his turn as the bizarre 80s crooner Raz P. Berry who punishes himself to get back at the woman he believes is cheating on him that won the night. Berry goes on and on about everything hes gone through, only to learn that his cool-guy sunglasses have prevented him from seeing that its not his girlfriend after all.

Having to keep high-kicking in the face of unspeakable tragedy feels like an apt metaphor for the decade, no? (Both Key and Peele are wonderful in this mostly dialogue-free sketch, but its Clint Howards panicked cue-card holder that steals the show.)

Next decades Best Comedy Sketches list is no doubt going to be full of A Black Lady Sketch Show, but for the time being, watch as one woman in the Bad Bitch Support Group (led by a majestic Angela Bassett) almost undermines the entire beauty industry by realizing that once in a while she may want to just be an okay bitch.

Black Jeopardy, written by Brian Tucker and Michael Che, has been one of SNLs most consistently funny recurring sketches this decade, led with a rarely better Kenan Thompson as host Darnell Hayes. Contestants guess their way through categories like FidNa and Bye, Felicia! (and, as always, White People), with the host of the episode playing the games wild card. From Drakes Black Canadian (Yo, theres thousands of us!) to Tom Hankss MAGA hat-wearing Doug (who recoils in horror at Hayess handshake), Black Jeopardy always hits.

Steve Buscemi stars as a hapless celery salesman who, on his mission to get more people to buy and eat celery, gets in way too deep with all the wrong people.

Nude Tayne is this generations cellar door.

The premise is simple: A white patient (Sue Galloway) visits a black doctor (Rothwell, accompanied by a male nurse played by Gary Richardson) to learn how to treat a case of chiggers she got while camping. The rest well, Im sure you can piece this together. Rothwell, Richardson, and Galloway shift in and out of conversations about stereotypes and gentrification and, yes, bugs, all with the grace and fortitude of dancers. (Watch it on Netflix.)

Continental Breakfast is perhaps the silliest of all of the Key & Peele sketches, a lovingly light send-up of chain hotels subpar breakfast buffets. Peele is the star here with his amused enchantment at all of the food options, his self-satisfied chuckle, and the way he coos, Arent you a tiny plum? to an unwashed grape. The profound joy he takes in the Continental breakfast builds to an absurd yet almost unsurprising ending (one not worth spoiling if youve somehow made it through these years without having seen it).

Darrells House was something of an anomaly for Saturday Night Live: a perfect cocktail of the shows and its host Zach Galifinakiss sensibilities. Galifinakis plays Darrell, a man taping an episode of his local-access television show in which he invites someone over to his house for the first time. Part One of the sketch, which aired relatively early into the nights episode, was full of mix-ups, mistakes, and stand-ins, and Galifinakis alternates between aw-shucks, upbeat enthusiasm, and utter rage. Its one of the most unique sketches not only of the decade but in the shows history. The Well fix it in postproduction joke of the sketch became Well fix it during the episode as it airs, and later in the episode, the incoherent, jumbled, wonderful Part Two of Darrells House pays off every setup.

Airing October 23, 2016, the general confusion around David S. Pumpkins Is he from something? Beck Bennetts character asks was the last thing to unite and delight the country.

Come for the satire of pseudo-hyperliterate logged-on types, stay for the plaintive nods that crescendo into rapid, manic head jerks to confirm, yes, theyve read it, but they did not like the ending.

Diner Lobster might really be the sketch of the decade, especially because it took almost the entire decade for John Mulaney and Colin Josts sketch to come to life. Pete Davidsons character makes the mistake of ordering lobster at an old Greek diner, and what follows, naturally, is a full-scale rendition of Who Am I? from Les Miserables. Kenan Thompason, waist-deep in a tank and dressed as a giant lobster, is one of the funniest sights in the history of SNL. Its a loving tribute to Les Miserables, ramshackle barricade and all, and an all-out insane gamble that pays off a thousandfold.

(Do It on My) Twin Bed was an all-star showcase for SNLs female cast: a joke-packed pop song in the style of an early-aughts girl group. The track was written by Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, who would co-author a number of the decades best SNL sketches before going on to create The Other Two. Each lyric is more quotable than the one before it, but Lil Baby Aidys moms feud with her friend Jean takes the cake (and makes another appearance in the videos sequel, Back Home Ballers).

From the names (Xmus Jaxon Flaxon-Waxon) to the universities (California University of Pennsylvania) to the various vocal modulations (Keys staccato delivery of Hingle McCringleberry and Peeles sultry, mysterious presentation of The Player Formerly Known As Mousecop), the East/West College Bowl rosters never, ever (Grunky Peep!), got old.

An escalating prank war between co-workers shot like its Michael Clayton.

Giving us You have no good car ideas in the last year of the decade is the most generous thing anyone has done!

If you dont have time to sit through The Wolf of Wall Street, this is a fine substitute.

Hamm & Buble is an oft-cited favorite of many fans of the show with a premise as simple as its name a ham-and-Champagne-themed restaurant run by, well, Jon Hamm and Michael Bubl. Hamm, who has shined not only as a host but as a frequent walk-on guest of the show, and Bubl, hilariously game, have incredible chemistry as a menacing restaurateur and the pop crooner hes holding hostage. Its not just that the restaurant seems awful or just that Bubl says, wincing, His eyes went black and he slapped my face about his new employer, but that a joke so simple could pay off in such a menacing, wonderful way.

Ian Rubbish, the Thatcher-loving punk rocker in SNLs tribute to the late PM, is an all-time great Fred Armisen character, and the note-perfect touches from behind-the-music documentaries lays the groundwork for his collaborations with Bill Hader in Documentary Now.

The gleeful mania of At Home With Amy Sedaris, with its deranged crafts and costumed guest stars, is often at its best when Sedaris is with her friend Chassie (Cole Escola, certainly one to watch in the decade to come). Season twos Hospital-tality is an incredible showcase for the two of them, as Chassies fake blindness makes her bedridden, and Amy has no choice but to invite over Chassies family, played by none other than Ann Dowd, Juliette Lewis, and Taryn Manning.

What is there to say about comedy other than sometimes you just want to see the same two guys over and over again in the form of the SNL opening credits? Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim alternate classic New York scenes getting a dollar slice, waving down a cab, going to a strip club in an attempt to deliver comedy in a funnier and faster way to their audience.

I Think You Should Leaves Instagram sketch is one of the few in the show that feels like legitimate satire (including, I suppose, both of Robinsons self-important rants about being on our phones too much), poking fun at the way in which people rush to put self-deprecating captions on otherwise nice photos of themselves with friends. Vanessa Bayer shares several of her caption options, heightening in both absurdity and vulgarity, for a picture of herself with friends at brunch, including, Slurping down fish piss with these wet chodes.

Good comedy sketches about comedy itself are few and far between, but heres a great one.

David Cross and Bob Odenkirks deconstruction of the good-cop-bad-cop interrogation scene blossoms into a reconciliation between two co-workers who no longer have any idea how to communicate with each other, except through a suspect. Its oddly touching, as well as a good lesson on how to use obsequious in a sentence.

Can Scott Aukerman and his team transform a man cave thats looking more like a mans grave?

Though late into the Lonely Islands tenure at SNL, Jack Sparrow was one of their most unexpected Digital Shorts. Michael Bolton, as the featured artist who promises the gang a really sexy hook, derails whats meant to be a heavily produced club hit with his admiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Boltons enthusiasm both for the Pirates movies as well as the other films mentioned in the song is gorgeously paired with the Lonely Islands feigned frustration and annoyance. Andy Sambergs deflated what in the midst of Boltons first chorus builds to reluctance acceptance with his resigned Turns out Michael Bolton is a major cinephile at the end of the song.

Documentary Nows loving parody of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Chefs Table about a man named Juan making arroz con pollo 40 minutes away from the nearest road, complete with near-impossible ingredient preparation and absurd rituals (Juan needs to chase and grab the chicken in a pen, otherwise hell leave it off the menu), sticks its landing with such elegance and grace that it transcends the material its riffing on.

Last Fuckable Day, directed by Nicole Holofscener, was one of the hallmarks of the third and final season of Inside Amy Schumer: an outdoor gathering of Schumer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette, in which the three older actresses reveal to Schumer that there comes a day in every actresss career in which the public deems her no longer fuckable. The women commiserate and toast to reading for the part of Mrs. Claus, which went, as it turned out, to J.Lo (Oh, shell be good, Louis-Dreyfus simpers). The sketch literalized what had long been a conversation about ageism in Hollywood: that when women reach a certain age, they no longer become objects of desire, which, in turn, liberates them to eat dairy and grow their pubes out. Mazel!!

This one speaks for itself, really.

Maya Rudolph, an impersonator extraordinaire, plays the late poet with charm and levity and gravitas as she pulls practical jokes on her esteemed colleagues, all of whom are just honored to share space with her.

Thats five fingers, Tina Fey explains to Taran Killam about the child, soon to be his characters second wife, onstage. I believe shes trying to say shes 5. Of all the absurd game shows to come out of SNL this decade, Meet Your Second Wife is one of the bleakest and best.

I actually said, thats not a good idea for a show, John Mulaneys Stephen Sondheim stand-in Simon Sawyer says at the opening of this episode, but one whole cast recording later, its safe to say it was the perfect idea for a show. Co-op, featuring the vocal talents of Alex Brightman, Rene Elise Goldberry, Richard Kind, and Paula Pell, was Documentary Nows take on D.A. Pennebakers Company documentary. It feels absurd to praise the level of specificity of just one episode, especially because so much of the show depends upon it, though composing a fictional Sondheim musical is Documentary Nows greatest accomplishment to date. Though it might hit the hardest with musical-theater fans, its impossible not to marvel at the level of genius and sheer number of jokes packed into a single episode.

Liz B.s (Jenny Slate, offscreen) niece Denise (Jenny Slate, onscreen with the funniest set of fake teeth imaginable) shows up at the PubLIZity offices, and Liz G. (Nick Kroll) takes it upon herself to take her for a day in Hollywood. Kroll and Slate have always had incredible comedic chemistry together, as proved time and time again across multiple shows this decade, and this particular pairing of characters is rife with laughs. Liz G. is the perfect guardian for awkward, shy Denise (who, when invited out for a girls day, asks, Is this a prank?) up until the moment she abandons her with a skeevy male photographer (Will Forte).

Seth MacFarlanes 2013 episode was a solid showcase for its host including this underseen 10-1 sketch with Tim Robinson, Wooden Spoons but its the deranged Puppet Class that goes down as a decade best for Bill Hader. Hader plays Anthony Peter Coleman, a veteran working through his PTSD by dissociating into his puppet Tony. Try as he might, Coleman and Tony cant seem to shed the memories of Grenada, even roping other classmates puppets into their flashbacks (Please do not act out any murder scenarios with each others puppets, MacFarlane pleads). Haders sternness and seriousness in both human and puppet form is haunting and hilarious.

Its almost impossible to believe now, but there was a time in this very decade where birds were on everything, as exemplified in Portlandia duo Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownsteins most famous sketch. After Bryce and Lisa decorate a variety of homegoods with hand-painted birds to maximize tweeness, theyre terrorized by a live bird, reminding the viewer that what is adorable is often extremely frightening.

I guess its true what they say: Soon as a black man gets some moat money, he turns his back on the hood. Astronomy Clubs revamp of the classic Robin Hood story, in which the titular thief tries to rob the richest black family in Sherwood, quickly and hilariously spirals into a discussion about intersectionality.

Is this Marriage Story?

What if they dont wave back? Mark (Bruno Mars) asks, before donning a vague patriotic mouse costume and heading out into Times Square. The Matt & Ozdirected Digital Short brought depth and melancholy to the world of costumed Times Square mascots. Sad Mouse plays like the wordless first act of WALL-E, culminating in the heartfelt and star-crossed final meeting of Sad Mouse and a character that can only be described as Luau Frog.

Tim Robinsons episode of The Characters, which aired three years before I Think You Should Leave, opened with Sammy Paradise, a Vegas crooner serenading Lady Luck, only to lose all his money not once but twice in the same evening. Its go-for-broke (pun intended) peak Tim Robinson screaming, his voice straining itself as he bellows NO! for four whole seconds.

Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisens pop ditty about Brownsteins sister who floundered from job to job (I thought shed end up in politics / She was always really into Kucinich, remember?) until she started making jewelry is a loving send-up of independent artisans and Etsy-site-havers. Consider Armisen yelling What time does the post office close? a warning to anyone thinking about turning a hobby into a full-time job.

A community rallies behind a sweet terminally ill child with one wish and one wish only: to never meet Macklemore. Its not just the music, Arturo Castro explains as the boys father, tears in his eyes. He just hates the guys whole vibe.

Keegan-Michael Keys ability to harness and project rage in the form of frustrated educator was honed during his tenure at MADtv and perfected in this sketch, where he plays an experienced, inner-city substitute teacher stumbling over milquetoast, suburban white names. Time will pass, decades will change, but few things bring more joy than Key snapping a clipboard over his knee.

Before their IFC run, the Birthday Boys presented their terms for air, including preferred fonts for each of its cast members. Something to note for all sketch shows to come: They shouldnt air at the same time as other programs on whatever channel theyre on.

John Earlys episode of The Characters weaves in and out of sketches (including Vicky, which has gone on to be one of the comedians most memorable characters) and a wedding party going achingly, hilariously awry upstate, but its his botched toast, full of self-aggrandizing statements New York is my home, he states, before clarifying, and sometimes, you know, L.A. I do go back and forth for business that feels like the pinnacle of the episode. Earlys overwrought speech bombs, and when his characters fianc, Mahan, delivers a simple, to-the-point declaration of love to their friends and family, Early viciously steals the spotlight back, fainting like a 1940s starlet. (Watch it on Netflix.)

Good luck finding another comedy sketch this decade that went to Broadway.

Saturday Night Lives Totinos runner, in which Vanessa Bayer plays an eager-to-please but ignored and putdown housewife whose sole purpose is making Totinos for her husband and his friends, builds to a beautiful, sensual conclusion. Enter Sabine (Kristen Stewart), the first person to enter Bayers (Whats your name? I never had one.) house and really see her and love her for who she is.

The Canadian sketch show starring Aurora Browne, Meredith MacNeill, Carolyn Taylor, and Jennifer Whalen is full of zany, often female-centric sketches, like the searing Girls Gay Night Out, where they cant help but compare Taylors character to Ellen before patronizingly adding, I wish I could be gay! Its We Care that feels most true to life, however, as a group of friends after a happy, normal hangout cant help but immediately talk shit about each other the second one of them leaves. Every cruel thing they say, of course, is because they care, and isnt friendship the best reason to be hateful to someone?

Some boys live unexamined lives, but this ones heart is full of questions. Jeremy Beiler and Julio Torress Fisher-Price commercial parody lovingly captured the melancholy and loneliness many young, and often queer, boys face in their childhoods, and as the boys mother, Emma Stone delivers, Everything is for you, and this one thing is for him with all the power and nuanc of, say, an Oscar-winning actress.

Whats That Name? in all its iterations has always preyed on the innate social anxiety of forgetting the name of a person known to you, but [Stefon voice] this Whats That Name? has everything: John Mulaney and Bill Hader, Lil Xan, an exploration of institutional sexism, Cecily Strongs Mama whimper, Hader saying the squad in the most menacing voice imaginable, and, of course, Youre not seeing double, thats three women.

*Illustration key (clockwise from left):Romantic scene with Kristen Stewart and Vanessa Bayer from SNLs Totinos; eating a magazine from Portlandias Did You Read It?; SNLs Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks; Liza Minnelli playing with a lamp from SNL; Bad Bitches Support Group with giant makeup items from A Black Lady Sketch Show; an overfilled tuna sandwich for Kroll Shows Too Much Tuna; a lobster costume in a Greek diner for SNLs Diner Lobster; and Key and Peeles Aerobics Meltdown.

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The 50 Best Comedy Sketches of the Decade - Vulture

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