What is the Best Saturday Night Live Sketch of All Time?

The writers of CineNation pick their favorite SNL sketches of all-time

Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon as Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton (Photo: NBC Universal)

From Eddie Murphy to Will Ferrell and from Gilda Radner to Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live has been a breeding ground for some of the best comedic talents over the past forty years. For a show to continue after forty years, especially for a comedy show, it must be able to stay relevant with the American public while also providing quality entertainment for its audience. In today’s political climate, some might argue that it is doing neither, but the ratings don’t show that. A majority of people believe that Saturday Night Live is currently producing one of the best seasons they have had in years. In honor of the recent surge in ratings for Saturday Night Live , we wanted to find out what the CineNation writers thought are SNL’s best sketches of all time.

Jaws II: Land Shark

By Thomas Horton

It would take a much longer list to compile every comedian who has lent their tremendous talent to building the entertainment powerhouse that is Saturday Night Live over the past 40 years, but there just isn’t enough that can be said about the original cast. Watching any sketch from Season 1 is nothing short of amazing. Lorne Michaels assembled a truly brilliant group of young comedians for a daring new experiment, and together they launched one of the biggest cultural influences of the last half-century.

As you can tell, I cannot overstate my love for the original cast of Saturday Night Live, and I think the entire cast is really at their best here, in only the fourth episode of the show, for the “Jaws II: Land Shark” sketch. Chevy Chase is perfect as the shark, using his noncommittal mumbling to try to talk his way into apartments, offering up a different occupation every time he’s shot down. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd ham it up wonderfully as the police investigating the shark murders. The brilliant Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman and Jane Curtin are all hilarious as the terrified victims of the shark, and host Candice Bergen joins at the end as Garrett Morris closes the sketch with the perfect button of physical comedy.

When talking about the history of Saturday Night Live, and even just the legacy of the original cast, there are so many other iconic moments you can point to. But nothing captures the energy and harmony of the entire cast as well as the Land Shark sketch. Looking back on this perfect moment from only the fourth episode of the whole program makes you realize just how quickly the Not Ready for Prime Time Players established themselves as comedic icons.

“I’m On a Boat” Digital Short

by Dan LeVine

The trio of Andy Samburg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone ushered in a new generation of SNL viewers via their “SNL Digital Shorts.” And undoubtedly, these sketches were at their best when they were music videos. Using their SNL connections, they were easily able to land guest singers such as Justin Timberlake, Michael Bolton, Rihanna, Akon, Adam Levine and even Natalie Portman. From “Lazy Sunday” to “D*** in a Box” to “Jack Sparrow”, the trio produced so many musical hits that they even began releasing albums of the songs.

Their greatest achievement? The brilliant and unnecessarily intense “I’m On a Boat”. Other than the fact that the singers are on a boat, the lyrics offer precious little information to the viewer and give no explanation as to why. The song cleverly yet subtly mocks the rap genre, offering commentary on how rap lyrics often have meaningless subject matter. Fancy visuals, ridiculous sets and expensive costumes further parody the unnecessarily high production value of the modern-day music video. And of course, the song features T-Pain, the king of auto-tune, at the height of his stardom, clad in his signature sunglasses, dreadlocks and oversized top hat. He gives one of his best performances and does it with a straight face.

The music video immediately went viral and inspired hundreds of YouTubers to create their own versions. In fact, the creators hosted a contest for who could create the best version of the song. My high school friends and I even decided to honor the song with a shot-by-shot recreation of the sketch. We used our tuxedos (which we had rented for prom) and borrowed one of our dad’s boats & went to work.

“I’m on a Boat” is a brilliant parody with a catchy tune and “SNL Digital Shorts” at its finest.

Picking a favorite Saturday Night Live skit is hard. There are too many good ones. After going back and forth, one sketch stands out from all the rest: Hugh Laurie’s Christmas Dinner. (I don’t know even if that’s the official sketch name, but that is what I refer to it as…)

My sisters and I watched the SNL Christmas special years ago, and this sketch made us laugh harder than we have ever laugh. I am not exaggerating. The premise is simple: a Christmas dinner with one unhappy family. Hugh Laurie, Casey Wilson, Will Forte, Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis are play family members who bicker, argue and, ultimately, sing. The faces from the actors are priceless and the quotable lines are immense. “Would anyone like a crescent roll?”; “Sit down, Judith, SIT DOWN!”; “No, no.. it was the tone”; “What’s it gonna be like in a week? Is it gonna rain?” are all lines that repeated weekly between my sisters and I. The sketch is hilarious because either this is your family or you know a family that acts like this SNL family. The sketch is painfully — and hilariously — relatable.

The ending is just as iconic. The family members beautifully sing “Silent Night”, only to argue about the last line at the end. Not even coming together and singing is without a fight.

Fred Armisen as Nicholas Fehn on Weekend Update

By Alaina Boukedes

Saturday Night Live is a hub for commentary and hilarity, especially their news parody Weekend Update. In a time when the media are being attacked by our presidency it’s imperative that comedy keeps things in check, and Weekend Update does that expertly.

My favorite guest of Weekend Update and ultimately favorite skit comes from Fred Armisen. Playing a political comedian named Nicholas Fehn, Armisen would be brought on to discuss the latest newspaper headlines, except that he would never actually land the joke. It would be build-up after build-up, Armisen basically riffing for three minutes. He does it so seamlessly that you almost think he makes a point. But like most of Trump’s tweets, he comically has nothing.

This skit shows not only shows how comedically apt Armisen is, because he is improvising the entire bit, but also reflects on how ridiculous and pithy political commentators can be. Ironically enough this sketch was done in the early 2000’s and yet still applies today. This skit needs to circle back into the Weekend Update repertoire, because the media needs this kind of self-deprecation to keep us on our toes.

Olympia Café (a.k.a. “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger)

By Brandon Sparks

Saturday Night Live was a big part of my adolescence. My high school years were filled with watching the skits from the likes of Eddie Murphy, Dana Carvey, Gilda Radner, and John Belushi. When I was in drama class in high school, I never picked a scene from a play to perform. I always roped my friends into performing SNL skits. Wayne’s World, 1970s Weekend Update segments, Celebrity Jeopardy, etc. I would always ask friends of mine who they thought were the greatest SNL cast members of all time. One girl once told me that Jimmy Fallon was the best ever, and I could never take her seriously after that (I love Jimmy, but even he knows that it isn’t true). Like Thomas said in his entry, I cannot overstate my love for the original cast of the Not Ready for Primetime Players. They were, and still are, my comedy gods.

Even though I think Season One of SNL is one of the best ever, I have to pick a sketch from Season Three. But, besides changing Chevy Chase for Bill Murray in the middle of season two, not much changed for those first few seasons. The chemistry between the cast was phenomenal and there wasn’t much turnover, even when it came to the hosts. One of my favorites sketches of all time is the first appearance of “Olympia Café”, better known by some as “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger”. What is so amazing about those first few seasons is that in on almost every episode there was at least one sketch, if not more then one, that included the entire cast. I feel like that is rare nowadays, but this happened constantly in the early years because of how great they all were together. The Olympia Cafe skit is a prime example of what they could do together (Land Shark II as well).

The core of the skit is really just one joke, but it is done so well. The comedy comes from the realism of the scene. When you watch the skit, it feels like this is a place you could easily walk into. Belushi is perfect as the manager of the restaurant, and he has great repertoire with Aykroyd, Murray, and Radner. What was great about these early seasons was that actors and writers added layers to the sketch. A good example of this is when Laraine Newman is running back and forth delivering the same order over and over again in the Cafe. She wasn’t involved with main part of the sketch, but her character helped build the world of the sketch, which in turn added more laughs. That’s what the Not Ready for Primetime Players and their writers did back in the day. They were able to build a world around the joke, which in turn allowed every cast member to have a moment of their own.

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