10. All That
Launching the careers of Nick Cannon, Amanda Bynes, and Keenan Thompson, among others, All That was Nickelodeon’s long-running sketch show aiming to be SNL for the Nickelodeon crowd. Hit and miss with the comedy, it largely succeeded on the back of the charisma of the stars above.
Ask Ashley was a great recurring sketch in which a sweet little girl named Ashley would suddenly turn violent when reading viewer letters. In an era of YouTube, the sketch remains relevant. Good Burger also led to a film and Kenan and Kel spinoff series. Though aimed at kids, the impact of All That is everywhere, and it’ll still make you chuckle today.
If you’ve ever been to Portland, you realize that, while still very much a big city like any other, it has a different personality than large cities like New York. Throughout Portlandia, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein highlight that quirkiness and characterize the entire city of Portland in hilarious fashion. With at least two more seasons to go, this show can easily climb the rankings before it’s over.
In pretty much every sketch, the duo play a duo like Toni and Candace, the aggressive owners of a feminist bookstore, and Dave and Kath, an overly dramatic couple. What’s even funnier than the often-negative stereotypical bohemian hipster characters on screen is how real life versions of those characters keep reacting online for attention.
8. Mr. Show with Bob and David
Bob Odenkirk will forever be remembered as Saul Goodman, thanks to Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. David Cross will always be known for his turn as Tobias Funke in Arrested Development. Before any of that happened, these two collaborated on a surreal sketch comedy show on HBO called Mr. Show.
The blueprint for Comedy Bang! Bang!, Zach Galifinakis’s entire career, and much Internet comedy, Mr. Show is known for satirizing media, television, and subjects you can’t talk about on free networks. From satanism to teen suicide and the mentally challenged, Mr. Show skews the taboo to hilarious effect.
7. Key and Peele
Initially Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele had a lot of hurdles to overcome in order to win over audiences. Following Dave Chappelle’s genius and Carlos Mencia’s questionable comedy sources, Key & Peele maintained the same format for its first three seasons, abandoning it in later seasons. The Mad TV alum, as it turns out, know their sketch comedy and became instant Internet sensations.
Announcers struggling through ridiculous name pronunciations during draft time, Obama’s anger translator, and a variety of different takes on zombies and vampires bring laughs throughout the show. Bouncing back and forth between edgy, political, surreal, and just plain silly (often within a single sketch), Key & Peele is the bar by which all future sketch comedy will be measured.
6. The State
MTV isn’t the best place for comedy, but Human Giant and The State both had their moments (Will Arnett’s sex tape being among the best of the former). The State pushed boundaries that previously weren’t being pushed on American television, introducing a little British humour to our pallet. Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, Kerri Kenney, and the rest of the cast moved on to make us laugh in everything from Viva Variety to Reno 911.
The State would often come up with bizarre catchphrases like “I wanna dip my balls in it!” or insane situations like a copy business that mimicked you or a muppet feast. From a air traffic controller being called by the cops to guide a mime plane down to a TV station where everyone’s running, The State slayed every aspect of American culture with each sketch.
5. Little Britain
If there’s one thing the British know, it’s slapstick comedy. What started off as a BBC radio show, Little Britain was soon picked up as a television series. David Walliams and Matt Lucas created and star in the show, which characterizes England much the same way Portlandia does Portland.
Sketches are often intertwined with a narrator, making it seem almost like a guide. The show is akin to the old Disney Goofy cartoons or Welcome to Nightdale, in that much of the comedy is derived from the self deprecation of the characters (and viewers). Those looking for comedy that walks a different path than what’s on American television are often floored by the original humor of Little Britain.
4. Chappelle’s Show
Dave Chappelle has a very public breakdown due to the popularity of his hit Comedy Central show, which is a shame because it stands the test of time as one of the most daring and brilliant sketch comedy shows made to date. Chapelle’s unique approach to comedy is both laid-back and in-your-face.
Sketches in the Chappelle Show are based on Chappelle’s comedy routines (along with ideas from the cast). From Rick James to Charlie Murphy and Wayne Brady, many iconic moments occurred on Chappelle’s Show. Touching on racism, politics, drugs, and social issues, if you need a laugh, there’s no better place to look than Dave Chappelle.
3. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup has produced a lot of great late-night stoner comedy. Tim Heidecker, and Eric Wareheim know exactly how to capture that essence, creating a sketch comedy show Timothy Leary would’ve loved. What comes off as a public access show or some strange surrealist anti-comedy is the brain-child of these two comedians come to life.
A mix between Robot Chicken and Saturday Night Live, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! features a variety of sketches and characters (both real life and animated) like Dr. Steve Brule, Tairy Green, and Chippy. Inspiring a movie, and album, and live tours, the show features cameos from celebrities doing some very strange and often hilarious things.
2. In Living Color
The Wayans brothers are an institution of comedy at this point, and In Living Color is one of the main reasons why. Jaime Foxx, Jim Carrey, and Jennifer Lopez are among the superstars whose careers were launched with this original sketch comedy on Fox’s Prime Time lineup.
Spoofing everything pop culture, In Living Color was fearless in portraying over-the-top characters like Fire Marshall Bill, Homie the Clown, and Men on Film. Everything about the 90’s is brilliantly captured within the series, which still retains its humor today. Many times I’ve been to The Improv and watched In Living Color while waiting in the lounge for the show to start.
1. Saturday Night Live
The king of sketch comedy will always be Saturday Night Live. Sure, there have been lulls with occasional casts, but with over 40 seasons in the can, the house Lorne Michaels built has spawned some of pop culture’s most iconic comedians and characters.
NBC has SNL all over the place – Seth Myers and Jimmy Fallon hosting late night, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting everything else, TV shows and movies galore. If not for SNL, we’d be without Will Ferrell, Chris Farley, Chevy Chase, Andy Kaufman, Bill Murray, Adam Sandler, and countless others.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has been featured on Huffington Post, BBC, Fast Company, Intuit, Cannabis Now, Hardcore Droid.