It's astonishing that Saturday Night Live has endured for over 45 years and continues to deliver laughs every week.
Even from turbulent beginnings, this late-night sketch TV show brought us the best comedy talent—both on camera and behind the scenes—that went on to bigger successes in movies and TV.
But what sticks in our memory are those amazing sketches that had us gasping with laughter. They're quotable, they're thought-provoking, they're remembered for their casts' outrageous performances.
The segments in SNL range from live sketches to recorded skits, with the latter comprising concepts like commercial spoofs, Lonely Island videos, and one-off or recurring performances. Regardless, as long as they're hilarious or thought-provoking, we're counting them.
Here are some of the funniest SNL skits and sketches of all time.
20. Farewell, Mr. Bunting
A spoof of Dead Poets Society, particularly its ending scene, this sketch nearly mimics that of the 1989 drama. It has a John Keating stand-in in the form of Fred Armisen’s Mr. Bunting. It has a crude headmaster. And it has the all-boys class standing on top of their chairs.
This was all played straight... until the last student climbs onto his desk. I won't spoil it, but it’s bloody funny!
19. Darrell’s House
Zach Galifianakis is an unpredictable performer. While he did not make it onto the SNL regular cast, he's hosted the show three times so far. With each instance, he got to show his awkward presence and manic energy in every sketch he graced.
His best sketch is Darrell’s House, a sendup of public-access TV shows. In it, he plays a frantic host struggling to film, with many flubs along the way. There are two parts: the shooting and the edited version. For any editors reading this, you'll find this sketch truly relatable.
18. The Roxbury Guys
You may know about this from the memes you've seen. Or the Haddaway song “What Is Love.” Or the movie A Night at the Roxbury. But when it first aired, this SNL skit was a showcase for then-cast members Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell to display their dance moves.
The premise of this recurring sketch? Two clubbing brothers and their companion jump from one club to another, trying to pick up women and failing. Hijinks and bopping heads ensure. The funniest one is, no doubt, the one with Jim Carrey as the companion.
17. Alien Encounter (aka Colleen Rafferty)
In this recurring sketch, three people are being questioned for their presumed experiences of anything paranormal (e.g. aliens, ghosts, etc). The third person being questioned is Colleen Rafferty, who shares explicit and gross details of her encounters.
Kate McKinnon, who plays Rafferty, careers the sketch with her oddball presence and straight delivery. However, in his two appearances, host Ryan Gosling steals the show by nearly breaking character and laughing. We cannot help but laugh with him.
16. Colon Blow
The classic SNL sketch with cereal commercial spoof “Colon Blow” is played straight like an ad. We have Phil Hartman eating breakfast as the voiceover encourages him to try an alternative to his fiber-enriched cereal, which apparently has high fiber levels.
It's hilarious that a product called “Colon Blow” will improve digestion. And the way that the sketch is executed? Ingenious. While SNL has its fair share of great commercial spoofs, this one is the best.
15. Digital Short: Lazy Sunday
People were doubtful about “Lazy Sunday” when it first aired, but it became one of SNL's earliest viral sensations that launched Andy Samberg to stardom, helped launch SNL’s Digital Shorts, and even popularized YouTube as the world’s biggest video platform.
In the sketch, Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell boldly rap about their mundane Sunday activities: stopping at Magnolia Bakery, using Google Maps, buying with $10 bills, and watching a Chronicles of Narnia matinee. Really random but uproariously funny.
Will Forte stars in this parody of MacGyver. In every segment, MacGruber and his companions try to defuse a ticking bomb, but personal issues and sudden revelations distract them, resulting in the bomb exploding.
In under a minute, the sketch packs a lot of laughs—from MacGruber's secret relationships to heavy topics handled awkwardly. Its success is well-deserved, and there's even an upcoming Peacock TV series.
13. Emily Litella
Gilda Radner is one of the MVPs of SNL’s first roster of “Not Ready for Prime Time Players.” She gave us many unforgettable characters, like Roseanne Roseannadanna and Baba Wawa, but her best will always be her most frequent persona, Emily Litella.
Litella is an old woman with reading glasses and a hearing problem. In Weekend Update, she often gave counterarguments to the issues discussed—often based on misheard words (malapropisms). Thanks to Radner’s energy, Litella is a hilarious character.
12. Total Bastard Airlines
Do airline services often fail you? If so, you have an answer with SNL’s "Total Bastard Airlines" sketch where David Spade and the host play the cabin crew of the titular fictional airline. Needless to say, they give the most unpleasant treatment to their passengers.
The sketch can be best remembered for its catchphrase “Buh-bye!” and the way Spade and company dryly address the passengers with it. That's the entire punchline, and yet the laughs deliver every time.
11. George W. Bush vs. Al Gore (Presidential Debate)
Of course, Saturday Night Live would not be Saturday Night Live without its political sketches. Here's one cold open that spoofs the Bush/Gore presidential debates of 2000. Will Ferrell plays George W. Bush and Darrell Hammond plays Al Gore.
Ferrell’s Bush throws any catchphrase that sticks, while Hammond’s Gore rambles along with his “meaningful” anecdotes. But what truly sells it is Bush’s “strategery.” That line alone sums up the absurdity of the Bush administration and makes for brilliant satire.
10. Black Jeopardy
On SNL’s second version of Jeopardy, contestants are called to answer with responses that come from African-American lingo, speech, and terms. The third contestant, played by the host, would either be confused by the questions or determined to gel with them.
This recurring sketch proves the true complexity of working-class African-Americans. While each segment has its cleverness, none can stand against the time when Tom Hanks played Trump supporter Doug. Doug seamlessly answers the questions, except for the last one.
9. The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise
SNL has its great share of movie and TV parodies, among which is “The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise"—a direct sendoff to the cancellation of Star Trek back in 1969.
The sketch follows John Belushi as William Shatner playing Captain James T. Kirk trying to keep in character, even as NBC staff are dismantling the set. Many doubted the sketch’s reception, but it proved to be truly spot-on. Plus, Belushi as Shatner/Kirk is genius.
8. Digital Short: The Shooting
Andy Samberg and crew didn't just make music videos for their Lonely Island stints. He also produced brilliant video sketches under his Digital Short label, among which is "The Shooting"—a filmed sketch that parodies the second season finale of The O.C.
Also known as "Dear Sister," the characters in this sketch dramatically shoot each other to the tune of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” on every shot. This is how dark comedy can be uproariously funny.
7. Weekend Update: Stefon
Stefon is one of the most memorable characters in SNL. Played by Bill Hader, this character is a Weekend Update regular who gives advice to tourists for special occasions. However, his tips are less family-friendly and more New Yorker bizarre.
Hader truly sells this flamboyant character with his delivery, while co-creator John Mulaney ups the laugh factor by changing Hader’s rehearsed lines with even weirder tips. That allows for one of the best moments of Hader breaking character. Comedy gold.
6. Debbie Downer
When it comes to SNL sketches where cast members break character, the best one might just be Debbie Downer.
Debbie Downer is a sullen girl who appears at social gatherings, only to disrupt the mood of her companions with her negative thoughts, doubtful views, and concerns about feline AIDS. Every thought is followed by Debbie’s knowing look to the camera and a “wah-wah” sound.
Rachel Dratch makes Debbie a most unforgettable character. If you need proof, watch her extremely funny debut where nearly every cast member, including host Lindsay Lohan, breaks character.
5. The Delicious Dish
"The Delicious Dish" is a food radio show hosted by Ana Gesteyer’s Margaret Jo McCullen and Molly Shannon’s Teri Rialto. Every segment, they feature a guest and their special dish—but trying those meals comes with some explicit details.
The sketch’s most memorable entry has to be Alec Baldwin’s first turn as Pete Schweddy with his “Schweddy Balls." Even just the hosts’ dull delivery and their obliviousness to the double entendres make this sketch a comedy gold staple.
4. Celebrity Jeopardy!
One of the most common elements of any SNL episode is the use of celebrity impressions. The "Celebrity Jeopardy!" spoof features Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek struggling with celebrity contestants who disrupt the game with their ego or ignorance.
Recurring elements include Norm MacDonald’s Burt Reynolds demanding a name change and Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery sharing explicit details about Trebek’s mother.
3. Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood
Eddie Murphy was a standout during his time at SNL, and with him came memorable characters like Buckwheat, Velvet Jones, Gumby, and Mister Robinson—who was his funniest SNL creation.
A parody of Mister Rogers, the sketch follows the same manner as the PBS show... but rather than educational lessons, Mister Robinson teaches about his impoverished lifestyle and hustles.
Robinson’s overgrown cynicism and street-smart schemes are what set up the punchlines for the sketch. Nobody but gritty Eddie Murphy could've made Mister Robinson work.
2. Matt Foley
Still in the lane of signature characters, we have Chris Farley's Matt Foley, a motivational speaker who's anything but motivational. He constantly sweats on his convictions, harshly stresses that he “lives in a van down by the river,” and clumsily sets his composure.
Check out his debut to see how Farley displayed his physical comedy skills with his manic nervousness and table pratfalls. The laughs from David Spade and host Christina Applegate say it all.
1. More Cowbell
And now we come to the most legendary and most recognizable SNL sketch ever made, which remains the best to this day.
In this parody of Behind the Music, Blue Öyster Cult is about to record their hit song “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” but their producer Bruce Dickinson (played by Christopher Walken) demands their cowbell player Gene Frenkle (played by Will Ferrell) to play louder.
This sketch is packed with many memorable moments. From Walken’s stone-faced delivery, to Ferrell’s tight shirt, to the cast breaking character, to the catchphrase “the only prescription is more cowbell.” It all makes this sketch truly unforgettable and wildly funny.