SNL is one of few shows that makes appointment viewing a priority, and it has been this way since its premiere in 1975. Over the course of 49 seasons, there are too many iconic sketches to count, but we’re going to do our best to give you a concise list of our five all time favorite skits on the legendary Lorne Michaels produced show. We have a lot of ground to cover, and we can’t include every single one of our favorite Saturday Night Live skits, but if you’ve lived under a rock for your whole life, this list will be a solid starting point for you to get into SNL.
Think of this list as a primer. We did our homework, and if you like what you see, you’ll have to do some homework to find some of your own favorite SNL skits to add to the list.
Norm MacDonald’s Weekend Update
Of all the Norm MacDonald skits, you’re probably wondering why we didn’t land on his portrayal of Bert Reynolds posing as Turd Ferguson on Celebrity Jeopardy! But when it comes to Norm MacDonald’s humor, and when you consider his overall career, the “Weekend Update” skits during his SNL stint show us a comedian so serious that he not only reportedly got fired from SNL, but also doubled down on the jokes when he was asked to host the show just a year and a half later.
Norm MacDonald’s “Weekend Update” was absolutely savage in its delivery, and while never confirmed, the prevailing theory behind his exit from the show suggests that MacDonald was fired by Donald Winfred Ohlmeyer Jr. for his rapid-fire delivery of O.J. Simpson jokes.
Among all of Norm MacDonald’s O.J. Simpson jokes, our favorite goes as such: “our top story tonight comes from the O.J. Simpson civil trial, where this week it was revealed that in his first interview with police, Simpson had refused to take a lie detector test. His reason? It detects lies…”
Just a year and a half after being fired from SNL, Norm MacDonald was asked to host the show, and he boldly proclaimed that if he was fired because he wasn’t funny, but asked to host the show, then the show must have gotten much worse since he left. You can hear guarded laughter from the crowd and cast in the background while he delivers his monologue, and we consider this appearance to be the final “Weekend Update” punchline during the Norm MacDonald Era.
Anal Retentive Chef
Phil Hartman was a man of many talents, and with tremendous talent comes a number of idiosyncrasies. The recurring character that comes to mind when we think of Phil Hartman is the “Anal Retentive Chef,” who hosted a cooking show that highlighted his neurosis.
In this series of SNL skits, the Anal Retentive Chef would often stop production after making a perceived error, and start over from scratch. One such instance involves noticing that the peppers weren’t chopped as uniformly as he would have liked, so he has to scoop them up, place them in a paper bag, roll the top of the bag up neatly, staple it shut, and label it accordingly.
What makes this SNL skit so special is the late Phil Hartman’s commitment to the bit. His smarmy, yet deadpan delivery is something that nobody else is able to feasibly replicate, and it’s no wonder that Phil Hartman’s sense of humor was held in the highest regard.
We can’t talk about SNL without mentioning one of our favorite alums, Will Ferrell. If you’re from a younger generation, you may have heard the phrase “more cowbell,” but not know its origin. The skit in question involves Blue Oyster Cult in the studio, struggling to write their hit song “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” and Will Ferrell’s portrayal of the fictional cowbell player Gene Frenkle steals the show.
This SNL skit is an absolute treat for musicians, because it expertly highlights the creative struggles that a band has while working in the studio. Everybody doubts the importance of the cowbell, and questions its placement in the mix, but Christopher Walken’s Bruce Dickinson asserts that he has a fever, an the only cure is more cowbell.
After a brawl between Frenkle and the rest of the band, Frenkle sincerely suggests that if Dickinson wants more cowbell, then they should listen to him. Will Ferrel’s startling enthusiasm for the craft of cowbell crescendos is what seals the deal, and when he’s asked to fully explore the studio space, he does not disappoint.
We know that physical humor isn’t for everybody, but if you want to witness the master, then look no further than Chris Farley’s Matt Foley. Ironically enough, Matt Foley, who lives in a van down by the river, wasn’t an SNL invention. The character was originally conceptualized by Bob Odenkirk, and debuted by The Second City comedy troupe before it ever was filmed live in New York.
Matt Foley is a drug-abusing loudmouth who somehow charmed himself into a career in motivational speaking. Hired by parents to scare their kids straight, Foley demonstrates the exact opposite of what a motivational speaker would do in this context. Farley’s Foley appeared in eight SNL skits, and the beats are the same each time.
Foley would often be over-caffeinated, jump around screaming, break furniture, and cause a serious amount of collateral damage with his efforts to motivate troubled youths to stay on the straight and narrow. Some people don’t like this kind of over-the-top delivery, but the rest of us will assure you that life is a lot more bleak without Chris Farley doing his thing.
Put Your Weed In It
This Rob Schneider SNL skit is simple in its delivery, but still holds up to this day because of how deeply rooted in realism is. The skit takes place in the Out of Africa store, a shop that sells unique African artifacts, miniatures, and furniture. But Rob Schneider’s hippie character isn’t interested in selling the store’s offerings for their traditional purposes.
After accurately describing an artifact, he lowers his voice, gets close to the customer, and lets them know that they can also hide their weed in there. It’s an idiotic punchline, but its repetition brings it back because it demonstrates the one-track mind of your average stoner. Sure you can buy a dollhouse, but you can also hide your stash.
This SNL skit was so iconic that the joke was later repurposed in Rob Schneider’s The Hot Chick. In this cinematic version of the SNL skit, Adam Sandler plays the hippie at the store, but the delivery is one and the same.