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Saturday Night Live (SNL) has now celebrated its 40th anniversary, yet many were disappointed by the big bash. Citing a lack of originality and more reliance on remembering “the good old days” than staying fresh and relevant, many have forsaken SNL in favor of other comedy sources, such as YouTube comedy channels.
While SNL used to be edgy and smartly satirical, lately it seems to be more about which celebrity or politician is being spoofed and not about how well it’s done. To help you re-discover the show’s past appeal, here are 10 great clips from various years of SNL. Note that these are nigh-impossible to find on YouTube, so we’ll be utilizing Hulu to enjoy these skits.
[Content Warning: Some of these clips contain strong language and suggestive content.]
Celebrity Jeopardy!: Stewart, Reynolds, and Connery (1998)
This recurring skit features Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek hosting the popular TV game show Jeopardy! The real-life celebrity edition features stars playing for charity with considerably easier questions than usual; SNL makes fun of this by featuring categories such as “Colors that end in –urple.” Despite the low difficulty, the contests are miserably inept, failing to answer anything while also pestering Trebek to breaking point.
This particular episode features Jimmy Fallon as French Stewart, Norm Macdonald as Burt Reynolds, and Darrell Hammond in his recurring Sean Connery role. Many more “celebrities” appeared across the fifteen episodes, such as Tom Cruise, Bill Cosby, and Keanu Reeves. It’s a winner due to the excellent celebrity parodies, the constant hassling of Trebek by Connery, and the hilarious categories and questions.
Total Bastard Airlines (1994)
Anyone who’s had a bad experience on a flight will appreciate this one. David Spade and Helen Hunt star as flight attendants who usher everyone off the plane with a quick “Buh-bye!” It’s a perfect caricature of the typical airplane experience.
Other SNL members are among the passengers, and give the stewards various levels of grief over their behavior – but they aren’t having any of it. Everyone gets a “Buh-bye!” Hopefully you don’t run into these two on your next plane after getting cheap airline tickets!
Debbie Downer: Birthday Party (2004)
Debbie Downer is always there to ruin the fun. Another recurring skit, this one features friends trying to enjoy situations like being at Disney World or a birthday party. However, Debbie is always reminding them about the latest natural disaster or infectious disease.
Everyone knows a Debbie Downer in real life, which makes this sketch all the more amusing. It’s a humorous look, but it really shows you how being negative can ruin the mood for everyone else instantly. Be happy and see what a difference it makes!
Harry Caray: Space, The Infinite Frontier (1997)
Harry Caray, the legendary baseball announcer, had a unique style that was begging to be parodied. SNL happily obliged, and gave us this skit starring Will Ferrell and Jeff Goldblum. Harry Caray hosts a goofy show about space and brings on an expert to discuss recent developments in the field, but quickly derails to less esteemed topics.
It amazes me that Goldblum didn’t laugh out loud during this skit; Ferrell’s Caray impression is genius and he just gets more ridiculous as the sketch continues. Would you eat the moon if it was made of spare ribs?
The Sinatra Group (1991)
Phil Hartman was one of the greatest impressionists on SNL, and his role in the fictional Sinatra Group was certainly a highlight. Joining him are various other musicians who together hold an “unrehearsed discussion of current issues in the recording industry.”
Taking a satirical look at the state of music, Sinatra insults the more modern artists while raising increasingly inappropriate questions. Another genius set of impersonations, held together by Hartman, makes this a classic.
Fun fact: Phil Hartman starred as the little-known game mascot Captain Blasto in the 1998 eponymous game. As his life was tragically cut short just a few weeks after the game’s release, a sequel never saw the light of day.
More Cowbell (2000)
Perhaps the most-loved SNL skit of all time, More Cowbell is a parody of VH1’s Behind the Music. It features the band Blue Öyster Cult recording their hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” with the assistance of music producer The Bruce Dickinson. Will Ferrell plays Gene Frenkle, a fictional cowbell-playing band member.
The other members are distracted by Frenkle’s vigorous cowbell playing, and frequently stop the take over it. However, Dickinson is focused only on the goofy instrument, urging the band to give it “more cowbell.” This iconic phrase, combined with Christopher Walken’s stoic performance, cemented this sketch as a smash hit.
It’s interesting to note the differences between this sketch and reality; while the final track does feature a cowbell, it’s only slightly audible. Also, the name Bruce Dickinson is not factually accurate; an intern at SNL accidentally used a Greatest Hits CD instead of the original to find the song’s producer.
Penelope: Wedding (2009)
The most recent clip on our list, the Penelope set of skits stars Kristen Wiig as an annoying lady who has to one-up everyone else in the room. As events go on, Penelope’s claims become more and more ridiculous, until another character has enough and mocks her with his own claims. It’s a good thing Penelope isn’t on Twitter, but there are plenty of annoying people on there instead of her.
The end of every episode has Penelope actually doing something outlandish she claimed the ability to do, adding to the absurdity. It may be a newer sketch, but Wiig has a brilliant character here. After all, we’ve surely all wanted to slap that guy who always has a better story.
Family Dinner (1998)
This dysfunctional family’s dinner is so uncomfortable for what seems like hours, until the dad breaks the silence with a lame story. Passive-aggressiveness and outright contempt abound; that’s all there is to this one.
We’ve all had a bad night at the dinner table (or maybe an argument with the family on Facebook), and this skit exaggerates our belief that there’s always a crazier family than ours. Just remember not to mess with a man who drives a Dodge Stratus.
Down by the River (1993)
Another SNL classic, this skit has the late Chris Farley playing fictional motivational speaker Matt Foley, who attempts to motivate two teens after their parents discover them using marijuana. However, Foley is probably the worst motivational speaker of all time.
Everything about this skit is gold. Farley ad-libbed the move of pulling his pants up with both hands, both David Spade and Christina Applegate are visibly holding back laughter the entire time, and Farley’s crashing into the table was a complete accident that became one of his signature moves. As Ryan advised, whenever someone is a jerk to you, just think of them living in a van down by the river.
Wayne’s World – Police Chief (1989)
A few SNL skits spawned movies, but Wayne’s World was by far the most successful. Starring Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey as two rock-loving, good-natured goofs broadcasting their independent show from a basement, the silly humor and excellent performances make this beloved by many. The “guest stars” on each episode added to the laughs.
There are many Wayne’s World skits, and if you enjoy them, be sure to check out the movie. It doesn’t get much more SNL than this!
Reliving the Classics
These are some of the best clips from Saturday Night Live to enjoy, but they’re far from the only ones worth seeing. Generally, SNL is best enjoyed by watching individual clips online instead of watching it on TV, since you can skip all the duds. Thus, you’re not missing much if this is your first foray into the show!
What are your favorite Saturday Night Live clips and performers? Which era of the show do you consider to be the best? Let’s continue this list — and the conversation — in the comments below!