A lot of people’s exposure to sketch comedy begins and ends with Saturday Night Live, a show obsessed with centrism and safety that has become reliant on celebrity cameos and brand partnerships to a depressing degree. While sure, there were some good sketches here and there on SNL, you’ve probably seen most of them. Here are some of our favorite sketches from ten of the best sketch shows of the decade that are NOT Saturday Night Live.
Key & Peele “East/West College Bowl”
Some of the best sketches are the simplest, a premise that doesn’t really evolve, shift, or turn inside itself, but instead just spends a few minutes reveling in pure silliness. “East/West College Bowl” is basically a list of funny names, a parade of increasingly bizarre characters that feels at times like you’re just hanging out with Key and Peele while they try on different wig/facial hair combinations.
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson “Focus Group”
There are plenty of sketches from I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson that could have ended up on this list, but “Focus Group” took the web by storm in a way few other comedy sketches did this decade. While it’s strange to me that two of the biggest breakout scenes from the show, Focus Group and Instagram, are among the handful of sketches from the entire series that aren’t centered around Robinson’s manic, emotionally constipated energy, I’m thrilled just the same to see so many people get so obsessed with comedy this weird. “Focus Group” introduced the world to Ruben Rabasa, a man operating on a completely different wavelength than the rest of humanity, and I appreciate that.
A Black Lady Sketch Show “The Basic Ball”
A pitch-perfect parody/tribute to the Drag Ball tradition popularized by the landmark documentary Paris Is Burning, “The Basic Ball” is a showcase for everybody out there that’s trying their best. Anchored by a magnetic performance from Bob the Drag Queen, “The Basic Ball” is endlessly quotable and re-watchable, full of recognizable icons like the guy at the BBQ who waited until everyone showed up to start cooking and the lady cursed by awkward interactions with service workers.
Portlandia “Did You Read It?”
Way back in season one, Portlandia captured the mind-breaking never-ending influx of news, both good and bad (mostly bad), in one frenetic, frighteningly real sketch. It originally aired in 2011, which honestly feels like a century ago, and has only become more relatable as time goes on.
The Birthday Boys “Homecoming”
Many of the best Birthday Boys sketches were short, chaotic, and burnt through three or four different conceptual layers: starting with a pretty basic conceit, almost immediately inverting the premise, before spiraling off on a completely out-of-nowhere tangent. “Homecoming” encapsulates a lot of what I love about this show in under two minutes: watch as traditional normie clickbait gets heightened a bit, before taking a left turn into a self-consciously decade-late Jackass parody.
Kroll Show “Oh, Hello: A Prank Gone Wrong”
What’s better than Nick Kroll and John Mulaney pretend to be two old men? Literally nothing. Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland have appeared live and on podcasts for years, but took off into the stratosphere with a series of recurring appearances on the wildly underrated Kroll Show. My favorite installment of “Too Much Tuna” is a riff on the normal format, a cat and mouse game with one of the most brutal and memorable closing lines I can think of.
Alternatino “The World’s Worst Translator”
“The World’s Worst Translator” feels inspired by classic vaudeville, injecting slapstick, screwball madness into a high-stakes crime world negotiation. Alternatino’s Arturo Castro plays the titular terrible translator, who takes his job a bit too literally. It feels both familiar and fresh at the same time, a goofy take a classic action movie trope.
Inside Amy Schumer “Last Fuckable Day”
Amy Schumer’s sketch show was a mixed bag of sketch, standup, and interviews, with some extremely memorable moments. The show is perhaps best remembered for the “Last Fuckable Day” sketch, featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette having a idyllic brunch in a forest. A scathing indictment of Hollywood double standards that is also very funny, letting some of the best comedic actors of their generation bounce off of each other. Bonus points for ending with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a rowboat smoking a cigar!
W/Bob & David “Resolutions”
They got (most of) the whole Mr. Show crew back together a few years back for a pretty solid sketch show, remember? It didn’t take the world by storm or anything but I’ve definitely seen the whole thing multiple times, because it’s nice to see your old friends back together doing goofs again. Resolutions feels like a classic Mr. Show sketch, a self-aware screaming match between a bunch of weirdos that dovetails into a thought-provoking resolution. Plus, the money’s fake so the pizza guy got a huge tip!
The Eric Andre Show “Ranch It Up!”
The Eric Andre Show took the absurdity of influential Adult Swim shows like Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and incorporated a level of nihilism that pushed the already extreme boundaries of late night viewing. The chaos that unfolds during a 10 minute episode vacillates between exhilarating and anxiety inducing, with the show’s wild real-world interactions provoking the most intense reactions. Take for example, “Ranch It Up!”, where Eric wanders around NYC in a crop top, harassing finance bros while drinking from a full bottle of ranch dressing. It’s invasive, weird, and massively uncomfortable, just like all the best Eric Andre Show moments.