Thursday, February 3, 2011
25 of the Greatest Comedy Sketches (Not Comprehensive or Necessarily in the Right Order, But Nonetheless Really Fuckin' Funny Stuff, That I Will Stop Clarifying Now)
So it’s Chinese New Year. Or for those of you who are more politically correct, it’s Lunar New Year. But for those of you who aren’t Asian, but are public employees that live in San Francisco it’s a free day off. When I was a child in Philadelphia we used to receive the same thing for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Both are two of my favorite holidays even though I’m not Jewish. While our Jewish neighbors would sit in temple, contemplate their relationship with Yahweh, and not eat, all of us Gentile children got a free day to skateboard, play basketball, and watch TV. It was wonderful . However, because of the comparative shortage of Jews on the West Coast I have to work those days. That is why I am thankful to have Chinese New Year off. It reminds me of the importance of holidays I don’t celebrate. Each year days like this give Americans (of the non-celebrating ethnicity and/or religion) a day to run errands (like getting new windshield wiper blades), or an opportunity to get drunk on a weeknight without any consequences, or time to sit at home and watch TV. I’m doing all three, so thank you Asian people.
I’m not sure what animal it is now the year of, so I’m just going to assume that it is the Year of the Python. I’m taking this sacred holiday as an opportunity to reflect on my favorite type of television: sketch comedy shows. I’ve compile a list of 25 of The Greatest Comedy Sketches though Not Necessarily in Order or Complete. There’s stuff missing for sure. I left out Richard Pryor and Andy Kaufman. There’s plenty of great SNL material that’s not on here (which reminds me I could really go for a cheeseburger and a coke. Wait, no coke. Pepsi. ). So this list is by no means comprehensive, but I guarantee what I’ve put on here is funny.
1. Monty Python - Argument Clinic: Of course Python was going to top my list. They are without a doubt the most influential sketch group in the history of comedy (although they themselves were influence heavily by Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan’s radio program The Goon Show). Without Python most of the shows featured on this list would not exist. The Kids in the Hall derived their philosophical bent from Python (also they both dressed up as women a lot). Mr. Show adapted Python’s anarchic structure and embraced their commitment to absurdity. UCB and WKUK both evolved from Python’s brazen style and outlook.
Now I could have put the Dead Parrot sketch up at the top of this list because it is by far their most famous bit and perfectly captures their affinity for wordplay, black humor, and silly absurdity. However, analysis of that sketch has been done to death to the point that writing about it any further would seem about as stiff and lifeless of the aforementioned parrot that Cleese repeatedly bangs on the pet shop counter.
Instead I present to you my favorite Python sketch: The Argument Clinic. The concept is wonderfully inspired: a business that provides a necessary service for individuals seeking an argument. Michael Palin wanders into the first room to be verbally assaulted by Graham Chapman who calls him a “snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings” and a “vacuous, coffee-nosed, malodorous, pervert!” As it turns out, he’s in the wrong room, “This is abuse.” John Cleese occupies the sought-after Argument room, but proceeds to merely contradict Palin instead of providing the intelligent debate he desires. This turns into an argument about what exactly constitutes an argument. He eventually becomes frustrated and goes to the complaint department, wherein he receives a slew of complaints from Eric Idle. Then it’s “Getting Hit on the Head” lessons with Terry Jones. One of the reasons this is my favorite Python sketch is that it utilizes the entire cast in ingenious ways. Technically, Palin’s the straight man but he gets in plenty of great lines as well.
The intervention of Scotland Yard at the end perfectly encapsulates the post-modern spirit of the groundbreaking troupe.
2. Kids in the Hall— Can I Keep Him?: The Kids in the Hall are second only to Python in the history of sketch comedy. These five Canadians performed some of the most subversive satire ever performed on North American television. Like Python they embraced absurdity and drag. Unlike Python they bestowed upon their characters an incredible amount of psychological realism and in that spirit wrote bittersweet endings to each sketch rather than abruptly flying to the next sketch. This sketch is about five minutes longer than the average KITH sketch, but in many ways represents their oeuvre better than any other.
Bruce McCullough plays the rebellious youth that threatens to “hold his breath until he turns gay!” White Scott Thompson in drag plays his sweet but frustrated mother, “Don’t you spell back at me young man.” Unlike Python the Kids never used drag as punchline, seeking to make their female characters “real.” Cory (McCullough) brings home a stray…uh, businessman. Kevin McDonald gives an endearing albeit wordless performance as Mr. Stevenson the corporate executive that Cory brings home to be his pet. In many ways the KITH represented the attitude of the 90s slacker with its indifference towards conventional success. Throughout the series they mercilessly mocked businessmen. However, in the satire here there is a certain amount of sympathy. Mr. Stevenson begins to grow sick when domesticated, because without the chance for a promotion a businessman will die. So Cory must release him back into the wild where other businessmen (Dave Foley and Mark McKinney) are mindlessly exchanging business cards and hailing taxies.
If you ever had a dog as a kid this sketch will bring a tear to your eye amidst all the fits of laughter it produces. There’s no greater bond than that between a boy and his pet whether its dog named Casey, or a businessman named Mr. Stevenson, or a clump of cooked oatmeal.
3. Dana Carvey Show – Gerald Ford Died Today:
Of all the great impressionist to pass through SNL, none was more versatile or gifted than Dana Carvey. He literally could mimic anyone. When people imitate President George H. Bush they are actually just rehashing Carvey’s seminal impersonation. After his success on SNL, ABC gave Carvey his own primetime sketch show. However, despite its brilliance it only lasted one season. Some people say the show was too edgy for the Disney owned network and that the timeslot was too early. Hindsight though shows what a shame this show’s premature death was as Carvey’s cast included future comedy scions, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert before The Daily Show existed. Robert Smigel’s Ambiguously Gay Duo which premiered on Carvey’s show became a huge hit on SNL. Writer Louis CK has since become one of the most influential comics in America. ABC had a potential legend on their hands but they sacrificed it to the gods of standards and practices under pressure from network sponsors weary of the show’s edgy material. Heart problems eventually forced Carvey out of the limelight, while his old SNL collaborator Mike Meyers ascended into megastardom.
Nevertheless, this sketch demonstrates why Carvey might be the greatest sketch comedy performer of all time even surpassing such lofty competition of John Cleese and Dan Aykroyd. Carvey plays NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw trying to get an extended vacation by recording all of the possible top news stories of the next two years. Brokaw becomes increasingly frustrated while reporting the death of Former President Gerald Ford (who by the way died ten years after this sketch, so it’s okay to laugh). His producer (Robert Smigel) wants to cover all possible bases and so a report is done for any conceivable end for Ford’s life including being eaten by a pack of wolves: “He was delicious.” This sketch (later redone for SNL) shows why The Dana Carvey show has become a cult classic, but was an utter failure following the family sitcom of Home Improvement. Laughing at death is uncomfortable for many people, but laughing at the violent death of a former President must have been excruciating for the people who just watched Tim Allen get friendly advice from Wilson.
4. Saturday Night Live – Consumer Probe: Because it has become a television institution it is easy to forget how revolutionary SNL was in the 70s. One of the most important leaders of the revolution was Dan Aykrod who was once hailed by Eric Idle as the only other person who could’ve been a Python. That’s how tight his writing and performing skills were during his time on SNL. It’s a little bit sad to think that the only thing Aykroyd does nowadays is play straight man supporting roles in Adam Sandler comedies, because the man was at one point a visionary. Of all his memorable SNL characters my favorite is by far Irwin Mainway, the unapologetic manufacturer of unsafe toys. SNL redid this sketch a few times (with Halloween costumes, in the 90s with Michael Jordan gear) and each time Aykroyd’s incredulous smarm produced hilarity.
Here Consumer Probe host Candice Bergen chastises Mainway for such dangerous toys as Doggy Dentist, Johnny Switchblade, and Bag ‘O Glass. Aykroyd defends his product with confidence, which do indeed carry a warning, “Hey kid, you be careful with that.” Aykroyd’s fast-talking huckster has the unique quality of being endearing and horrifying at the same time. There’s nothing funnier than when Aykroyd gleefully turns on Teddy Chainsaw bear and then tries to demonstrate how the safer toys by the competition like a foam ball are far more hazardous. It’s a shame Aykroyd doesn’t get a chance to play sleazy characters like this anymore.
5. Monty Python— Ministry of Silly Walks: Each person has their personal favorite Python. Mine happens to be Michael Palin. However, John Cleese is probably the most popular and it’s understandable why. He has a unique ability to be both silly and straight-faced serious at the same time. No sketch better demonstrates this fact than Cleese’s performance as a government official for the little known Ministry of Silly Walks. He hops and kicks around London doing silly things with his leg one wouldn’t think possible, while maintaining a steely, dignified expression on his face. When he apologizes to Palin that he’s late because his walk has become “rather silly” he does so completely matter-of-factly. As a performer Cleese never mines for laughs, trusting the material he and the other Pythons have written to produce them (in interviews he’s explained how much more important writing is than acting when it comes to comedy). He manages to stay completely serious while contorting his legs in absurd ways and explaining budget cuts, “Last year the government spent less on silly walks than it did on National defense.” After watching this sketch you’ll really wish that the government had its priorities straight and would put more investment into silly walks.
6. Mr. Show with Bob and David— Audition: In the mid 90s former SNL writer Bob Odenkirk teamed with “alternative” comic David Cross to create Mr. Show. The debt to Python is clear, as Mr. Show often change sketches midway through and embraced a Post-Modern sensibility. In addition to Cross (who became Tobias Funke) the show helped launch the careers of Jack Black, Brian Posehn, Sarah Silverman, and Paul F. Tompkins. There’s a lot of great Mr. Show sketches neglected on this list: The Story of Everest, East Coast & West Coast Ventriloquism, etc. so if you’re unfamiliar make sure to explore their work fully. But “Audition” is one my favorite sketches because of how badly it fucks with your head. Cross plays an actor auditioning for a sitcom with a monologue from the play “Audition.” It continually becomes less and less clear whether what he is saying is part of his audition or a rant at the people he is auditioning for, each time the confused casting agents interrupt Cross yells, “No!” and begins again. This sketch puts you in the shoes of the casting agents watching Cross’s insane behavior and wondering how to react.
7. Kids in the Hall - Killer Monkeys: While Monty Python often lampshaded their absurdity, the Kids in the Hall had a unique ability to lend their bizarre material a disturbing amount of realism. Perhaps no sketch better demonstrates that than this short film in which Dave Foley plays an old man that is holding a small Canadian town hostage with his hoard of rabid monkeys: “If I don’t get a pizza here in ten minutes, then I’m letting the monkeys loose!” It’s something you’d expect from a David Lynch film and is played in a completely serious manner. The fearful townsfolk cower as they serve Foley, hoping to appease him and prevent the monkey attack. “People think I got the power ‘cause I got the monkeys. No. I got the power ‘cause I’ll let the monkeys loose.” It’s one of the creepiest, funniest sketches I’ve ever seen.
8. Saturday Night Live— Mr. Belvedere: SNL has gone through many eras. Every five years or so the show’s comedic style and point of view seems to change drastically, which is to be expected of a show that’s over 35 years old. It has been sublime and it has been mediocre. It has been a Boys’ Club and it has been a den of female empowerment. It has been a beacon of meaningful political satire and it has been a swamp of mediocre catch phrase-spewing, recurring characters. However, to time periods can be identified as golden ages: the days of the original Not Ready for Primetime Players in the 70s and the movie star factory of the early 90s. During this time the cast had ballooned to over a dozen performers, most of them doubling as writers. Veterans like Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, and Mike Meyers anchored the show with solid character acting, allowing upstarts like Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and David Spade to experiment with more personality driven material.
These styles of comedy sometimes clashed and according to various interviews and memoirs this time period included quite a bit of backstabbing as performers “gasped for airtime” in an overcrowded studio. The Mr. Belvedre Fan Club sketch from a Tom Hanks hosted episode, however, demonstrates the benefit of having a large ensemble cast. No one performer dominates this sketch— it’s a community effort from performers of a range of styles, ages, and backgrounds.
A comedian (Tim Meadows) arrives early for an event and sits in on a meeting of the fan club “for the guy who plays Mr. Belvedere” (a sitcom about the loving relationship between an English butler and an American family). After Chris Farley suggests killing Mr. Belvedere, “so that he won’t know how unworthy” he is, Hanks has the group practice their exercises that keep the line between reality and fantasy “a little less blurry.” Mike Meyers reminds himself not to type fan letters on death certificates, Adam Sandler promises to stop masturbating after watching each episode, Phil Hartman resolves not to cut into Mr. Belvedere’s flesh in order to wear it as a portal into new worlds, while Farley resists the urge to trap Mr. Belvedere in a giant glass jar because his breath will fog up the glass. It is incredibly dark but funny stuff that reminds to keep our fandom in check.
9. The State— Taco Mail:
One of my strangest quirks is my antipathy towards mail. I hate opening the mailbox because I know it will be full of catalogs I never requested, various solicitations, and bills. Lots and lots of bills, which I pay begrudgingly. So I can sympathize with the mailman in this sketch played by Kevin Allison who has decided to deliver tacos instead. Delivering mail doesn’t fulfill him anymore, but making and distributing tacos does. However, the homeowner played by Michael Ian Black explains with frustration that despite the high quality of the tacos he still needs to receive his mail in order to pay his bills.
There have been two golden ages in the history of sketch comedy. The first was 1970s when Python revolutionized humor, SNL premiered and became required viewing for its satire of current events, and SCTV delivered celebrity impressions and film parodies. The other occurred in the 1990s. SNL had some of its strongest seasons, In Living Color became a hit and gave a comedic voice to a population often underrepresented on television, while the Kids in the Hall challenged viewers with their subversive material. The State and Mr. Show followed suit with equally oddball sketches. Former SNL writer Conan O’Brien took over Late Night and brought with him a sketch sensibility. By the end of the decade Comedy Central was airing the Upright Citizens Brigade and was using sketch comedians as fake reporters on The Daily Show. The State is a shining example of what I consider to be the wonderfully strange comedic sensibility of the 1990s.
10. Mr. Show— Pre Taped Call in Show: Similar to “Audition” this is a brilliant concept executed to perfection by performer David Cross. He plays a host attempting to pre tape a call in show, growing increasingly frustrated that everyone is calling in about last week’s topic of pets when this week’s issue is the elderly. Eventually to clear up the confusion he grabs a television and puts in the tape of last week show which shows him (with Norman Rockwell like perfection) putting in a tape of the before that and so on. Nobody plays aggravated better than Cross.
11. The Day Today – Pool Supervisor: Few Americans are familiar with Chris Morris and The Day Today, a fake British news show that preceded the Daily Show by several years, or its successor The Brass Eye (for which Morris duped many British politicians and celebrities into warning viewers of the effects of Cake: a made-up drug). The Day Today was a huge success in Britain that unfortunately never got played on American airwaves. However, if you look closely at this sketch you’ll recognize Steve Coogan playing a pool supervisor being interviewed about his incompetence. He defends himself by explaining how for the majority of years he supervised the pool no one died (although there was a notable exception that day he was engrossed with a particularly
challenging word puzzle).
12. Monty Python— Barber Shop & Lumberjack Song:
Decades before Sarah Palin killed her first wolf from a helicopter or spoke her first political gibberish, it was Michael Palin that filled our hearts with laughter. Here you’ll see why Palin is my favorite Python; he manages to stay charming even when playing a psychopath. He’s a barber that becomes filled with a murderous rage whenever he sees hair, resisting the urge to kill customer, Terry Jones. Then in typical Python fashion before the scene gets too logical it shifts to the Canadian wilderness as Palin becomes a lumberjack that enjoys buttered scones and dressing in women’s clothing. No one can say strange stuff with such an innocent looking grin as Palin who happily explains his perversions to his “best girl” and a troop of Mounties. Sometimes Python’s shift between scenes is terribly jarring (it’s often meant to be), but here it is natural and seamless. The killer barber becomes the perverted lumberjack with ease.
13. Upright Citizens Brigade— Astronauts: So I’ll be honest. I couldn’t find my favorite UCB sketch “Cake Walk” in which Amy Poehler plays an overly aggressive Southern woman at a hoedown’s cake walk bitter that New Yorkers look down on cake walks by declaring an easy task ro be “cake walk.” But I found a close second in which the Upright Citizens Brigade deals with a type of prejudice really addressed: prejudice towards astronauts. Amy Poehler and Matt Besser play two bigots that demand that Ian Roberts eat a cheeseburger to prove that he’s a real American: “Eat the cheeseburger, Astro-boy!” UCB doesn’t really use punchlines in the same way that SNL does. Instead they specialized in creating scenes so weird that you weren’t quite sure whether to laugh or call a psychiatrist to help you deal with the mind fuck you just received.
14. Kids in the Hall— Kidnapped: To hold someone for ransom you need actually have them in your possession, right? Not so. In “Kidnapped” mid-level executive, Danny Husk, discovers that he’s been kidnapped when he reads it in the newspaper. He scrambles to come up the cash for the ransom (his wife is unwilling to pay). His coworkers chip in, but he remains two dollars short. Can he full the criminals? “Kidnapped” is a tale of suspense that you’ll never forget.
Danny Husk is an amazing anomaly in the history of sketch comedy, a recurring character without a quirk. That in fact is his quirk; he is the ultimate straight man (in the comedic rather than homosexual sense) played by Scott Thompson, the ultimate gay man (in the homosexual rather happy sense). The straight-laced Husk finds himself in a ridiculous situation and struggles to maintain his composure.
15. Ben Stiller Show— Woody Allen’s Bride of Frankenstein:
Looking at this list you’ll find very few pop culture parodies. It’s not that I don’t find this style of humor funny it’s just that it rarely ascends to the level of genius of some of the more original material I prefer. This sketch is an exception, however, because of its ingenious concept: a Woody Allen directed monster movie. It blends Husbands & Wives with Bride of Frankenstein; Frankestein’s monster is leaving his wife even though she was made for him…literally. Andy Dick’s flawless impersonation of the bespectacled Woody Allen wrapped up as the Mummy reminds me that there was time that we used to laugh with him as a comedian rather than at him as a drug-addled “trisexual” train wreck.
16. Whitest Kids ‘U Know— Grapist: If the Kids in the Hall carried a torch passed to them by Python, then WKUK are the current carriers of that torch: they play female characters very well, they continually push the boundaries of good taste, and nobody has played businessmen this well since McCullough and McKinney played the Geralds. Their humor is incredibly transgressive and perhaps no sketch demonstrates this better than “The Grapist.” An ad man is presenting his commercial to a soda company that is clearly a rape scenario featuring the terrifying new mascot, the Grapist that promises to grape kids in the mouth. You might feel terrible laughing at this, but the material is so well written and flawlessly performed that I guarantee you’ll have fits of laughter watching Trevor Moore defend his ad, “That girl is asking for it…Look at what she’s wearing…purple.” Great comedy always pushes boundaries, producing laughter by violating social mores. And this Grapist sketch is all about finding humor in violation.
17. Saturday Night Live— Men’s Synchronized Swimming:
The early 1980s were a strange time for SNL. Its original cast had left. Lorne Michaels was gone. It faced challenges to its dominance from Friday’s and SCTV. Eddie Murphy saved the show from cancellation, but eventually headed off for Hollywood superstardom. So the show turned to some ringers, already established performers instead of the usual upstarts. The result wasn’t too bad though. In this short film SCTV’s Martin Short and Spinal Tap’s Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest introduce us to the often overlooked sport of Men’s synchronized swimming. This short has the feel of one of Guest’s later films sharing the patented mockumentary technique; his character, an effeminate water choreographer, even seems to be a cousin of Waiting for Guffman’s Corky St. Clair. Shearer resolves that he and his brother will make it to the Olympics even though no Men’s synchro competition exists. His brother played by Short is okay with the wait though because he’s not a strong swimmer.
18. SCTV— Great White North: How to Get a Mouse into a Beer Bottle: The Great White North is a bit like “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producer, something that was supposed to fail but ended up a wild success despite the intentions and efforts of its creator. CBC demanded a certain percentage of “Canadian content” from SCTV a show that was already being written and performed by Canadian comedians (but was also being broadcast in the US). To satisfy the standard but also mock it the show created the MacKenzie brothers, two hosers that would address Canadian issues. In this case the brothers teach their viewers how to get a mouse into a beer bottle without breaking it (both the mouse and the beer) in order to get a free case of beer (also known as water in Canada).
19. Kids in the Hall— Communism:
More so than any other sketch troupe the Kids in the Hall were adept at monologues. Scott Thompson told elaborate stories as Gay icon, Buddy Cole. Bruce McCullough reflected on the sadness of the sandwich people and admitted that felt nothing for his dog. But my favorite monologues are probably the ones done by Dave Foley. His unhinged characters in the one man performances have included a “bad doctor” that has skated by on charm, a reflective mass murderer whose heart just isn’t in any more, and in this sketch a rabid Anti-Communist finding it difficult to adjust to the end of the Cold War. Before his abrupt departure from MSNBC Keith Olbermann had Dave Foley on to discuss how this character eerily predicted Glenn Beck (airing about fifteen years before Beck became the 21st Century’s Father Coughlin).
He plays a Rightwing reactionary convinced that the collapse of the Soviet Union is just a trick the Russians are playing whilst planning world domination with killer bees warning how sleeping dogs eventually “wake up and chew out the throat of democracy.” As Foley explained to Olbermann the reason why Canadians thrive at satirizing American politics (don’t forget plenty of SNL vets have been from the Great White North, too), it’s because they’re the only ones who see us as we truly are. After watching this sketch I hope that’s not completely true.
20. Chapelle Show— Black White Supremacist: Dave Chapelle fled his incredibly successful Comedy Central show because he had become convinced that the show had transformed from a show that mocked stereotypes into one that reinforced them. It’s tough to say whether he was right (he had a permanent falling out with long time best friend and writing partner, Neal Brennan, over this matter). But Comedy Central’s decision to replace Chapelle’s racial humor with Carlos Mencia’s racist humor demonstrated how thin the line is with this type of comedy; ironic racism can easily be misinterpreted as actual racism and no one can say for sure whether the audience is laughing with you or at you. However, in its first season Chapelle show was an inspired satire of race relations in the tradition of The Richard Pryor Show and Eddie Murphy’s time on SNL. While he was on SNL Eddie Murphy had a great parody “White Like Me” in which he reversed John Howard Griffin’s social experiment and gleefully partook in an exaggerated world of white privilege.
Chapelle pushes Murphy’s style of racial satire even further by concocting the idea of a Black White Supremacist, a blind man that had been raised to think he was white in the South and grows up to be a leader of the white supremacist movement. The teachers at the school for the blind which Clayton Bigsby attended figured it would be easier on him and the other children if they just pretended he was white. Chapelle shows how much racism has to do with a human desire to define one’s self as superior and an instinct to define those perceived as different as inferior. Racism is 50 percent inflated self perception and 50 percent delusion. Believing himself to be white Bigsby absorbs all the worst prejudices of Southern society and unwittingly rails against his own race.
21. Mr. Show with Bob and David— Civil War Re-Enactments:
If you were like me in high school one thing that was guaranteed to put you sleep were Ken Burns documentaries. I don’t know whether his movies are laced with sedatives or what, but no matter the subject I grew very tired watching Burns’s histories of jazz, baseball, Thomas Jefferson, and the Civil War. So I love Mr. Show’s parody of Burns in this documentary about Civil War Re-Enactments. I once went on a class trip to Gettysburg, PA on Remembrance Day (the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) and I can tell you that those people are fucking nuts. More so than Star Trek convention if you want to see nerds obsessed go to a Civil War re-enactment and you’ll see guys walking around with bayonets that you know would’ve been the first ones dead in the actual Civil War.
Mr. Show presents us the story of two brothers born on the Mason-Dixon Line, one re-enacting for the Union and the other for the confederates. The Brothers journey to reenact the Battle of Turner Springs (a battle that has never successfully been reenacted because things have gone awry, or afoul, or askew, and one time all three). However, at the reenactment things go poorly: there’s multiple Lincolns, a Renaissance fair competing for the fairgrounds, and Star Trek geeks pretending to be transported back in time. Needless to say it becomes one of the bloodiest fake battles in history.
22. Monty Python— International Philosophy: Nietzsche defined the sacred as that at which we don’t laugh. Whether or not that’s true I can’t say. But what I do know is that by that rationale Nietzsche and the rest of Western Philosophical tradition is not sacred because Monty Python makes me laugh quite a bit with this hilarious sketch that presents an international philosophy match between the Greeks and the Germans. Nietzsche receives yellow card from referee Confucius for accusing him of having no free will. The members of Python studied at Cambridge and Oxford and so their humor has always full of references to historical, literary, and philosophical matters. If you don’t get the references it might not always be funny, but personally I prefer humor that asks me to know about Socrates and Karl Marx over humor that requires me to know about the latest celebrity scandal (Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan to mudwrestle at cocaine party hosted by Paris Hilton!). At the very least it helps make that university education seem worthwhile.
23. Whitest Kids ‘U Know— John Wilkes Booth: Presidential assassinations are not usually the source of hilarity. No, more often they are events that rob a country of its innocence and inspire solemn mourning. The Whitest Kids ‘U Know couldn’t care less about that. They have done sketches about the Kennedy assassination, John Hinckley’s attempt to kill President Reagan, a sketch in which Trevor Moore seemed to be threatening then-President Bush’s life, and two separate sketches parodying the Lincoln assassination. In “Abe Lincoln” the Great Emancipator acts so obnoxious a Ford’s Theatre that Booth kills him in the name of good manners. It’s funny, but nowhere near as hilarious as “John Wilkes Booth” which shows Abe having belabored chit chat with Mary Todd while attending the theatre as Wilkes Booth repeatedly gets past the Secret Service to hit him in the head.
24. A Bit of Fry and Laurie—Sex Talk in Class:
Hugh Laurie has faked an American accent and found his way into our hearts as the gruff Dr. House. But once upon time, he was one of the funniest people in Britain. With Stephen Fry he starred in what may have been the best British sketch show since Monty Python (not being British, how the fuck should I know?). In this sketch he plays an uptight father that complains to a school principal that his son has been using naughty language that he learned in biology class (the idea that intercourse results pregnancy). Laurie maintains that a woman becomes pregnant by cooking her husband three hot meals a day and not by sexual intercourse, denying ever making love to his wife (completely unaware he’s been cuckolded). Eventually he demands the school replace his defective son like a proper business.
Believe it or not as a teacher I’ve met parents like this, who bristle at their kids learning anything that they do not know themselves whether it be the Theory of Evolution or The Catcher in the Rye.
25. The State— Monkey Torture: There are two sketches on this list involving monkeys. This is because of the first rule of comedy: monkeys are funny. However, while the Kids in the Hall made us consider the torture that would be a monkey attack, The State show us monkeys being systematically victimized as a scientist researches the effects of torture on monkeys. His conclusion: “They hate it.” Thomas Lennon (Reno 911) stars as the scientist being interviewed by the schmoozy Barry Lutz played by Michael Ian Black (Stella). Don’t worry though; no monkeys are physically harmed in this sketch because the torture is of a psychological nature: pretending their dead, promising to release them back in the jungle only to turn his car back around, etc.
It’s incredible to think that The State and The Ben Stiller Show both aired on MTV in far off distant past. The network was once truly countercultural. Also, they played music from time to time. Now it has just become a collection of reality shows starring people that would be far too dumb to find this sketch funny. You know what though? Watching Jersey Shore kind of makes me feel like a monkey being tortured. So I guess everything is cyclical.
And the final tally...