No doubt you’ve seen the list of 50 greatest comedy sketches that’s making the rounds. Lists like that make great weblog fodder. Unlike most lists, though, this one isn’t all bad. The top two (or three) are a little predictable and for all the Monty Python love that I have (I’d have filled half of that list with Python skits) I’m not entirely fond of the “Dead Parrot” bit. I’d have listed the Philosopher’s World Cup and the wartime joke but maybe they’re too involved to qualify as “sketches”. Also: fish slapping dance.
It might be my bias speaking, but the early to mid 90s were a great time for sketch comedy on television. These were also the years when I was television obsessed, watching all of those shows and a whole load of sitcoms and the Simpsons (those were peak years) too, so I remember all the good stuff fondly. I think this period of time defined my sense of humour. It helped that these were also some of the absolute best years of Saturday Night Live, which was a show I watched religiously in my pre-teens. I still remember seeing a lot of the classic episodes live, including the (in)famous Nirvana and Sinead O’Connor performances. I was twelve at the time. In that period of my life TV was the only thing worth remembering.
Looking at that Top 50 list I was surprised to see that my two favourite SNL clips weren’t mentioned at all: Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker and Stand-Up and Win.
Who are the ad-wizards that came up with this one? is a quote that lingered in my mind for years until it gained a certain level of self-referentiality when, one day, I realized that I was one such advertising industry ad-wizard.
Two other personal favourite sketches from that era come from short-lived shows. Before the whole MTV thing, Ben Stiller had a Sunday evening sketch show on Fox. One of my favourite bits from its run was the goofy, but dead-on, Die Hard parody: Die Hard 12: Die Hungry. The other is from the Dana Carvey Show, a really short-lived series (for numerous reasons beyond its hilarity) that had a post-SNL and pre-mediocrity Carvey and two, now quite famous, young comedians by the names of Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell.
The show is mostly remembered for Waiters Nauseated By Food, which featured those two future stars, but for me it will always be about the very short and very juvenile pay and leave “pranks”. I remember standing in a high school class discussing that episode with friends while waiting for the buzzer to ring and over-hearing another student’s story about how he failed his driving test by running into the stop sign on the test course. As I said, the early to mid 90s defined my sense of humour.
The great Dana Carvey Show is now available, in its entirety — for the first time — on Joost. If you are American.
- Also featured a writing credit for Charlie Kaufman
- There was a bootleg Brutallo DVD out there for a while but it was missing three episodes.