- Over the soon-to-be 46 seasons of “Saturday Night Live,” thousands of sketches have been performed, but not all of them were winners.
- We’ve picked the 40 most memorable sketches or characters in the show’s history.
- The Blues Brothers and Wayne and Garth got movies out of their sketches, called “Blues Brothers” and “Wayne’s World” respectively.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Not every “SNL” sketch can become iconic, since there have been so many of them. That’s what makes these sketches so important: They have stuck around in the public consciousness for years, sometimes decades.
From Buckwheat to Opera Man to Gilly, here are the 40 most memorable sketches and characters in the show’s long and storied history. Keep scrolling to learn more.
“The Coneheads” was one of the very first iconic “SNL” sketches. The premise? A bunch of aliens with cone-shaped heads trying to live on Earth.
The Conehead family even received their own movie in 1993, called “Coneheads.” It starred the original performers, Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin.
“I can see Russia from my house!” With that one sentence, this sketch starring Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton cemented its place in comedy history.
It’s easy to forget that Fey had left the cast of “SNL” three years prior to this 2008 sketch – her impersonation is just that inseparable from her “SNL” career. Fey went on to reprise the role multiple times over the season, and she won an Emmy for her work.
“Mister Robinson’s Neighbourhood” starred Eddie Murphy as a crude version of Mr. Rogers, teaching kids about what it was like to live in a rougher part of town.
Mister Robinson was one of Murphy’s iconic characters that he reprised when he returned to host the show in December 2019.
Kristen Wiig’s Gilly is a notoriously disobedient elementary school student who always says sorry by the end of the sketch.
Gilly became so popular that Wiig eventually had to “retire” the character, as she thought she was getting overused.
Looking for some tips on exploring New York City’s hottest clubs? Look no further than Stefon, played by Bill Hader.
Notorious for breaking on camera, Hader incorporated covering his face with his hands into the character so he could subtly laugh at the ridiculous things that Stefon would say – made worse by the fact that Hader’s friend and writer John Mulaney would switch up the lines last minute to make Hader crack up.
“Wayne’s World” appeared over 20 times throughout “SNL” history, with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth hosting a public access TV show in their basement.
Wayne and Garth became so popular that the sketch spawned two movies, and brought many phrases into our cultural lexicon, including “Excellent,” “We’re not worthy,” “Schwing,” and “That’s what she said.”
“Lazy Sunday” was the first digital short ever on “SNL,” and essentially helped jump-start YouTube.
The sketch has a simple premise: Two guys walking around New York City having a lazy Sunday. Need we say more?
The Blues Brothers, played by Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi, are still popular today.
The Blues Brothers also received their own movie in 1980, and a sequel 18 years later called “Blues Brothers 2000.”
On “SNL,” the sketch was just Aykroyd and Belushi getting on stage and performing blues music, while wearing their trademark suits and sunglasses. The movie was a bit more high concept, adding a criminal element.
Another iconic musical sketch is “D— in a Box,” starring Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake.
The premise is pretty self-explanatory, and the song even has helpful lyrics on how exactly to put your d— in a box.
Nick the Lounge Singer, played by Bill Murray, will forever be legendary for giving the “Star Wars” theme lyrics.
Nick, a lounge singer, appeared 12 times across 10 years of “SNL,” and always with a different last name depending on his surroundings – he was “Nick Slammer” for a performance in prison, “Nick Rails” for a performance on a train, “Nick Winters” at a ski resort, etc.
The best way to spot an “SNL” fan is to shout “more cowbell” into a crowd, and see who laughs.
This sketch, which parodied MTV’s “Behind the Music,” has become one of the most famous – and perhaps overexposed – sketches in the show’s history. After seeing Will Ferrell’s tiny shirt, Jimmy Fallon constantly breaking, and Christopher Walken demanding more cowbell, we can’t hear “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” the same way again.
Mary Katherine Gallagher, played by Molly Shannon, is an extremely emotional and volatile caricature of a Catholic school girl. She reprised her role in the movie “Superstar.”
Mary Katherine’s most famous tic was, of course, sticking her hands under her armpits and smelling them whenever she got nervous. She was also prone to showing off her underwear, and falling a lot.
“Black Jeopardy!” is a recurring sketch hosted by Kenan Thompson as Darnell Hayes, where the categories vary, except for one — White People.
This isn’t the first “SNL” sketch to make fun of “Jeopardy!” – more on that later – but it has created some iconic moments in recent history, such as Tom Hanks appearing as a Trump supporter, and Chadwick Boseman in character as T’Challa, aka Black Panther.
“The Californians” is an extremely niche Los Angeles-based spoof of a soap opera, in which everyone can’t stop talking about highways.
The Californians were made up of Stuart (Fred Armisen), Karina (Kristen Wiig), Devin (Bill Hader), plus various other cast members and hosts that wanted to join in. All of the characters speak with a thick Valley Girl accent, making it hard to understand anything they say – especially when they’re upset, which is always.
Dana Carvey’s smug and pious Church Lady hosted her own talk show, “Church Chat,” which she used as a way to call out the sinful guests.
Church Lady is one of Carvey’s most beloved sketches, and appeared as recently as 2016, a full 30 years after her debut in 1996.
Opera Man was a frequent guest on Weekend Update during Adam Sandler’s tenure on “SNL.” Sandler played an opera singer who sang the news.
Opera Man returned in 2019, when Sandler returned to Studio 8H for the first time in over 20 years, not a moment too soon.
Perhaps the most iconic “SNL” sketch of all time, Chris Farley played Matt Foley, a motivational speaker who cautioned kids about living in a van down by the river.
While Farley played the character numerous other times, the “down by the river” sketch remains the gold standard of “SNL” comedy.
“The Delicious Dish” was a recurring NPR sketch, but the most famous segment included Alec Baldwin talking about his Schweddy Balls.
How impactful was this sketch? Ben & Jerry’s named an entire ice cream flavour after it.
Natalie Portman’s squeaky-clean image was challenged by these two sketches of her rapping about snorting heroin, having sex, and cheating on tests.
Portman has rapped twice on “SNL” – both sketches are equally iconic, and have spawned plenty of GIFs in their days. The sketch is so beloved that when she did it again, Andy Samberg cameoed, years after he had left the show.
The Vogelchecks were a particularly loving family — everyone greeted each other with long, tongue-filled kisses.
Sometimes, all you need for a laugh is a bunch of kissing and some close family relations.
Drunk Uncle is the most famous of Bobby Moynihan’s recurring characters.
The name says it all – Moynihan plays everyone’s favourite drunk and semi-inappropriate uncle. We all have one.
Colonel Angus is notorious among “SNL” fans for its double entendre.
Colonel Angus, played by Christopher Walken, is returning home from the Civil War in this sketch, and everyone’s excited to see him. We can’t say more, for fear of ruining the jokes.
Tom Hanks’ David S. Pumpkins is the Halloween mascot we’ve all been missing.
Pumpkins has become so beloved that he received his own animated special in 2017. Any questions?
The Czech-born Festrunk brothers are just two wild and crazy guys.
Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin played Yortuk and Georg Festrunk, respectively, two Czech brothers who were desperately looking for dates – or foxes, to use their word.
Eddie Murphy donned some white makeup in “White Like Me,” a daring sketch in which he dressed up as a white man to see how people treated him differently.
Murphy began teaching the country about white privilege in 1984, decades before it became the talking point it is today.
You might have forgotten that “The Chanukah Song” originated on “SNL.”
There have been many iterations of “The Chanukah Song,” including the one sang in “Eight Crazy Nights,” and a 2015 version. But the original debuted on an episode of “SNL,” made for kids who felt left out during the holiday season, reminding them of all the Jewish celebrities.
One of most enduring images in “SNL” history is that of Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley writhing around on stage at a Chippendales audition.
This originally aired in 1990, and it’s bittersweet to watch now, as both actors died before their time – we can only hope that they’re somewhere together dancing along to “Working for the Weekend.”
Is that “Hide and Seek” we hear? No, it’s just “Dear Sister,” the sketch that launched a thousand memes.
This absurd sketch was inspired by a scene from “The OC,” in which Marissa (Mischa Barton), shot the brother of her on-screen love interest, all set to “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap.
Of course, the Lonely Island took it to another level, writing a sketch in which everyone gets shot multiple times, and each gunshot restarts the song. “Mmm, whatcha say?” will never be the same.
While the sketch itself isn’t too memorable, the shock of seeing Barack Obama on “SNL” is.
You can hear the genuine shock in the audience when Obama takes off his … Obama mask … and reveals that it’s really him underneath. It remains to be seen what politicians will appear on “SNL” this year.
Garth and Kat’s freewheeling singing about the holidays never gets old.
Wiig and Armisen are an unstoppable duo, proven most by their frequent collaboration as Garth & Kat, a duo that seemingly only sings improvised holiday songs. You simply never know where they’re going to go. It’s one of the only truly imrovised bits on the show, which Wiig told Moveline she appreciates.
“[Armisen] definitely starts and I just try to follow. We don’t rehearse. The first time we do it that week is literally at the dress rehearsal,” she said. “It’s the most fun I have because so much of the show is writing, working, deadlines, trying to figure things out, punching up your sketch, knowing you’re going to perform live. And that two and a half minutes of airtime is so freeing and fun.”
Buckwheat is another one of Eddie Murphy’s iconic characters — he played an adult version of the character from “Little Rascals.”
Buckwheat is another character that returned when Murphy hosted “SNL” last year – this time, as a contestant on “The Masked Singer.”
Kate McKinnon’s Colleen Rafferty has travelled through time, met aliens, and met ghosts.
Unfortunately for her though, she seems to have a much rougher time than her peers who have also gone through these experiences, and she usually ends up flashing everyone.
When Dan Aykroyd uttered his famous “Jane” phrase, it solidified the place of “Point/Counterpoint” in “SNL” history.
This phrase has become so ingrained in our culture that it was referenced on an episode of “The Office.”
“Word Association” starring Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase showed audiences how far “SNL” was willing to go for a laugh.
In the sketch, the two play the common word association game where one person says a word or phrase, and the other person responds with the first thing they can think of. It starts off harmlessly, until Chase begins saying racially charged terms, ending with the n-word – and Pryor’s response is something to behold.
“Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketches starring Will Ferrell as a beleaguered Alex Trebek and Darrell Hammond as a cheeky Sean Connery were always a classic.
While the other cast of characters changed, depending on impersonations and hosts, Ferrell’s Trebek and Hammond’s Connery were constants, as was their adversarial relationship. Poor Alex.
Before “Cheer,” the most famous cheerleaders were the Spartans, starring Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri.
The cheerleaders would appear at various sporting events that didn’t necessarily require cheerleaders, like chess or wrestling. They’d pep it up the only way they knew how: screaming.
The film “A Night at the Roxbury” was based on this sketch starring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan as two brothers who really loved “What Is Love?”
The Roxbury Guys, as they were called, famously had a head-bobbing dance that everyone tried to replicate in the ’90s, but couldn’t, because normal people don’t have rubber necks like they seemed to.
Roseanne Roseannadanna was Gilda Radner’s most famous character.
Roseannadanna was supposed to be a consumer affairs reporter, but she’d always go off topic or editorialize, and usually had to be reminded by the Weekend Update anchor to stay on topic, which she never did. Between her hair and her voice, Roseannadanna was an easily recognisable break-out star from the show’s early days.
John Mulaney waited years for “Diner Lobster” to become a reality.
“Diner Lobster,” which the Atlantic called “the best ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch in ages,” aired in 2018 when Mulaney, a former writer on the show and successful comedian, returned to host the show for the first time.
The sketch focuses on two diner patrons, played by Chris Redd and Pete Davidson, and their desire to order lobster at an NYC diner. Their waiter, John Mulaney, responds with disbelief, and the entire diner turns into one big “Les Misérables” tribute – we promise it makes sense. Plus Mulaney had co-written the sketch with Colin Jost in 2010, so it’s extremely satisfying that it finally made it to air.
Mulaney has followed this up with two more musical tributes to NYC staples, “Bodega Bathroom,” which borrows from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and “Airport Sushi” which has nods to many famous musicals like “Annie” and “Phantom of the Opera.” But the original will always be our favourite.
Debbie Downer is the most famous of Rachel Dratch’s characters and made everyone on stage break, including herself.
Debbie Downer, as you can guess, found a way to bring down everyone’s fun, most famously at Disney World, though she appeared in other sketches too. We can almost hear the sad trombone noise now.
- Read more:
- WHERE ARE THEY NOW: All 152 cast members in ‘Saturday Night Live’ history
- All 33 musicians who have pulled double duty as host and musical guest on ‘SNL’
- 11 things you probably never knew about ‘Saturday Night Live’
- The 10 most controversial ‘Saturday Night Live’ performances of all time
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