Sketch comedy has always been one of the genre’s trusted forms, but as comedy has evolved — grown shorter, longer, bigger, stranger, launched numerous podcast networks — where does that leave good old-fashioned sketch comedy? Surely not in the dust. But sketch comedy has shifted in the wake of our far-too-online era, and often for the better. Over the last decade, the internet era opened doors to writers, creators, and comedians who didn’t come up through the traditional (and perhaps dated) comedy-theater route. As a result, it would be too vague to call sketch more diverse; what it is is more specific — and in a lot of cases, more cinematic. That’s how we wound up with Inside Amy Schumer’s “12 Angry Men” or Key & Peele’s “Aerobics Meltdown.” Even SNL’s oddball favorite “Darrell’s House” is mostly built on a joke about, well, editing. What has endured from the decade’s sketch comedy, then, is not so much timely and immediate satire but well-made, frequently contextless, and joke-heavy material.
We’ve worked to alphabetically (it’s only fair!) round up some of this decade’s best comedy sketches. We’ve limited ourselves to sketch-comedy TV shows — a list of the decade’s best internet and late-night sketches would be far bigger and stranger than can be catalogued — though longform “sketch” shows like Documentary Now and At Home With Amy Sedaris make appearances below. Saturday Night Live, the behemoth of the sketch show genre, makes up a majority of the list, though the show transitioned out of the goofy Hader/The Lonely Island/Rudolph/Wiig era into the sharp and strange current era of the show. The decade also bid farewell to some of the old and beloved — Key & Peele, Portlandia — and welcomed the new and exciting — A Black Lady Sketch Show, I Think You Should Leave. The list below ranges from popular favorites (Did you think you could end the decade without one more viewing of “David S. Pumpkins” or “Continental Breakfast”?) to bizarre marvels (“Sammy Paradise” is a highlight, though the singular “Maya Angelou Prank Show” is worth a revisit) and everything in between.
12 Angry Men (Inside Amy Schumer, 2015)
“Have you ever seen 12 Angry Men?” Amy Schumer asks a pedestrian at the end of her episode of the same name. “Yeah,” he says, to which Schumer then asks, “Wouldn’t you love to see a remake of that?” and the man grimaces. “No,” he says, wincing. And yet Schumer’s remake in all its black-and-white, star-studded glory would go down as one of the more audacious and well-made pieces of comedy of the decade. Twelve men — including John Hawkes, Jeff Goldblum, Kumail Nanjiani, Paul Giamatti, Vincent Kartheiser, and Chris Gethard — argue behind closed doors about whether Schumer is hot enough to be on television. It’s tempting to say its thesis is dated some four years later, but the conversation over what types of bodies, especially women’s bodies, we see on TV still echoes, and Schumer’s take is the funniest of them all.
’80s Music Video (Saturday Night Live, 2018)
Donald Glover’s 2018 SNL episode is one of the decade’s strongest — featuring another favorite, “Friendos” — and it’s his turn as the bizarre ’80s crooner Raz P. Berry who punishes himself to get back at the woman he believes is cheating on him that won the night. Berry goes on and on about everything he’s gone through, only to learn that his cool-guy sunglasses have prevented him from seeing that it’s not his girlfriend after all.
Aerobics Meltdown (Key & Peele, 2014)
Having to keep high-kicking in the face of unspeakable tragedy feels like an apt metaphor for the decade, no? (Both Key and Peele are wonderful in this mostly dialogue-free sketch, but it’s Clint Howard’s panicked cue-card holder that steals the show.)
Bad Bitch Support Group (A Black Lady Sketch Show, 2019)
Next decade’s “Best Comedy Sketches” list is no doubt going to be full of A Black Lady Sketch Show, but for the time being, watch as one woman in the Bad Bitch Support Group (led by a majestic Angela Bassett) almost undermines the entire beauty industry by realizing that once in a while … she may want to just be an okay bitch.
Black Jeopardy (Saturday Night Live, 2016)
“Black Jeopardy,” written by Brian Tucker and Michael Che, has been one of SNL’s most consistently funny recurring sketches this decade, led with a rarely better Kenan Thompson as host Darnell Hayes. Contestants guess their way through categories like “Fid’Na” and “Bye, Felicia!” (and, as always, “White People”), with the host of the episode playing the game’s wild card. From Drake’s Black Canadian (“Yo, there’s thousands of us!”) to Tom Hanks’s MAGA hat-wearing Doug (who recoils in horror at Hayes’s handshake), “Black Jeopardy” always hits.
Celery (Portlandia, 2014)
Steve Buscemi stars as a hapless celery salesman who, on his mission to get more people to buy and eat celery, gets in way too deep with all the wrong people.
Celery Man (Tim and Eric, 2010)
“Nude Tayne” is this generation’s “cellar door.”
Chiggers (The Characters, 2016)
The premise is simple: A white patient (Sue Galloway) visits a black doctor (Rothwell, accompanied by a male nurse played by Gary Richardson) to learn how to treat a case of chiggers she got while camping. The rest … well, I’m sure you can piece this together. Rothwell, Richardson, and Galloway shift in and out of conversations about stereotypes and gentrification and, yes, bugs, all with the grace and fortitude of dancers. (Watch it on Netflix.)
Continental Breakfast (Key & Peele, 2013)
“Continental Breakfast” is perhaps the silliest of all of the Key & Peele sketches, a lovingly light send-up of chain hotels’ subpar breakfast buffets. Peele is the star here with his amused enchantment at all of the food options, his self-satisfied chuckle, and the way he coos, “Aren’t you a tiny plum?” to an unwashed grape. The profound joy he takes in the Continental breakfast builds to an absurd yet almost unsurprising ending (one not worth spoiling if you’ve somehow made it through these years without having seen it).
Darrell’s House (Saturday Night Live, 2013)
“Darrell’s House” was something of an anomaly for Saturday Night Live: a perfect cocktail of the show’s and its host Zach Galifinakis’s sensibilities. Galifinakis plays Darrell, a man taping an episode of his local-access television show in which he invites someone over to his house for the first time. “Part One” of the sketch, which aired relatively early into the night’s episode, was full of mix-ups, mistakes, and stand-ins, and Galifinakis alternates between aw-shucks, upbeat enthusiasm, and utter rage. It’s one of the most unique sketches not only of the decade but in the show’s history. The “We’ll fix it in postproduction” joke of the sketch became “We’ll fix it during the episode as it airs,” and later in the episode, the incoherent, jumbled, wonderful “Part Two” of “Darrell’s House” pays off every setup.
David S. Pumpkins (Saturday Night Live, 2016)
Airing October 23, 2016, the general confusion around David S. Pumpkins — “Is he from something?” Beck Bennett’s character asks — was the last thing to unite and delight the country.
Did You Read It? (Portlandia, 2011)
Come for the satire of pseudo-hyperliterate logged-on types, stay for the plaintive nods that crescendo into rapid, manic head jerks to confirm, yes, they’ve read it, but they did not like the ending.
Diner Lobster (Saturday Night Live, 2018)
“Diner Lobster” might really be the sketch of the decade, especially because it took almost the entire decade for John Mulaney and Colin Jost’s sketch to come to life. Pete Davidson’s character makes the mistake of ordering lobster at an old Greek diner, and what follows, naturally, is a full-scale rendition of “Who Am I?” from Les Miserables. Kenan Thompason, waist-deep in a tank and dressed as a giant lobster, is one of the funniest sights in the history of SNL. It’s a loving tribute to Les Miserables, ramshackle barricade and all, and an all-out insane gamble that pays off a thousandfold.
(Do It on My) Twin Bed (Saturday Night Live, 2013)
“(Do It on My) Twin Bed” was an all-star showcase for SNL’s female cast: a joke-packed pop song in the style of an early-aughts girl group. The track was written by Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, who would co-author a number of the decade’s best SNL sketches before going on to create The Other Two. Each lyric is more quotable than the one before it, but Lil’ Baby Aidy’s mom’s feud with her friend Jean takes the cake (and makes another appearance in the video’s sequel, “Back Home Ballers”).
East/West College Bowl (Key & Peele, 2012)
From the names (“Xmus Jaxon Flaxon-Waxon”) to the universities (“California University of Pennsylvania”) to the various vocal modulations (Key’s staccato delivery of “Hingle McCringleberry” and Peele’s sultry, mysterious presentation of “The Player Formerly Known As Mousecop”), the “East/West College Bowl” rosters never, ever (“Grunky Peep”!), got old.
Flicker (Key & Peele, 2012)
An escalating prank war between co-workers shot like it’s Michael Clayton.
Focus Group (I Think You Should Leave, 2019)
Giving us “You have no good car ideas” in the last year of the decade is the most generous thing anyone has done!
Great Day (Saturday Night Live, 2010)
If you don’t have time to sit through The Wolf of Wall Street, this is a fine substitute.
Hamm & Buble (Saturday Night Live, 2010)
“Hamm & Buble” is an oft-cited favorite of many fans of the show with a premise as simple as its name — a ham-and-Champagne-themed restaurant run by, well, Jon Hamm and Michael Bublé. Hamm, who has shined not only as a host but as a frequent walk-on guest of the show, and Bublé, hilariously game, have incredible chemistry as a menacing restaurateur and the pop crooner he’s holding hostage. It’s not just that the restaurant seems awful or just that Bublé says, wincing, “His eyes went black and he slapped my face” about his new employer, but that a joke so simple could pay off in such a menacing, wonderful way.
History of Punk (Saturday Night Live, 2013)
Ian Rubbish, the Thatcher-loving punk rocker in SNL’s tribute to the late PM, is an all-time great Fred Armisen character, and the note-perfect touches from behind-the-music documentaries lays the groundwork for his collaborations with Bill Hader in Documentary Now.
Hospital-tality (At Home With Amy Sedaris, 2019)
The gleeful mania of At Home With Amy Sedaris, with its deranged crafts and costumed guest stars, is often at its best when Sedaris is with her friend Chassie (Cole Escola, certainly one to watch in the decade to come). Season two’s “Hospital-tality” is an incredible showcase for the two of them, as Chassie’s fake blindness makes her bedridden, and Amy has no choice but to invite over Chassie’s family, played by none other than Ann Dowd, Juliette Lewis, and Taryn Manning.
Improved Open (Tim and Eric, 2010)
What is there to say about comedy other than sometimes you just want to see the same two guys over and over again in the form of the SNL opening credits? Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim alternate classic New York scenes — getting a dollar slice, waving down a cab, going to a strip club — in an attempt to deliver comedy in a “funnier and faster” way to their audience.
Instagram (I Think You Should Leave, 2019)
I Think You Should Leave’s “Instagram” sketch is one of the few in the show that feels like legitimate satire (including, I suppose, both of Robinson’s self-important rants about being on our phones too much), poking fun at the way in which people rush to put self-deprecating captions on otherwise nice photos of themselves with friends. Vanessa Bayer shares several of her caption options, heightening in both absurdity and vulgarity, for a picture of herself with friends at brunch, including, “Slurping down fish piss with these wet chodes.”
Insult Comic (Key & Peele, 2013)
Good comedy sketches about comedy itself are few and far between, but here’s a great one.
Interrogation (W/Bob & David, 2015)
David Cross and Bob Odenkirk’s deconstruction of the good-cop-bad-cop interrogation scene blossoms into a reconciliation between two co-workers who no longer have any idea how to communicate with each other, except through a suspect. It’s oddly touching, as well as a good lesson on how to use “obsequious” in a sentence.
It’s a Tear Down (Comedy Bang Bang, 2012)
Can Scott Aukerman and his team transform a man cave that’s looking more like a man’s grave?
Jack Sparrow (Saturday Night Live, 2011)
Though late into the Lonely Island’s tenure at SNL, “Jack Sparrow” was one of their most unexpected Digital Shorts. Michael Bolton, as the featured artist who promises the gang “a really sexy hook,” derails what’s meant to be a heavily produced club hit with his admiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Bolton’s enthusiasm — both for the Pirates movies as well as the other films mentioned in the song — is gorgeously paired with the Lonely Island’s feigned frustration and annoyance. Andy Samberg’s deflated “what” in the midst of Bolton’s first chorus builds to reluctance acceptance with his resigned “Turns out Michael Bolton is a major cinephile” at the end of the song.
Juan Makes Rice and Chicken (Documentary Now, 2016)
Documentary Now’s loving parody of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Chef’s Table about a man named Juan making arroz con pollo 40 minutes away from the nearest road, complete with near-impossible ingredient preparation and absurd rituals (Juan needs to chase and grab the chicken in a pen, otherwise he’ll leave it off the menu), sticks its landing with such elegance and grace that it transcends the material it’s riffing on.
Last Fuckable Day (Inside Amy Schumer, 2015)
“Last Fuckable Day,” directed by Nicole Holofscener, was one of the hallmarks of the third and final season of Inside Amy Schumer: an outdoor gathering of Schumer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette, in which the three older actresses reveal to Schumer that there comes a day in every actress’s career in which the public deems her no longer fuckable. The women commiserate and toast to reading for the part of Mrs. Claus, which went, as it turned out, to J.Lo (“Oh, she’ll be good,” Louis-Dreyfus simpers). The sketch literalized what had long been a conversation about ageism in Hollywood: that when women reach a certain age, they no longer become objects of desire, which, in turn, liberates them to eat dairy and grow their pubes out. Mazel!!
Liza Minnelli Tries to Turn Off a Lamp (Saturday Night Live, 2013)
This one speaks for itself, really.
Maya Angelou Prank Show (Saturday Night Live, 2012)
Maya Rudolph, an impersonator extraordinaire, plays the late poet with charm and levity and gravitas as she pulls practical jokes on her esteemed colleagues, all of whom are just honored to share space with her.
Meet Your Second Wife (Saturday Night Live, 2015)
“That’s five fingers,” Tina Fey explains to Taran Killam about the child, soon to be his character’s second wife, onstage. “I believe she’s trying to say she’s 5.” Of all the absurd game shows to come out of SNL this decade, “Meet Your Second Wife” is one of the bleakest and best.
Original Cast Album: Co-op (Documentary Now, 2019)
“I actually said, that’s not a good idea for a show,” John Mulaney’s Stephen Sondheim stand-in Simon Sawyer says at the opening of this episode, but one whole cast recording later, it’s safe to say it was the perfect idea for a show. “Co-op,” featuring the vocal talents of Alex Brightman, Renée Elise Goldberry, Richard Kind, and Paula Pell, was Documentary Now’s take on D.A. Pennebaker’s Company documentary. It feels absurd to praise the level of specificity of just one episode, especially because so much of the show depends upon it, though composing a fictional Sondheim musical is Documentary Now’s greatest accomplishment to date. Though it might hit the hardest with musical-theater fans, it’s impossible not to marvel at the level of genius and sheer number of jokes packed into a single episode.
PubLIZity — Niece Denise (Kroll Show, 2014)
Liz B.’s (Jenny Slate, offscreen) niece Denise (Jenny Slate, onscreen with the funniest set of fake teeth imaginable) shows up at the PubLIZity offices, and Liz G. (Nick Kroll) takes it upon herself to take her for a day in Hollywood. Kroll and Slate have always had incredible comedic chemistry together, as proved time and time again across multiple shows this decade, and this particular pairing of characters is rife with laughs. Liz G. is the perfect guardian for awkward, shy Denise (who, when invited out for a girl’s day, asks, “Is this a prank?”) up until the moment she abandons her with a skeevy male photographer (Will Forte).
Puppet Class (Saturday Night Live, 2013)
Seth MacFarlane’s 2013 episode was a solid showcase for its host — including this underseen 10-1 sketch with Tim Robinson, “Wooden Spoons” — but it’s the deranged “Puppet Class” that goes down as a decade best for Bill Hader. Hader plays Anthony Peter Coleman, a veteran working through his PTSD by dissociating into his puppet “Tony.” Try as he might, Coleman and Tony can’t seem to shed the memories of Grenada, even roping other classmates’ puppets into their flashbacks (“Please do not act out any murder scenarios with each other’s puppets,” MacFarlane pleads). Hader’s sternness and seriousness in both human and puppet form is haunting and hilarious.
Put a Bird on It (Portlandia, 2011)
It’s almost impossible to believe now, but there was a time — in this very decade — where birds were on everything, as exemplified in Portlandia duo Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s most famous sketch. After Bryce and Lisa decorate a variety of homegoods with hand-painted birds to maximize tweeness, they’re terrorized by a live bird, reminding the viewer that what is adorable is often extremely frightening.
Robin Hood (Astronomy Club, 2019)
“I guess it’s true what they say: Soon as a black man gets some moat money, he turns his back on the hood.” Astronomy Club’s revamp of the classic Robin Hood story, in which the titular thief tries to rob the richest black family in Sherwood, quickly and hilariously spirals into a discussion about intersectionality.
Romantic Comedy (The Birthday Boys, 2013)
Is this … Marriage Story?
Sad Mouse (Saturday Night Live, 2012)
“What if they don’t wave back?” Mark (Bruno Mars) asks, before donning a vague patriotic mouse costume and heading out into Times Square. The Matt & Oz–directed Digital Short brought depth and melancholy to the world of costumed Times Square mascots. “Sad Mouse” plays like the wordless first act of WALL-E, culminating in the heartfelt and star-crossed final meeting of Sad Mouse and a character that can only be described as Luau Frog.
Sammy Paradise (The Characters, 2016)
Tim Robinson’s episode of The Characters, which aired three years before I Think You Should Leave, opened with Sammy Paradise, a Vegas crooner serenading Lady Luck, only to lose all his money not once but twice in the same evening. It’s go-for-broke (pun intended) peak Tim Robinson screaming, his voice straining itself as he bellows “NO!” for four whole seconds.
She’s Making Jewelry Now (Portlandia, 2012)
Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen’s pop ditty about Brownstein’s sister who floundered from job to job (“I thought she’d end up in politics / She was always really into Kucinich, remember?”) until she started making jewelry is a loving send-up of independent artisans and Etsy-site-havers. Consider Armisen yelling “What time does the post office close?” a warning to anyone thinking about turning a hobby into a full-time job.
A Sick Child’s Dying Wish (Alternatino, 2019)
A community rallies behind a sweet terminally ill child with one wish and one wish only: to never meet Macklemore. “It’s not just the music,” Arturo Castro explains as the boy’s father, tears in his eyes. “He just hates the guy’s whole vibe.”
Substitute Teacher (Key & Peele, 2012)
Keegan-Michael Key’s ability to harness and project rage in the form of frustrated educator was honed during his tenure at MADtv and perfected in this sketch, where he plays an experienced, inner-city substitute teacher stumbling over milquetoast, suburban white names. Time will pass, decades will change, but few things bring more joy than Key snapping a clipboard over his knee.
The Birthday Boys Accept IFC’s Offer (The Birthday Boys, 2013)
Before their IFC run, the Birthday Boys presented their terms for air, including preferred fonts for each of its cast members. Something to note for all sketch shows to come: They shouldn’t air at the same time as other programs on whatever channel they’re on.
The Toast (The Characters, 2016)
John Early’s episode of The Characters weaves in and out of sketches (including “Vicky,” which has gone on to be one of the comedian’s most memorable characters) and a wedding party going achingly, hilariously awry upstate, but it’s his botched toast, full of self-aggrandizing statements — “New York is my home,” he states, before clarifying, “and sometimes, you know, L.A. I do go back and forth … for business” — that feels like the pinnacle of the episode. Early’s overwrought speech bombs, and when his character’s fiancé, Mahan, delivers a simple, to-the-point declaration of love to their friends and family, Early viciously steals the spotlight back, fainting like a 1940s starlet. (Watch it on Netflix.)
Too Much Tuna (Kroll Show, 2013)
Good luck finding another comedy sketch this decade that went to Broadway.
Totino’s (Saturday Night Live, 2017)
Saturday Night Live’s Totino’s runner, in which Vanessa Bayer plays an eager-to-please but ignored and putdown housewife whose sole purpose is making Totino’s for her husband and his friends, builds to a beautiful, sensual conclusion. Enter Sabine (Kristen Stewart), the first person to enter Bayer’s (“What’s your name?” “I never had one.”) house and really see her and love her for who she is.
We Care (Baroness Von Sketch Show, 2018)
The Canadian sketch show starring Aurora Browne, Meredith MacNeill, Carolyn Taylor, and Jennifer Whalen is full of zany, often female-centric sketches, like the searing “Girls’ Gay Night Out,” where they can’t help but compare Taylor’s character to Ellen before patronizingly adding, “I wish I could be gay!” It’s “We Care” that feels most true to life, however, as a group of friends — after a happy, normal hangout — can’t help but immediately talk shit about each other the second one of them leaves. Every cruel thing they say, of course, is because they care, and isn’t friendship the best reason to be hateful to someone?
Wells for Boys (Saturday Night Live, 2016)
“Some boys live unexamined lives, but this one’s heart is full of questions.” Jeremy Beiler and Julio Torres’s Fisher-Price commercial parody lovingly captured the melancholy and loneliness many young, and often queer, boys face in their childhoods, and as the boy’s mother, Emma Stone delivers, “Everything is for you, and this one thing is for him” with all the power and nuancé of, say, an Oscar-winning actress.
What’s That Name? With John Mulaney (Saturday Night Live, 2019)
“What’s That Name?” in all its iterations has always preyed on the innate social anxiety of forgetting the name of a person known to you, but [Stefon voice] this “What’s That Name?” has everything: John Mulaney and Bill Hader, “Lil Xan,” an exploration of institutional sexism, Cecily Strong’s “Mama” whimper, Hader saying “the squad” in the most menacing voice imaginable, and, of course, “You’re not seeing double, that’s three women.”
*Illustration key (clockwise from left): Romantic scene with Kristen Stewart and Vanessa Bayer from SNL’s “Totino’s”; eating a magazine from Portlandia’s “Did You Read It?”; SNL’s “Black Jeopardy” with Tom Hanks; Liza Minnelli playing with a lamp from SNL; “Bad Bitches Support Group” with giant makeup items from A Black Lady Sketch Show; an overfilled tuna sandwich for Kroll Show’s “Too Much Tuna”; a lobster costume in a Greek diner for SNL’s “Diner Lobster”; and Key and Peele’s “Aerobics Meltdown.”