The 17 Best SNL Sketches of Season 48

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Getty Images

Saturday Night Live just abruptly concluded a major rebuilding year. The cast shed seven members prior to the premiere, including heavy hitters like Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon, and lost Cecily Strong midway through the season. Casual fans last fall were likely still wrapping their heads around more recent cast additions like Andrew Dismukes and Punkie Johnson, only to find four fresh faces to contend with. It could have been a disaster (or even a zizzaster, frankly), but it turns out Lorne Michaels and his team have a knack for spotting the kind of talent that can drive SNL through a transitional phase like an armored tank of comedy. Who knew?

Although the WGA strike closed up shop at SNL early — sadly making a mid Ana de Armas–hosted episode the unofficial finale — season 48 was an unqualified success, with more wall-to-wall slays than notable off-nights. Debut hosts like Quinta Brunson, Keke Palmer, and Pedro Pascal turned in performances that ensured they’ll be welcome back any time, and returning vets like Molly Shannon and Dave Chappelle proved as vital as ever. If season 48 shows what this crew can do while trying to establish themselves as distinct from the previous cast, imagine how strong they’ll be now that they’ve already done so. At the very least, far fewer viewers will still be unfamiliar with Andrew Dismukes and Punkie Johnson by then.

Here are the 17 best sketches from this past season.


Although Sarah Sherman already set herself apart with some hilarious turns as Colin Jost’s new antagonist on “Weekend Update” in her rookie year, she level-jumped this season with a series of showcase sketches, starting with “Eyes” in the Brendan Gleeson–hosted second episode. (Get used to seeing Sherman on this list.) Don’t focus too much on cinematic treasure Gleeson, who seems a little out of his element here; Sherman owns the stage as an obtuse ad exec who has surgically implanted googly eyes on her face. It’s a premise that makes her trademark body horror palatable for network audiences without sacrificing any edge, and it’s a credit to Sherman’s skills that her delivery of the character’s terrible tagline pitches is nearly as funny as the visual gag of what she does with those googly eyes.

’Lisa From Temecula’

Live comedy is a high-wire act in which any false step can be disastrous, but in “Lisa From Temecula,” almost everyone involved gives up midway through on actually performing, in favor of just laughing at a ridiculous Ego Nwodim character — and the unanimity of the breakage makes the sketch. Before she got cast on SNL a few years ago, Nwodim became a fan favorite on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast with her stellar character turns, and Lisa From Temecula is very much of a piece with her work on that show. She’s a lawyer who is suspicious of everyone, particular in her (awful) food preferences, and cuts a steak like a construction worker operating a jackhammer. Somehow, it just works. “Lisa” even spawned a sequel sketch a couple months later, though it lost a bit of oomph when the entire cast failed to break character a second time.

’The Play’

If you’re looking for a delightful skewering of abysmal way Off Broadway productions, “The Play” is the thing. It’s also much more than that. It’s a vehicle for host Molly Shannon to perform cheesy monologues with over-the-top sincerity and a riff on self-care run amok, with some Charlie Kaufman Lite meta texture thrown in for good measure. Buy a ticket, take the ride.

’Straight Male Friend’

Making perfect use of himbo host Travis Kelce’s macho presence, this fake ad asks viewers to consider the benefits of keeping a high-octane heteronormative bro in one’s social calendar. The very same emotional distance and shallowness that fueled a million hacky jokes about straight dudes throughout recorded history are repurposed here into a backhanded compliment. Are the alarmingly indifferent straight men in your life actually just … super chill? Who’s to say.

’Wing Pit’

In the “Straight Male Friend” sketch, Kelce’s Über-bro constantly wants to get wings at a place called Wing Pit. It’s a callback to another sketch from earlier in the season that similarly functions as commentary on hypermasculinity. The fake ad for “Wing Pit,” which aired ahead of the Super Bowl, parodies the way restaurant chains target male audiences during sporting events with an aggressive amount of food. The escalation is so gradual, and so unhinged, that an offering of a dish that consists of “10,000 beaks” feels only natural in context.

’Trump Easter Cold Open’

It’s hard to describe the differences between Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump and James Austin Johnson’s take on the former president. Oh wait, it isn’t: They’re completely different beasts, one of which should have been mercy-killed before 2018, while the other is a magnificent creature in the prime of its life. It’s not just that Johnson has the best Trump impression I’ve ever seen; I’m hard-pressed to think of a better impression anyone has ever done of anyone else. Trump is a larger-than-life character who is incredibly well-defined, but unpredictability is part of the brand. Johnson has diagrammed and harnessed that unpredictability so well, though, that he can reproduce it with uncanny timing and shockingly little exaggeration. After the 2020 election, I’d have been happy to never see Trump portrayed on SNL ever again, but in Johnson’s surgically precise hands, the political cold opens are now appointment television. The Easter edition this season was the best of the bunch, ending with Johnson’s fourth-wall-busting brag about getting to say the line that opens every episode. “Maybe if you break a big political character, you say the big line,” he offers. I doubt any other cast members will be able to accomplish what he has with Trump in their own impressions, but I certainly hope they try.

’Roller Coaster Accident’

Well before reaching Nickelodeon levels of sloppiness in its back half, this sketch goes way off the rails. Sherman and a very game Michael B. Jordan play local-news personalities who were stuck on a roller coaster for many hours before coming directly into work. Needless to say, they both look deranged. The visual gag remains funny throughout, but Sherman elevates it by performing the corny beats of a local-news cooking segment as though she doesn’t have a prosthetically opened mouth and wide eyes that have seen the inside of hell.

’Kenan and Kelly’

Keke Palmer is so naturally funny playing both a version of herself who wants to star in a reboot of Kenan and Kel, along with the character she creates to replace Kel in that fictitious reboot. She just exudes talent and joie de vivre in every microexpression. By the time Kenan Thompson’s old running buddy Kel Mitchell shows up, his comedic instincts still sharp as ever, the sketch becomes a loving tribute to the pair’s roots that’s funny on its own terms. Here comes the bus, indeed.

’Jingle Pitch’

A blast of pure silliness. Dismukes and Johnson play a pop-funk group — rocking a ponytail and blond Katt Williams hair, respectively — hired to come up with a new jingle for a rebranding law firm. Yang and host Jenna Ortega are the partners who found this duo while getting tanked at a local Italian restaurant. Their persistent belief that the perfect jingle should recreate the experience of being drunk at that restaurant drives this sketch to a high upper register of musical wackadoo.

’Steve Martin and Martin Short Monologue’

Although the idea of Steve Martin and Martin Short hosting SNL together sounds amazing on paper, the reality turned out to be a bit of a letdown. The only moment the longtime friends and collaborators actually built something out of the frisson of their history was their opening monologue, which features the macabre specter of the two delivering each other’s eulogies. It may not technically be a “sketch,” but the best monologue of the season deserves recognition.

’Weekend Update: Sarah Sherman Debuts Sarah’s News’

Speaking of things that aren’t exactly sketches, Sherman ratcheted up her usual roasting of Colin Jost by taking over “Weekend Update” entirely. The debut of “Sarah’s News” found her transforming half the “Update” desk into a candy-colored fiasco, making the set as a whole look like Tommy Lee Jones’s flamboyant take on the Batman villain Two-Face. When the jokes aren’t about Jost, they’re at Sherman’s own expense, and they’re disgusting. Luckily, they’re punctuated by her rascally delight at getting to do something like this on TV. This bit is so funny, Sherman served viewers a second helping of “Sarah’s News” later in the season. Expect more in the future.

’Joker Wedding’

A miracle of repetition, this sketch recycles the phrase “dressed like Joker” no fewer than 14 times. But each of them lands — especially when Dismukes, who spends the sketch decked out in full Joker regalia, manages to squeeze an extra o into the word. An unexpected pivot into game-show territory at the midway mark keeps things spicy, while a well-acted turn from Jack Harlow, of all people, grounds the festivities in reality.

’Please Don’t Destroy — Election Night’

New cast member Molly Kearney is accidentally elected attorney general of Ohio in the best Please Don’t Destroy video of the season. Kearney’s rubbery face and warbling voice are perfect vessels for comedic panic. Both got a great warmup in the “New Cast Advice” sketch from early on in the season but come to full bloom here as Kearney desperately tries to avoid their fate in office. Although Kearney only appeared somewhat sparingly throughout the season, sketches like this one suggest they have a lot more to offer.

’Big Boys’

If you don’t listen too closely to the funny lyrics of this SZA-assisted track, it passes the pop-music smell test. This song would tear up the radio charts, if those were still a thing. It already has torn up the medium that seems to have replaced radio — TikTok — appearing in so many thirsty videos, it became a musical meme. In fact, the Pedro Pascal sketch parodying TikTok fancams later in the season uses “Big Boys” as its soundtrack. It’s a catchy tune, whose video is populated by enormous teddy-bear men who would lovingly carry in all your groceries “in just one trip.” No wonder this cuffing-season jam has been cuffed to my brain for months now.

’Black Heaven’

If you can even believe it, Dave Chappelle generated some controversy with the 15 minutes of stand-up that served as his SNL monologue. His attempts at finding humor about antisemitism walked right up to the line of perpetuating antisemitism, and in this viewer’s eyes, never quite crossed it. (The same cannot be said — again, in this viewer’s eyes — for the comedian’s prodigious output on the subject of transgender people.) In any case, it was a relief when the rest of Chappelle’s episode steered away from controversy and into some hilarious sketches that felt like the rebirth of his self-titled Comedy Central show. “Black Heaven” is the standout showpiece, a sketch in which Chappelle ostensibly asks lily-white Mikey Day to play the Chappelle character in a sketch, forcing him to say things he and everybody watching knows he clearly should not.

’Jewish Elvis’

Elvis Presley, the person, is an inherently funny concept. There’s just something hilarious about a musician who repeatedly made his fans so horny the cops had to be called. In searching for a way to make the King funny for Elvis star Austin Butler’s turn hosting SNL, the writers appear to have wondered, What would make the residents of a nursing home riotously horny? Their answer: Jewish Elvis. This character, another Sarah Sherman special, does more complaining than singing, but Butler nearly steals the sketch as the Kosher King’s biggest fan. Although Jewish Elvis was only invented for this episode, he hit hard enough to possibly earn an encore.

’Traffic Altercation’

An entire fight between two drivers plays out in screaming pidgin sign language. That’s the premise of this deceptively simple scene. But what makes it transcend into classic sketch territory is when the two drivers (Mikey Day and host Quinta Brunson) start critiquing each other’s questionable signing with further questionable signing. The degree of difficulty here is high: How the hell did Brunson and Day memorize what they would be doing with their hands in less than a week? (It’s not the kind of thing that can fit on a cue card.) The two stars make it look easy, though, with Brunson turning in the funniest performance of her episode. Anyone who watches this sketch will probably never participate in road rage quite the same way ever again.

The 17 Best SNL Sketches of Season 48