Baseball Toaster The Juice Blog
Help
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
Frozen Toast
Search
Google Search
Web
Toaster
The Juice
Archives

2009
02  01 

2008
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2007
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2006
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2005
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2004
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2003
12  11  10  09 
E-mail

scott@scottlongonline.com

Personally On the Juice
Scott Takes On Society
Comedy 101
Kick Out the Jams (Music Pieces)
Even Baseball Stories Here
Link to Scott's NSFW Sports Site
Top 50 Comedy Sketch Performers in TV History
2007-07-09 08:33
by Scott Long
Notes:
Scott Long is now blogging at NSFWsports.com.
Will Carroll can still be found at Baseball Prospectus.

Unlike choosing the top players in any sport, selecting the best sketch comedy performers in television history is very arbitrary. There are no stats to guide you, just what you witnessed in your lifetime and how these actors made you laugh. The only parameter I set for the list was that I had to have watched you during my lifetime. This basically sets the bar at anything Monty Python Flying Circus and after. Python was the most influential sketch show of all-time, as it was revolutionary in the way it used comedy. Anything before it was safe, so I feel confident that this list possesses the best sketch comedy performers.

1. Will Ferrell

2. Jim Carrey

3. John Cleese

4. Eddie Murphy

5. Martin Short

 

Will Ferrell consistently was funny in every sketch he did at Saturday Night Live. When he was a cast member, he often carried the show. Ferrell has a strange energy that inhabits each character he does that no one else I’ve ever witnessed can match. He is at his best when he portrays adults who act juvenile.

Some might forget that Carrey was one of the best comic impressionists of all-time, before he gave it up to pursue original characters. He brought them both to In Living Color. There doesn’t seem to be anything comedic ally that he can’t do. In some of his movies he is bit over the top, but in a sketch, he is hard to match. The one time he appeared on SNL might be the greatest performance ever by a host.

Cleese brought an intellectual snobbery to most of his characters that was aided by his imposing size. His verbal dexterity and physical comedic skills are unmatched.

While it was a pretty short tenure, no one dominated their time at SNL more than Eddie Murphy. His charisma was amazing, especially considering he was barely in his 20’s when he started appearing in what seemed like every sketch that was good.

Martin Short brought a Rat Pack style to many of his characters. It was like he was trying to be cool, but it is always overcome by his inner Jerry Lewis.

6. Dana Carvey

7. Phil Hartman

8. Dan Aykroyd

9. Chris Farley

10. Bill Murray

Dana Carvey has the rare ability to find the funniest possible thing about a person when doing an impression and then makes it the signature thing people remember them for. (See George Bush 41, Ross Perot, Johnny Carson, John McLaughlin, etc.) My 2nd favorite sketch character of all-time might be his “Lyle, the effeminate heterosexual.)

At the same time Carvey was at SNL, Phil Hartman was the true unsung hero of the show. He could play almost any type of original character, plus his Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton impressions nailed the comedic essence of each man.

Much like Hartman, Dan Aykroyd was often overshadowed by showy performers, but he was often held the sketches together. Watch his Best of SNL, if you don’t believe me in rating him the MVP of the original casts.

In 1989, I went to Second City in Chicago to see a show and was blown away by Chris Farley. I knew nothing about the guy, but in my lifetime, I have never seen someone dominate a stage like him. Less than a year later, I saw him as a Chippendales dancer, which still might be the funniest sketch in SNL history. Matt Foley, motivational speaker is my favorite sketch character of all-time.

Bill Murray’s top 5 movies I would take over any other comedic actor. On SNL, he was initially overshadowed by other cast members, but by the time most of them had left, he was given a chance to shine during his final season. The key to most of his SNL characters was the total confidence they exuded, despite little outward reason for having.

11. Alec Baldwin

12. Steve Martin

13. Dave Chappelle

14. Michael Palin

15. John Candy

Alec Baldwin’s appearance here might surprise, but he is the best SNL host of all-time. He controls a comedy sketch like Jack Nicholson does on the silver screen. The Canteen Boy sketch is my favorite one in SNL history. His batting average in sketch comedy is the highest of anyone I can think of.

Right behind Baldwin for best host is Steve Martin. During the late 70’s, Martin reached a level of stardom that no stand-up comic has ever reached, before or since. His absurd style meshed seamlessly with the cast. While Wild and Crazy Guy and Excuse Me became household phrases, I think his pinnacle on the show was Theodoric of York.

While others have tried, no one during my lifetime has had success with critics and the marketplace with a self-titled sketch show. Dave Chappelle changed this. I’ve always liked his standup, but I was never blown away by him until he did his self-titled show. Clayton Bigsby, the blind racist is the best comedy sketch of all-time.

My favorite characters that Michael Palin has played have always had a shyster quality to them. There was a nudge nudge, wink wink attitude to them that were hilarious. Like the other Python members, he also was brilliant in drag.

Much like Farley, there was a likeability factor to John Candy that made it almost impossible not to fall for what he was selling (Even porn peddler, Harry…the guy with a snake on his face.). He did a great list of characters during his time at SCTV, but my fav was Gail Fisher, the fishin’ musician. I love the idea of a TV fishing show host who doesn’t like the taste of fish.

16. Tim Conway

17. Carol Burnett

18. Damon Wayans

19. John Belushi

20. Bruce McCulloch

While it was stylistically like the old wave of comedy sketch shows, the Carol Burnett Show was consistently funny.

Conway has amazing timing. He was like Bird or Magic, as he could go more slowly and control the action even more, as things around him would adjust to his speed.

Carol Burnett is the greatest sketch actress, as she has never been afraid to go as far as it takes to make the comedy work. Her Improv abilities were amazing, as she demonstrated in her opening monologue taking questions from the audience.

While Keenan Ivory Waynans was the creator of In Living Color, his brother Damon is by far the most talented member of the family. No one has played more politically incorrect characters as Damon and most of them have been hilarious. His recent self-titled sketch show on Showtime was often sophomoric and vile, but it had a lot of really funny stuff. It was the first comedy sketch show that explored uncensored subjects.

I’m sure most would have John Belushi higher, but I’ve always felt he was a bit overrated. It’s not that he wasn’t a sensational performer, but I don’t think his body of work was deserving of legend status.

This might be a surprise choice to be in the Top 20, but I believe Bruce McCulloch was the genius of The Kids in the Hall. There is something very strange about all of his characters, but they are so real that is seems almost like a documentary. Bobby Torrance, Cathy the secretary, and especially Gavin the annoyingly precocious boy, are all versions of people I have met.

21. Mike Myers

22. Dave Thomas

23. Rick Moranis

24. Billy Crystal

25. Mo Collins

Mike Myers is another comedic actor who I don’t rate as high as most. My favorite characters of his were the one’s that were European in origin. (Scottish character and Sprockets)

No sketch show had a better 4 year run than SCTV did between 1980-1983. It’s hard to rate the players from the show separately, but Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis are the most closely aligned, especially considering their breakout charcters, Bob and Doug McKenzie. Thomas’ Bob Hope and Moranis’ Merv Griffin were brilliant in the way they both honored and skewered the legends.

Like Martin Short, Billy Crystal has an old vaudeville performer trapped inside him. While his time on SNL was brief, he did create some good original characters and his Sammy Davis Jr. impression was flawless.

Next to Burnett, the best comedic actress in sketch comedy is Mo Collins. With MadTV for many seasons, Collins created many great original characters. While Michael McDonald’s Stuart is the most famous character in the show’s history, I always thought the true star of these sketches was his mother, Doreen, played by Collins. No sketch actress has played so many comedic characters as Collins.

26. Darrell Hammond

27. Frank Caliendo

28. Ben Stiller

29. Bob Odenkirk

30. Eric Idle

I have worked with both Darrell Hammond and Frank Caliendo and let me say that doing stand-up that it is no contest on who is better on-stage. (Caliendo in a land-slide.)
Hammond gets the slim nod in sketch comedy, as MadTV really misused Caliendo during his time there.

Hammond’s Bill Clinton and Sean Connery impressions are his best known, but I love his Geraldo Rivera and Jesse Jackson takeoffs the most.

I suspect that now that Caliendo is getting his own show, he will move up this list, as Frank has only scratched the surface of what he can do. His variety of characters on the NFL on Fox has been pretty remarkable, considering he has to keep a football theme during the sketches.

The Ben Stiller Show was short-lived, but is still considered one of the best in the genre. Stiller’s Tom Cruise and Bono impressions being my favorite.

Bob Odenkirk was part of the Stiller ensemble, but his crowning achievement was as one of the co-creators of Mr. Show. No sketch show was as smartly written as Mr. Show.

Is there a person on this list who has played more unlikeable characters than Eric Idle. Unlike the other Pyton members, Idle wrote by himself (I'm guessing no one wanted to have to be in the same room with him during the process), so his offerings were the most different. While I'm not a huge fan, I can't deny the long list of achievements he made to the show. He also is the most musical of anyone on the Top 50 list.

 

31. Eugene Levy

32. Joe Flaherty

33. Graham Chapman

34. Michael Richards

35. Harvey Korman

Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty were at their best when playing off of other cast members. The parody they did together of the local news was brilliant, as it was a more low-key version of what the movie Anchorman became. Levy’s Bobby Bittman and Flaherty’s Guy Cabellero were their standout roles.

Graham Chapman was at his best when portraying insane British women. He was Cleese’s writing partner, which worked well for his career.

Before there was Kramer, Michael Richards appeared on a sketch show with Larry David, which was titled Fridays. Airing on ABC during the early 80’s, it was actually superior to SNL for a couple of years. Richards was great in everything he did on the show, with a character named Battle Boy showing off his weird genius the most.

While Harvey Korman was best known for playing off of Tim Conway, it should not be forgotten how great he was in his own right.

36. Amy Poehler

37. Gilda Radner

38. Jan Hooks

39. Andrea Martin

40. Catherine O’Hara

Since Will Ferrell left SNL, I think the real star of the show has been Amy Poehler. From way back in her days with the Upright Citizens Brigade, Poehler always brings a complete commitment to every character she inhabits. I wouldn’t be surprised if she climbs up this list most over the next couple of years.

While I’m not as big of fan of hers as many, Gilda Radner had an innocence that she brought to most of her characters. She was the only woman from the early years of SNL that held her own.

Jan Hooks was a truly unsung member of SNL during the great years of the late 80’s to early 90’s. I first noticed her on the TBS sketch show, Tush. She was truly the star of this show, as her Tammy Faye Bakker impression was flawless.

SCTV always seemed more like an ensemble show than SNL, so each member of the cast had a chance to shine in each episode.

Andrea Martin generally played a female misfit, with the immortal Edith Prickley and the bizarre pitchwoman Edna Boil my personal favorites.

Catherine O’Hara was at her best when inhabiting ditzy women, with Lola Heatherton her quintessential character.

41. Chevy Chase

42. David Allen Grier

43. Jamie Foxx

44. Jon Lovitz

45. Adam Sandler

You would think Chevy Chase would rate higher, but considering he only appeared on the initial season of SNL, his body of work is more limited than you would guess.

David Allen Grier is really underrated, as he filled the role for In Living Color that Hartman and Aykroyd did for SNL during their tenures.

Jaime Foxx was not on the show for long, but his time with In Living Color showed him to be an Eddie Murphy-like talent.

Jon Lovitz was hit or miss for me, but characters like the Pathological Liar and Master Thespian were homerun performances.

Adam Sandler’s best moments at SNL were often crazy little characters he did during Weekend Update like Opera Man.

46. Will Sasso

47. David Cross

48. Norm Macdonald

49. Chris Kattan

50. (Tie)

Maya Rudolph

Sheri Oteri

Molly Shannon

Another actor from MadTV who is unknown by much of the public, Will Sasso did a lot of quality work during his time with the show. His version of Kenny Rogers is one of the weirdest, but most hilarious impressions I’ve ever seen.

The other part of Mr. Show, Cross is a great standup comic, who did some excellent stuff with the HBO sketch show.

While Norm Macdonald is known more for anchoring Weekend Update, his impressions of David Letterman, Burt Reynolds, and especially Bob Dole were inspired.

I’m not a big fan of Chris Kattan, but his characters Mr. Peepers and Mango were freakishly funny.

Over the past 10 years, SNL has had better female cast members than men, with Maya Rudoph, Sheri Oteri, and Molly Shannon providing some of the best performances during this time. Hard for me to put one above the others, so I've lumped them in at the end.

A few final notes.

During his time as a writer for the David Letterman Show, Chris Elliott played a number of recurring characters, with my favorite being The Guy under the Seats. The key facet to all of his characters was that they were completely insulting to the host, David Letterman.

Christopher Guest would rate way up the list, if we were considering his movies on the list, but in his one season on SNL, he didn’t do enough to crack the Top 50.

I can remember laughing at a lot of Joe Piscopo's characters when I was younger, but they don't hold that well, today. He falls just outside this list.

Recent hires Jason Sudekis and Will Forte have aided SNL's most recent revival.

The rest of the cast of The Kids in the Hall were great, but the characters they did were often so strange, it's hard for me to rate them individually. I do think Scott Thompson is the Paul Lynde/Charles Nelson Reilly of my generation. (This is high praise from me.)

MTV's Human Giant is the best of the new sketch shows. Well worth checking out.

Comments
2007-07-09 09:44:20
1.   ToyCannon
Tracey Ullman?
2007-07-09 09:51:14
2.   Cliff Corcoran
No one from The State? (Michael Ian Black perhaps)

Extremely underrated Hartman-type: Chris Parnell

Better than Will Forte: Fred Arneson

Eric Idle and Terry Jones don't rate? Jones was better in drag than any of the other Pythons.

2007-07-09 09:54:21
3.   Bluebleeder87
you hit the nail right on the head with your 1 thrue 10 descriptions, some of the names you mentioned i've never heard of so i'll take your word for it.
2007-07-09 09:59:20
4.   das411
No blurb for Eric Idle Scott?

And doesn't Darrell Hammond (or for that part Tim Meadows) get some Eddie Murray-style longevity points, for being the second or third funniest person on SNL at worst for the better part of a decade?

(plus Christopher Walken has to get at least an honorable mention, no?)

2007-07-09 10:02:35
5.   mehmattski
2 Idle is 30th, but he doesn't have a note on him like the others. Meanwhile I think I enjoy Pallin greatest of all, and would put him ahead of everyone other than Will Ferrel.

How about Christopher Walken? All six of the times he's hosted SNL have been pretty classic.

I think a Top 25 Sketches post is in order now. While Clayton Bigsby is genius, I don't know that it can top Dead Parrot. Then again maybe my Monty Python fandom creates unfair bias.

2007-07-09 10:18:41
6.   Scott Long
I will put something up on idle later. Oops.
Ullman I forgot about, but I'm not a big fan. Did like her little pop ditty, though.

Who would I take off for meadows?

The state was solid, but ian black I find really annoying.

2007-07-09 10:23:53
7.   Scott Long
I don't have another whole day to come up with 25 greatest sketches.

I chose Chapelle's Bigsby character, as it was such a great social commentary, while being absolutely hilarious.

2007-07-09 10:24:23
8.   Scott Long
I don't have another whole day to come up with 25 greatest sketches.

I chose Chapelle's Bigsby character, as it was such a great social commentary, while being absolutely hilarious.

2007-07-09 11:23:29
9.   Voxter
To me, the most glaring omission would be Thomas Lennon of "The State", whose characters shone whether he was the star of the sketch (The Old-Fashioned Guy, James Dixon -- Power Guidance Counsellor), or merely holding it together while more famous recurring characters did their thing (as Doug's cool dad, or as Jesus in the final Louie sketch). Take into account his yeoman's work at Lieutenant Jim Dangle on "Reno 911", and I'd rank him well ahead of several of these guys, perhaps in the mid-to-low-20s.

David Allan Grier did absolutely my favorite SNL host monologue of all time. Sadly, I cannot find video of it, but here's a transcript:

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/96/96kmono.phtml

"Let's get butt-naked in the White House" encapsulates so much of what so many people loved and so many people hated about Bill Clinton. And it's funny as hell.

2007-07-09 11:30:19
10.   JoeyP
I'd move Damon Wayans/David Alan Grier way up the list.
They would be top 10 on my list.

I dont think people realize just how much talent was on In Living Color in the early 90's---.

I never really dug Will Ferrell that much bc once the Sandler/Spade/Farley/Hartman era of SNL past--I guit watching SNL.

2007-07-09 13:18:38
11.   Scott Long
NOTE: I posted an Eric Idle entry.
2007-07-09 13:56:15
12.   Bluebleeder87
10

I can't believe you don't like Will Ferrell!!? he was a riot while on SNL, he had a way of yelling that was absolutely hysterical. Here's one of his many funny moments on SNL.

http://tinyurl.com/yzvdw9

2007-07-09 14:03:27
13.   Suffering Bruin
Scott, great list. Just curious where Kathy Najimy would fit on this list? I ask because I met her once; very nice person. Also, she and Mo were a team, right? IIRC...
2007-07-09 14:23:24
14.   Cliff Corcoran
Tim Meadows was on SNL for like 75 years and other than Perspectives and the Ladies Man, I can't think of a single thing he did that made me laugh (maybe the O.J. "I DID IT" sketch, but it was the writing, not the performance that made that one). I've seen him guest in sketches on other shows since then (Colbert, Ferguson) and I still find him to be actively unfunny.

Walken, meanwhile . . .

Sorry for calling you out erroneously on Idle, Scott.

Finally, if someone made a movie that was nothing but Will Farrell and Al Pacino yelling at each other for 90 minutes, I'd go see it 50 times in the opening weekend.

2007-07-09 15:26:12
15.   vockins
Tracy Morgan as Tiger Woods's father has to earn cred as top 50.

"That club... that little club..."

2007-07-09 15:44:16
16.   P Bu
"I do think Scott Thompson is the Paul Lynde/Charles Nelson Reilly of my generation."

Simply because he's gay and funny? I don't see similarities between his work and theirs--weren't Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde more traditional song-and-dance men (albeit with, ummmmm, flamboyant demeanors) whereas Scott Thompson is a comedian/comic first and foremost?

Although I think the late 90s women were the funniest women on SNL (and probably deserve a higher ranking), I can understand lumping them together, but I think Ana Gastayer should be included--Cinder Calhoun, Delicious Dish, Martha Stewart, et al. easily eclipse anything Maya Rudolph has done.

2007-07-09 16:06:49
17.   Tom
Carvey over Hartman?

At the time, I thought Carvey was great, but his stuff really hasn't aged well. Did you see him on Bill Maher a few months ago? Not good.

Hartman gets a few Lou Gehrig points too. Awesome at what he does, and a really tragic end. Toss in his genius work on The Simpsons as a tie-breaker if you like.

2007-07-09 16:22:29
18.   Schteeve
Tracey Morgan would make my list based on the Astronaut Jones sketch entirely.
2007-07-09 16:58:04
19.   Scott Long
I would make a please explain on tracy morgan, if I knew that 10 people actually cared about him.

It was close between carvey and hartman, but carvey did so many more legendary characters. Doing voices on the Simpsons doesn't have anything to do with sketch comedy.

Kathy Najimi is not my cup of lipton, so I can't really weigh-in on her.

Scott Thompson is one of the greatest talkshow guest of all-time. He has made a career of playing flamboyantly gay characters. While they are edgier than lynde or nelson reilly, a lot of it has to do with a change iin society. I suppose I'm stereotyping a bit, but it is a fair stereotype.

2007-07-09 22:31:22
20.   Voxter
I never much cared about Tracey Morgan on SNL -- some people love Brian Fellows but I found him one-note and not terribly funny -- but he has seriously surprised me on "30 Rock". I guess that doesn't fall under the aegis of sketch comedy, but if you put up a "please explain" I could probably rise to his defense at least a little.

Carvey certainly is associated with a lot of classic characters -- Church Lady, Garth Algar, Johnny Carson, and George Bush the Elder probably chief among them -- but for my money, Hartman's Clinton and Unfrozen Caveman are both funnier than anything Carvey did. I'm sort of with Tom on the subject of Carvey's aging: He's kind of disappeared, and frequently when I see him now, I find myself squirming in embarassment. I find myself thinking, "Really, Dana? You're still doing that Regis Philbin impersonation? Got anything, you know, new?"

As far as great talk-show guests, I would say my favorite of all time is probably Charles Grodin, who would go on the air and do this surly act that was absolutely hilarious. When they gave him his own show, he came across as mean and not as funny, partially, I think, because he had the power as the host, and that routine seemed like bullying rather than piss-taking. Maybe that's just me, though.

2007-07-09 23:07:00
21.   be2ween
Great topic, Cardinal.

Laraine Newman? Where's she? Just kidding. What was she DOing?

NEVER ask Steve Martin about his art collection. I did once at a Writers Guild Q and A that Harry Shearer (a genius) was moderating and ol' Wild and Crazy clammed up faster than heck. The shock was noticeable to even Harry. It was a bit odd.

Python boys and SCTV were what held me together I'm sure for part of the Newton days. Two words: Crunchy Frog. "Well if we took the BONES out, it wouldn't be CRUNCHY, now WOULD it?!"

I was in the Hollywood DMV parking lot one morning - parking my Explorer, about to go in, when all of a sudden I hear "JESUS F&C*ING CHRIST
ON
A
BIKE!"
It's the gay guy from Kids in the Hall having an f'ing MELT-down. I mean, he was not holding anything back. He bordered on 5150. He seemed to have just realized he forgot something and was going to have to turn around and drive home and get it
and come back.
I remember having something on my mind and was kind of in a crappy mood -
UNTIL THIS HAPPENED. I laughed my ass off for the rest of the day.

2007-07-09 23:26:19
22.   Scott Long
Carvey had a serious surgical mistake happen to him which really messed him up. (He won his malpractice suit. And no, John Edwards wasn't his lawyer.) He hasn't been the same since. This doesn't go in my rating anymore than me judging greatest running backs of the 70's.

Loved Grodin as well. What chris elliott did with letterman was similar.

Great stories, be2ween. Harry Shearer should be on this list, as he is a great impressionist and funny sketch performer. I guess he just doesn't play well with others.

2007-07-10 08:58:39
23.   kgatbp
Hi Scott,

As somebody who makes a living of rankings (albeit of ballplayers), any sort of list excites me, and I loved this idea. Of course I'm going to have my problems with it, so here they are dammit!.

6. Carvey -- I agree with some of the comments that this guys stuff has just not stood the test of time in any way.

9. Farley -- I know I'm in the minority here, but I never liked him, I thought he was a total one-trick pony where all he would do is be hyperkenetic and bombostic. He might lose some points with me for the appearance on Conan O'Brien just months before his death -- I've never seen someone so coked up in my life.

11. Baldwin - This was truly an inspired choice. He's just crazy great.

20. McCulloch -- Also fantastic, and I would have put him higher. Added a certain surrealism to everything he did -- you ever hear his album? It's fantastic. However, I was really upset at the lack of other KITH people for the list, in particular Dave Foley, who might be the single best straight man in the history of sketch comedy.

29. Odenkirk -- I think this is too low personally, but I kind of understand it. I think Mr. Show was just about the best thing ever, but have you noticed how it was often the ancillary actors who had the most memorable parts and lines in many of the sketches?

49. Kattan -- Can we do a ten worst of alltime and put him on it? good lord.

Also,

There was a very short-lived sketch show called "The Vacant Lot" -- also Candian (in fact, McKinney's brother was in it). It lasted for a whopping six episodes, but they had their moments, including this classic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6U29S--wn8

2007-07-10 09:13:33
24.   Mike J
20. It's funny you bring up Grodin, as that was another good impression by Carvey. And the McLaughlin group was a good one, too. The shear number of hilarious characters he did is amazing. Nothing against Hartman, of course. Between the two of them and Myers, (to say nothing of Nealon, Miller, and supporting players Sandler, Spade, Rock, and Farley), pretty much every sketch in that era was good if not great.

23. I agree with the Farley observation. He was funny, but he basically played "fat guy screaming" in every sketch. Ranked way too high.

2007-07-10 09:16:36
25.   chris in illinois
I'm laughing right now just thinking of Bruce McCullough as 'the Eradicator'...

"You can unmask me, it's your right."

Bravo, you petite Canadian, Bravo.

2007-07-10 10:48:07
26.   Penarol1916
I always found Kevin McDonald to be the most underrated of The Kids in the Hall. I loved his Simon character with Hecubus. "Evil!"
2007-07-10 10:50:59
27.   dzzrtRatt
I'll speak up for the past. Amazingly, there were funny people on TV before Monty Python:

Jack Benny

Lily Tomlin (Laugh-In)

Marty Feldman (appeared on "The Dean Martin Show" and hosted a "summer replacement" series that was quite memorable.)

Flip Wilson

Bob Einstein (on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. His key character was a deadpan cop named Officer Judy.)

Two "comedy teams" that did sketches on many variety shows in the 60s, especially Ed Sullivan:

(Jerry) Stiller and (Ann) Meara

(Jack) Burns and (Avery) Schreiber

2007-07-10 11:26:06
28.   Voxter
One group that hasn't been mentioned here is Big Train, where a lot of the guys who did "Shawn of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" did their training. Simon Pegg was drop-dead hilarious on that show, in a wide array of roles. A personal favorite of mine -- "Do You Speak English"? -- is too hard for me to describe properly, but it is available on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG03joaqrcc

2007-07-10 11:27:14
29.   Scott Long
I love McCulloch's comedy album as well. Not as strange as Crispin Glover's release, but much funnier.

I always liked Feldman a lot, but never saw him do sketch. Burns and Schreiber were my favorite American sketch performers until SNL. Burns started with George Carlin, until Carlin broke off to do straight stand-up. Burns was the head writer of Fridays, which had some classic characters including Larry David's ladies man and the drug addicted pharmacist.

I like all the Kids in the Hall, but they were more a collective group than single performers. This is why they are not higher on the list.

No one brings up WB's Hype!? Another show which didn't use Caliendo well.

2007-07-10 11:31:33
30.   Scott Long
Not mentioned was that Carvey's self-titled sketch show was pretty brilliant, but didn't last long during prime time. My favorite comic writer, Robert Smigel was part of it and it is where the Ambiguously Gay Super Heroes came from.
2007-07-10 13:38:17
31.   dzzrtRatt
29 I was only 11 or so when Feldman's summer replacement series was on NBC, and I can't recall any bits specifically. All I remember is that, up until that point, I had never laughed harder in my life. I mourned that show's demise. It would be interesting to see if it exists in an archive somewhere, and whether it still holds up. As I recall, it was very British. Perhaps it was a compilation of bits from a British series -- who knows, I was 11 and there was no such thing as the Internet in 1967 to tell me what was really going on.
2007-07-10 13:53:23
32.   Cliff Corcoran
27 No Nichols and May?

30 The writing staff on Carvey's show was an insane dream team: Smigel, Colbert, Carrell, Charlie Kauffman. Just crazy.

Finally, Tracy Morgan is a funny man. Astronaut Jones was brilliant, as is are his performances on 30 Rock.

2007-07-10 13:53:26
33.   grandcosmo
I don't understand your criteria.

You obviously didn't watch Monty Python until it was being shown in reruns so why didn't you consider greats like Jackie Gleason and Sid Caesar? I'm guessing that you have seen them in reruns as well.

2007-07-10 14:06:44
34.   Penarol1916
33. Perhaps it is because even if he watched Monty Python in reruns, he still saw them in roughly the same time period in which they originally ran, thus allowing him to appreciate them during their time, which in many ways is crucial to getting topical comedy, thus the older sketches cannot be fully appreciated. The other possibility is that Sid Ceasar and Jackie Gleason are not as available in reruns as you think. I can't recall the last time I saw either show even available to viewers via rerun.
2007-07-10 15:16:32
35.   al bundy
Another home run, Scott.

I would "vote" to move Carol Burnett into the top 10.

2007-07-10 16:36:16
36.   Scott Long
Penarol basically nails it. I started watching Monty Python when I was about 8 years old. My Mom used to yell downstairs to me "you aren't watching that Marty Python are you?" Since we were holy rollers, it was forbade to watch such a show. Since it was forbidden, it was hilarious, and it showed more naughty bits than anything else on TV at the time, it was a religious experience in its own right.

I have never seen reruns of Your Show of Shows or Jackie Gleason's Variety Show.

My variety show experience was Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, Captain and Tennille, The Mandrell Sisters, Shields and Yarnell, and Pink Lady and Jeff. Now does anyone think anyone from these shows should be included on the list? I will say that Cher was pretty good on these shows, despite the corny writing.

Richard Pryor's short-lived variety show I can remember was brilliant, but he quit it because of the fight with the sponsors. I can faintly remember Flip Wilson's show (very young), but not enough to put him on my list. I do think that Geraldine is one of the great sketch characters of all-time.

I didn't know the writing roster for Dana Carvey's sketch show. Thanks Cliff. That is an incredible group of writers.

2007-07-10 17:08:41
37.   Jack Dawkins
First time posting here, Scott. Great list. Utterly agree with you on the run SCTV had in the 1980s. However, I'd include several British sketch performers -- Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, the Two Ronnies, Little Britain, just to name a few -- over the lower-ranked SNL cast members.

But since not all these acts as sketch performers have gotten the same exposure as Python on US broadcast TV, I can see why they might be veiwed as relatively obscure.

2007-07-10 17:34:08
38.   Voxter
Yeah, "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" may be my favorite sketch show of all time, even if half the sketches made absolutely no sense to me.
2007-07-10 20:42:48
39.   dzzrtRatt
32 I never saw Nichols and May on TV. I've heard, just lately, an album of their classic bits, and it was great, but I wasn't aware they were ever TV performers.
2007-07-11 11:45:45
40.   Marty
Ernie Kovacs.
2007-07-11 12:47:33
41.   Yankee Fan In Boston
25 the eradicator sketch was one of the funniest things i have ever seen. ever.

i know this sort of thing is incredibly subjective, but i'd put mr. odenkirk and mr. cross so much higher on this list. mr. show should be required viewing.

http://tinyurl.com/2zg6sk

you can watch a bunch of clips there, but i loved just about every episode in their entirety.

2007-07-11 13:03:19
42.   Scott Long
I remember seeing Jeff Goldblum play Kovacs in the TV version of his life. It was good and made me appreciate how far ahead Kovacs was.

I don't like the humor of the 2 ronnies or fry and laurie enough to put them on the list. I'm obviously a huge fan of Monty Python and believe The Office (UK) was one of the 5 funniest series of all-time. I also loved the Young Ones and The Goodies (followed Python on PBS in the 70's)

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.