Saturday Night Live aired its 40th anniversary show this week on NBC, solidifying its place as the longest running sketch comedy show of all time. Which unfortunately does not make it the best. There, I said it. Comedy, like any art form, is subjective. When you watch something funny, more than just what you are hearing and seeing goes into the enjoyment process. Was it a long work day, is the subject matter a little close to home in a bad way, are you gassy? SNL, in this authors opinion has had many years to perfect their craft and when it is on it is very on, but when it is off, oh boy. So in the spirit of subjective objectivity, I offer a list of Sketch Comedy shows that had significantly shorter runs than the show that started it all, yet remain staples in any Comedy Fan's libraries and hearts.
5. Tracy Ullman Show/Tracy Takes On: Yes These are two separate shows that ran on HBO, though both had a great impact on comedy. The former spawned the freaking "Simpsons!" and offered variety such as musical numbers, comedy sketches and the aforementioned cartoons. The latter was a character driven sketch show in which Tracy would take on a subject through the eyes of her many characters. Both shows raised the bar for showmanship and quality.
The Tracy Ullman Show: 1987-1990 Tracy Takes On: 1996-1999
4. Kids In The Hall: Another show that ran on HBO from 1988-1994 and even saw resurgence on Comedy Central and the film "Brain Candy." The Kids in the hall had bizarre twists on their sketches, beautifully written insightful female characters, played by men, and brought a lot of issues to the forefront with openly gay characters and positive dialogue about women's issues. Like Dave Foley's announcement that he has a positive outlook on Menstruation. You can see that HERE, it remains one of my favorite things of all time.
3. The State: 1993-1995 A short lived sketch comedy show on MTV? Who knew? The State was another timely show ahead of its time. Though there was a market for strange comedic plots and outrageous characters, MTV may have not been the best platform for a show of this caliber. Since it was on MTV in the Nineties however, there was a great mixture of punk culture and music in the show. Which of course lead to the DVDs being stuck in a licensing and remastering hell, like most MTV shows that you wish were being released in their original form. The cast of this show went on to create other brilliant sketch shows such as their take on variety shows, "Viva Variety!" and the long form police sketch show, "Reno 911." Everything they do is a slice of freaking gold!
2. Upright Citizens Brigade: This show was absolutely amazing! It ran for three seasons on Comedy Central from 1998-2000. And up until this past year, season three was unreleased on DVD, but great news, it's all out now, no more excuses, go see it all! This show has a main cast of improv actors that became the original UCB Four. Coming from a long form improvisational background, the cast wrote and performed sketches that had threads to one another and wove together to create an entire episode. Agents Adair, Antoine, Colby and Trotter would observe subjects from their secret underground lair and attempt to disrupt the status quo by interfering in peoples everyday lives. It's a sketch show wrapped in a social experiment and it is wonderful.
1. In Living Color: 1990-1994 This, for me is THE sketch show of the nineties! It ran for four years, with seven seasons and began some of the biggest careers in TV and film. One of the most important and obvious being Jim Carrey. Another great aspect of the show was its urban roots. National television finally had a mostly ethnic cast playing characters other than butlers and the like, each week thumbing their nose at "The Man." This is also where J-Lo got her start as a Dancer for the Fly Girls, lead by Rosie Perez? It was a weird time. This show also holds up, a few of the sketches are timely but serve now as hilarious nostalgia, while most of the ideas and themes on the show translate into today and remain poignant and side splittingly fun!