Saturday, April 12, 2008

Feelin' Kinda Sketchy

We Loves The Sketches! We Loves The Sketches!

Jesse's post downpage a piece on IFC's listing and ranking of the “50 Funniest Sketches Ever” hit close to home for me. I've spent the better part of twenty years writing (and performing) sketch comedy for television, the stage and radio. I've been fortunate enough to get to work with some genuinely talented people who ply the trade— like Richard Pryor consigliere Paul Mooney (although he may not have appreciated working with me...but that's a story for another time), Robert Townsend, and an estimable television comedy mentor from NBC's classic “Laugh-In”.

It's a craft I've come to love and respect. I first fell in love with the idea of sketch comedy writing when I was a child and saw the syndicated reruns of “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, and lusted for a job (and a wife) like Rob Petrie's. The second act of the love affair was watching on TV one late night as a pre-teen an old PBS compilation called “Ten From Your Show Of Shows”. It was a revelation. Seeing that run of vintage Sid Caesar / Imogene Coca / Carl Reiner / Howard Morris classics left me speechless in awe—and gut-busting laughter. The timing, the physicality, the perfectly-placed ad-libs (which I managed to catch at that tender age) just left me reeling.

I wanted to do that.

And in short order, “NBC's Saturday Night” and Canada's comedic monster “SCTV” would come down the pike, stoking my inner gag-meister further, along with a newfound appreciation for the high-production value camp and craziness of “The Carol Burnett Show's” set pieces. I was hooked. My brothers and I made up madcap stuff and performed it at home. I fell in with a like-minded clutch of comedy-crazed lunatics in high school and we came up with (I still think, hilarious) sketches every damned day in the lunchroom. (My high-school friend Frank L.'s “The Dr. Zaius Show”, a Johnny Carson-esque talk show hosted by the bombastic simian who would intellectually berate his guests and then have them strung up in nets still makes me laugh when I think about it thirty years later. Plus Frank's dead-on impersonation of Maurice Evans' pompous ape forced to deal with ignorant humans four nights a week with an equally ape-hating sidekicky Paul Lynde—yours truly—just had a surreal quality to it. His Zaius' hilarious viciousness towards “guest” Barry Manilow is something you just had to see...)

We carried that comedic penchant to college and wrote sketches there too. Did a revue in senior year and a couple of years later we were on radio. Nabbed the TV gigs shortly thereafter and the rest is my little gang's own mini-history. But the one thing that never died for us, and me in particular is an absolute LOVE for quality sketch comedy.

In the years hence, I still run with much of that original pack. And the intervening years have refined our eyes and ears to what IS great sketch comedy. The IFC list is decent, boasting about a dozen of the true classics, but it misses the mark with some glaring exclusions (How in God's name do you leave off things like SCTV's “Polynesiantown” and The Godfather”, Your Show of Shows “This Is Your Story” as noted by a commenter downpage in comments, and Saturday Night's creepy “Mr. Death” as portrayed by Christopher Lee, as well as its first generation of short films from Albert Brooks to Tom Schiller's “Java Junkie” and the darkly ironic “Don't Look Back In Anger”) and some if you'll pardon the word, “sketchy” inclusions of pieces that while funny, are not classics.

Thus, this post. It's based on a discussion I've been having for months with myself and a circle of talented writer friends. It's a list of a baker's dozen of what I think are some of the absolute “best” of the genre. What constitutes a “great” sketch? An inspired idea that the entire acting ensemble “buys” totally. Generosity in performance—where everyone gives and takes in the piece giving room to their fellow performer to “breathe” comedically while catching their individual moment to shine. Strong, meaty characters—not gimmicks that the talent can “live in” and have a history built into their inception. Room for absurdity. And I define absurdity as the twisted, natural offshoot of reality. You ramp up the progression of events, instead of going from 1 to 10, go from 1 to 400, with just enough stops in between to maintain a hint of familiarity with reality. Crazy skipping back and forth is just “wackiness” which is cheap and easy. (Of course, if the sketch's premise begins in “high-concept” form—say a “50“ on the scale, humor can be mined from going backwards to normalacy, and then back up past the “50” and beyond.)

A willingness to go for the surreal, a firm grasp on pop culture, a strong, friendly acting ensemble (the original “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” bonded for many weeks before an actual rehearsal ever took place, soaking up each other's timing and personalities), a blending of disparate elements into a gut-busting comedic whole (i.e. SCTV's “Godfather”). Brevity? Not necessarily. If it's good enough to just run, you let it (“Godfather” again and Chappelle's “Rick James”), but shorter bits require a deft hand at the paintbrush knowing when to lift it from the canvas. I'm reminded of an old Simpsons bit where Krusty the Clown is on an episode of SNL and is bombing terribly in a sketch with audible groans from the audience. Krusty looks at the camera and wearily sighs, “It goes on like this for sixteen more minutes”.

But what does it for me is—does it make me laugh? Not just now, but years down the road? Is it timeless? Does it go beyond mere gross-out and “shock” (which too much of modern sketch work does) and hit me high and low, smart and silly? Do the performers go for it and not focus on vanity? Lose themselves in the funny and this sweep me up in the wave? The following list of my personal favorites do all of that and then some. Here then, is my “Holy Grail” of sketch comedy.

1.) Your Show Of Shows “This Is Your Story”—April 1953

This piece is in my mind, the gold standard of TV sketch comedy. Click on the link above to see it in two parts on YouTube and you will catch the amazing Sid Caesar at the height of his considerable comedic powers, along with a pitch-perfect Carl Reiner and a comedically infectious Howard Morris, who is a laugh catalyst in this spoof on “This Is Your Life”—and a catalyst for the initially, riotously uncooperative Caesar's Al Duncey to take this partly written, but mostly improvised rip on game shows, privacy and familial wackiness to the laugh stratosphere. This landmark piece (lensed in New York) broke the comedic “fourth wall”, as it begins amidst the audience with Caesar seated there as an unwitting member who is chosen by the host (Reiner). The privacy-craving “citizen” Caesar portrays battles Reiner and a bevy of ushers and theatre securityand I mean really battles them, across rows of audience seats, down an aisle, onto and off the stage and then is basically dragged kicking and screaming into the limelight. I saw this when I was 10 years old and it floored me then. 34 years later, it still kills me, and maybe even moreso. You have to see it to believe it—particularly Howie Morris' bawling turn as an overcome “Uncle Goopy”. Add in the impeccable timing, perfect camera takes and the stellar written bits (the show featured a young Neil Simon, Mel Brooks and Larry Gelbart in the writer's room) and you have the “Babe Ruth” of TV sketch comedy—the early giant whose legend still stands up.

2.) NBC Saturday Night's “Racist Word Association”—December 1975

Jesse features this one in his post below and in it you have a divine confluence of humor perfection. It's edgy, brief (clocking in at a mere 2;27), minimalist and graced with the presence of one of the century's comic geniuses—Richard Pryor, bringing his beyond-the-box-of-wires-and-tubes gifts to television and nearly exploding it with his chameleonic performance. He goes from a dull-witted hump of a guy to a hilarious, thermonuclear ball of rage in no time flat, and he does this opposite an uncharacteristically generous Chevy Chase, who plays straight man to Bud Abbott perfection. His needling, wheedling HR guy is emblematic of a head-gaming corporate bureaucracy and lights Pryor's fuse with deft precision. Pryor's extra bit of business—like his about-to-snap facial twitch after Chase has gone too far—is priceless. I doubt if an impending murder on television has ever been funnier. This one was written by Pryor's fellow comedian and nuts-and-bolts comedy technical wizard Paul Mooney—and not one of the NBC Saturday Night regular scribes—specially brought in by Richard to spike the night's bits with a more “Pryor-ian” authenticity. It was comedy perfection—three minutes, no props, no effects, no tricks, just a great script and great performers working it to a “T”. Pryor's appearance on the show itself was a cause celebré. He was undoubtedly the comic king of the day, having won the Grammy for Best Comedy Album two consecutive years (he would run it to three) but his stylistic volatility and “blue” work unprecedently led NBC to run the show that night on a five second delay—lest the “uncontrollable”, curse spouting Negro let fly with a naughty. He didn't. Al he did was give the first season its first breakout episode with three classic skits—this one, “The Exorcist” and his face off with Belushi in “Samurai Hotel.” I don't think you could do the “Word Association” piece on TV today. Never mind the charged content—the way Chase and Pryor give themselves over to the locomotive-like drive of the material is just unseen today. Un-seen.

3.) SCTV Network 90's “The Godfather”—December 1981

Here you have a magnum opus of TV sketch-dom. As much as I loved the original cast of SNL, the gang at SCTV (which followed it here in NY at 1 a.m.) might have actually been the more talented ensemble, and this extended “through-line” piece (it ran as a multi-segment interspersed with other bits during the episode) is simultaneously indulgent, smart, ruthless, dead-on impersonation and performance-wise, surreal and freakishly absurd all at once. It's rooted in the fictional SCTV network's “boss” Guy Caballero's acting as a television version of Coppola's “Godfather” on his daughter Connie's wedding day and being absent from SCTV headquarters that day. From the opening scene of the brilliant Eugene Levy (so wasted today on what he performs in) as an eerily dead-on Floyd the Barber from “The Andy Griffith Show's” requesting a favor from “Don Caballero” (to “break Opie's arm” for breaking his barber pole), expertly mimicking the original Godfather's opening, this one is an all-time great. Levy switches roles as Floyd leaves Caballero and becomes James Caan's constantly, fidgeting and punching “Sonny”, and from there—it. Is. On. They spoof the coming craze of “Pay TV” (Cable), The Today Show, CBS Sports, ABC's then penchant for “Jiggle TV”, the gangster-like aspects of network television, and do so while running out a dazzling array of characterizations—the aforementioned Levy two, John Candy's “Johnny Pavarotti” and Jimmy The Greek, the gifted Catherine O'Hara's scary Jane Pauley, Levy as Gene Shalit, Rick Moranis as Brent Musburger and Michael Corleone (Guy's son “Michael Caballero” ), and Dave Thomas' uproarious turns as Turk Ugazzo and Robert Duvall's Tom Hagen. This link takes you to what may be the sketch's wildest moments, spoofing the Duvall/Hollywood Producer segment in “The Godfather”. It's been chopped up a bit, but from this and the clip at the top, you get an idea of how this one hit at all levels. They got the look right, the feel right and the whole Godfather vibe right, and then they pumped it so full of laughs that it's a comedy explosion of rare quality. SNL could NEVER do a bit as long as this one and somehow keep it this funny. And the SCTV gang would do a lot of these. “Polynesiantown”, The Towering Inferno” just to name a couple of examples. Genius. Sheer genius.

4.) Monty Python's Flying Circus “Argument Clinic”—November 1972

This is one of the most perfectly-crafted pieces of sketch comedy ever done. It is in the upper pantheon of word-play humor alongside Abbott & Costello's “Who's On First”. It's sly, manipulative, wickedly smart and like the Pryor/Chase bit, under three minutes in length, involves but two characters, a desk and a verbal confrontation. Like the Pryor one, it also made IFC's list thank goodness. But John Cleese and Michael Palin play this bad boy to comic-timing perfection. It begins with an absurd premise (starting at a “50” instead of a “1”) and manages to take off from there, sucking you into the characters' mind-gaming of one another. Who will crack? Who cares? It's too much fun seeing these two verbally fence with one another as they mix intellectualism with silliness and walk you out the other side with stitches in your gut from laughter. Again, you have to be generous, quick and have a sensibility of knowing where to allow a breath for laughs for one like this to work. And bluntly, these two are two of the living legends at doing this. There aren't many.

5.) Monty Python's Flying Circus “International Philosophy”—December 1972

Here's another Python bit and...well, Steve and I used to laugh our asses off at this one in e-mail exchanges. Above and beyond our love for this piece, it is probably the smartest, and funniest sports spoof ever lensed. You don't have to be a soccer fan to dig this one, as it again does what the Python crew does best, seamlessly mix high and low, smart and silly into an uproarious concoction. The wedding of all these classic thinkers and philosophers—German vs. Greek—with a high-stakes soccer match where instead of kicking the ball about the pitch—they haughtily ruminate in full costume as a breathless announcer sells it in typical all-the-marbles fashion is a classic bit of comic contradiction. And in that high-stakes commentary comes these exchanges:

ANNOUNCER: Nietzsche receives a yellow card after claiming that "Confucius has no free will."; Confucius says "Name go in book".


Socrates scored the only goal of the match in the 89th minute, a diving header from a cross from Archimedes (who gets the idea of using the football first after shouting out "Eureka!"). The Germans dispute the call;

ANNOUNCER: "Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics, Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination, and Marx [with apt materialism] is claiming it was offside."

If you “get” philosophy and know whose views are whose in terms of the “players on the pitch”, the piece is hilarious. And even if you don't get the philosophy, the spoofing of these dueling belief systems as competitive sport is still amazingly funny. The silliness of the on-field behavior contrasted with the announcer's never for a second giving up the ghost as far as this thing being a “real” soccer match is just a gem of juxtaposition comedy and surrealism gone to a brilliant, absurdist peak. From the moment the announcer says, “And they're off!”—and the players are decidedly not “off” as you'd expect them, you will not. Stop. Laughing.

6.) Chappelle's Show's “Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories: Rick James”—February 2004

This one made IFC's list too. You've probably seen and heard bits from it a hundred times...but it's a stone winner, and it belongs because it is jaw-achingly funny. Now, this one I have some behind-the-scenes info on, as I had an in-law working on set as well as a good friend. What makes this “sketch” a classic is that it really is a perfect storm of things coming together and simply “killing” humor-wise. From the start, it's a wonderful bit of story-telling from the piece's anchor, Charlie Murphy (Eddie's brother). Some people just know how to spin a tale and Charlie's a Goddamned griot on this one. But the little secret is that Charlie routinely spun these classic tales off-set as a way to kill time and entertain his co-horts. He cracked up so many folks with his tales (including Chappelle) that the star rightly figured that they were being wasted on the cast and crew and said, “Let's shoot a couple of these.” They shot Charlie telling his story in documentary style to get the details down, then shot Rick for his side of the story, and then shot Dave and the cast doing the “enactments” if you will. There was very little written. It was mainly improv-ed off a rough outline of what would go on in a scene. A LOT of improv to be precise. A massive amount of footage was shot of Chappelle—who was in effect living as James during the spaced-over-several-days shoot. He was in total Rick “mode” during this time and a couple of those shoot days went well into the wee hours—three to four a.m. easily as he riffed off Charlie's story details. The piece was intended to be a regular-length sketch—a component within a 22-minute show, but they shot so much great stuff, along with the Charlie Murphy and Rick James interviews, the decision was made to just devote damn near the whole episode to the bit. It was a masterwork of post-production—the editing of the disparate elements was brilliant. But it's Chappelle's getting inside of and reflecting Rick's inner “crazy” and raging egomania and Charlie's hilarious narrative that is the backbone of this sketch's success, Chappelle plays Rick as what he was—a coke-addicted, inferiority-complexed, enfant terriblé with NO boundaries whatsoever. Pair that with Charlie's insane stories, which when you watch the sketch are not really refuted by Rick at all, so you're on the edge of your seat wondering and laughing at how much of this is hyperbole and how much is simple reportage and you get a great sketch. The absurd becomes real, and the real becomes absurd. Belief is totally suspended and once you've got that, anything goes—as it did when one was around Rick. You're along for the whole lunatic ride. One of the best ever.

7.) SCTV Network 90's “Maudlin's Eleven”—April 1982

Unfortunately, there's no web video of this one, so to see it you'll have to buy the DVD compilation SCTV Volume Three. In fact, if you're a TV sketch comedy fan, you should really own a couple of these disc sets because these sets are the video record of the masterpiece that was SCTV. You just won't see a better combo of writing, performance, production values and a willingness to just “go for it” than their stuff. Much as I love the original NBC Saturday Night sketches with that first cast, time has not been as kind to that material as I would have thought. You can see the drugginess in some of the performers, as well as the ego issues showing through. Some of the nihilism I found so coolly subversive back then reads a lot more needlessly mean now. SCTV didn't have those issues as the players weren't forced into the grinding “star machine” that the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” were, and as they sort of worked in the cocoon of Toronto as opposed to NY or L.A. the creators were able to just create in workshop without the worry of media center distractions. SCTV is Comedy 101 for true “heads”.

This particular sketch is one of the best examples of what SCTV did better than just about everybody else. They skewered Hollywood, television itself and pop culture with this, the single best spoof of “The Rat Pack” and caper movies ever done. SCTV's underlying premise was always that you were looking in on the inner workings of a cheesy TV network and how media cultivates, panders to and packages their “stars”. “Maudlin's Eleven” was merely the ultimate example of that ethos. It featured a “Murderer's Row” of SCTV's pre-packaged, wannabe-cool talent in an awful network produced movie of the week. (within the show itself) Starting with the obsequious, toadying talk show host Sammy Maudlin (The hilarious Joe Flaherty character based on the mid-70's Sammy Davis Jr and his fawning talk show of the time) in the Sinatra role, the nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying “legendary comedian” Bobby Bittman (played to teeth-grinding perfection by Eugene Levy) indulgently and perfectly over-acting the cool Dean Martin part, with Rick Moranis, John Candy and Dave Thomas filling out the rest of the loser-ific second-line talent the “network” crammed into this D-level caper flick, they ape and rip that sort of tinsel-town packaging of popular movies. The fact that their characters are already third-tier “stars”, their low-grade heist (a wad of money from Danny Thomas' dressing room!) and its invariably going bad in the most pathetic ways possible makes it that much funnier. These are losers who don't think or even know that they're losers running a dumb scam they think will send 'em to the big time, which even if it worked, wouldn't. So when it fails, you laugh at their delusional idiocy twice as hard. Mix in a bit of witty ripping on the oiliness of some aspects of early 60's television and you've got a multi-leveled sketch classic. For this one though, it helps to have watched a bit of SCTV to familiarize yourself with the players playing “the players”. You won't be sorry. Trust me.

8.) NBC Saturday Night's “Miles Cowperthwaite—January 1979

Alas, another one not yet on video or on YouTube or anywhere on the internets (Get Season 4 of Saturday Night out on DVD already,“Dr. Evil”), but this particular piece is one of the rare matings of comedy giants that doesn't cancel one another out—The “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” meets Monty Python (in their ace laugh-getter and guest host Michael Palin)—and actually kills beyond belief. A super-spoof of a “lost” Charles Dickens series of tales, “Miles Cowperthwaite” is set in a dreary, sickly Dickensian England, and we follow Palin's Miles through his travails as a young butler/valet to a horridly enfeebled, aged master of the house as played by a laugh-out-loud nasty Dan Ackroyd. His character has all manner of weird old world ailments. Prone to spastic fits where he convulses and grabs anyone within a few feet of him “invading their personal space”, he also has a disgusting problem with saliva. He grossly over-produces it, forcing him to wear an odd metal frame about his head on which a “drool cup” is attached to catch his excess saliva. Palin's job? To help Ackroyd's character around the house and empty his full drool cups left about the manor into a “drool bucket” he must carry around. The mix of the dour, Dickensian style with the unnerving physical comedy (seeing a seizure-struck, fur-swaddled Ackroyd spazzing about and grabbing the naive Palin character while sloshing his own drool, and the huge pail of drool that Palin's collected while feebly wailing “Drool Bucket!” has to be seen to be believed.) amps that Python-esque technique of melding the smart and ridiculous to the Nth degree thanks to the extra SNL twist from their troupe's own madcap performances. Never has Dickens been better spoofed. Ugly Victorian maladies like consumption are made hilarious in this one as well as good old British pluck in the face of way-overweening awfulness. It's smart, and gross, and so true to the source material that you'll wish it actually existed. It was an SNL “Godfather” kind of sketch in that when Palin came back four months later he did a follow-up second part that like “The Godfather Part II” may have even surpassed this one in its inspired lunacy. It revels in that British awfulness that's supposed to make you feel bad for the characters, but instead leaves you anxious to see what new, deathly distress will befall them. PLEASE GET THIS ONE ON VIDEO SOON!

9. The Carol Burnett Show's Gone With The Wind—November 1976

And sometimes, you get lucky and have four big-name comedy wizards on one show, and in one sketch. The Carol Burnett Show boasted its namesake star, the number two TV comedienne behind Lucille Ball and just in front of SCTV's Catherine O'Hara. Plus the infectiously funny Tim Conway, a “reactive” master and king of slapstick smarm in Harvey Korman, and the chameleonic, swiss watch-timed Vicki Lawrence. This ensemble is the only big-name variety show bunch to ever rival Caesar's formidable posse of Coca, Louis Nye, Reiner, Morris and Nanette Fabray. Week in and out Burnett's band of merry-makers hit the mark with brilliant one-act play-lets (“Eunice, Mama & Ed”), crazy slapstick (“Mr. Tudball & Mrs. Wiggins”), and of course their campy, wild movie parodies. This one of “Gone With The Wind” is a Cliff's Notes run-through-an-insane-asylum rip on the cinema classic. Burnett's vain, childish “Starlett” is a hammy, self-indulgent wonder, dominating every frame with her outsize goofiness and bluster. Korman's slick jerk “Rat” Butler is played with equal parts Clark Gable and Pepe LéPew silliness. Conway's “Bashley” is a classic sublime Conway dolt (His explanation about the “Camptown Racetrack” is totally deadpan, and yet you hang on every word laughing). But Vicki Lawrence's “Cissy” (Prissy) takes the madcap cake. It's all crazed vocal and wild gesture. No blackface. Just a genuinely nutty turn on what could have been an offensive characteriztion. You put all of this together (with a guest starring Dinah Shore playing a dim “Melody”.) with one of the highest-grade sketch scripts EVER written in Hollywood and you end up with a camp sketch legend.

Some of the great lines?

(Starlett descending the grand staircase at “Terra” addresses two adoring suitors, and then stops at the last one for the payoff)

BILLY JOE: Remember me, Miss Starlett?

STARLETT: Oooooh, Billy Joe my goodness! I thought you jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge!


(Starlett coming down the steps again to greet a post-war “Rat Butler”, wearing a hastily thrown together “dress” made from the curtains—with the rod still running through it across her shoulders like a milk-maid's pail-holders)

RAT: That-that gown is gorgeous!

(Waits a long beat as the audience takes in the hideous dress)

STARLETT: Thank you. I saw it in the window and...I just couldn't resist it.

It's like that through and through, line after line. A sumptuous, candy-colored, camp spectacle. I don't think Hollywood ever had four funnier people doing sketch work on one show, and those four for as good as they were and all the good stuff they did, never surpassed this.

10.) The Kids In The Hall's “Chicken Lady's Blind Date”—October 1990 or “Chicken Lady At The Strip Show”—January 1991

These sketches are what I like to think of as proto-cringe humor. The craze we see nowadays (and badly done, mind you) of discomfiting, creepy laughs traces back to this disturbing character of Mark McKinney's from Kids In The Hall. The Chicken Lady, a repellent, over-sexed result of a farmer's breeding with a hen is a human/poultry hybrid train wreck you cannot not look at. In the original “Blind Date” sketch (the character is a carryover of a punch-line from a sketch dealing with freaks) we are introduced to the lonely, sex-obsessed character who has managed to get a date to come to her apartment, sight unseen, and what a sight she is! The six-foot-plus McKinney plays her as an amazonian, white haired, beak-nosed and partially feathered walking sideshow—with an edge of innocence and sensitivity that manages to come through her freakish repellence. She's a bundle of spastic chicken tics, squawks and dim bird intellect who only wants to be loved, loved, loved! And hard. Ick. She's the dark, twisted fraternal twin of Sesame Street's child-like Big Bird, except she's not in the nurturing environment of that loving street— Chicken Lady's in the real world, and it freaks her out just as much as she's freaked out by it. McKinney plays the character with a sense of a back story you can clearly see but is so awful you don't want to. And she is so damned eager to please that...well, she'll do just about anything to show her love for a potential suitor, as Dave Foley, her chance-giving would-be paramour in the “Blind Date” horribly finds out.

CHICKEN LADY: God, you must be thirsty. Can I get you a beer or would you like to just drink out of the toilet?

MAX: A beer.

CHICKEN LADY: Okay. Suit yourself. Hey, would you like to sign my yearbook?

MAX: Oh, no thank you.

CHICKEN LADY: High school was hell for me.

MAX: Oh, really?

CHICKEN LADY: All the other kids teased me.

MAX: Wow, imagine that.

CHICKEN LADY: If you want to stay in my good books, don't call me a birdbrain. If you want to stay in my good books, which you do. Gravel and grubs, gravel and grubs, I love to eat my gravel and grubs.

(Chicken Lady drops down a tray with two plates. She sits and eats a worm off of hers.)

CHICKEN LADY: Oh, I made you an omelet on account of I figured you might not like bugs.

MAX: Oh, thank you.

CHICKEN LADY: Go ahead. Tuck in.

MAX: Oh, good. (Starts to eat)

CHICKEN LADY: Course it's good, cause they're fresh. Straight out of my body and onto your plate.

MAX: (Screams and runs out of the apartment) Ahhhh!! Oh my god!

I gag and laugh every time I see that bit. It's simultaneously mortifying and hilarious, sad, macabre, and jaw-droppingly funny. McKinney IS A CHICKEN LADY in these bits and you have to see how he sells this thing character-wise. it's an amazing sketch character, as creepy and nearly as vulgar as Monty Python's disgusting “Mr. Creosote” except that you actually kind of feel for her. Until she violates again, as she does in the bizarre follow-up “Strip Club” sketch where her carnal desires are too much for the other patrons, the emcee and the unfortunate object of her desire, the red-maned “Rooster Boy”, whose gyrations cause Chicken Lady to have a literally explosive orgasm that sends feathers into the air, sets off alarms and concusses everyone in sight. McKinney's stuttering, seismic build to “climax” is funny in its own right, but the payoff proves that “the bang is definitely worth the buck”. It's one of sketch history's best “WTF?” moments ever. Click above and watch it and see. (And Kevin Thompson's combative “Bearded Lady” who pals with “Chicken Lady” just piles the laughable grotesquery that much higher.) What is it about these frighteningly funny Canadians?

Those are the LowerManhattanite “Ten”. I could give you a classic twenty, but these are the ten main ones that come to mind. There's a few great ones from “In Living Color”, as well as Ben Stiller's unforgettable “Skank” the puppet, not to mention maybe seven or eight other classic “SNL” bits and I think even more from my all-time favorite SCTV (“Polynesiantown” “Oh That Rusty!”, “The Days Of The Week”). But I can't list 'em all.

With that, the honorable mentions go to SCTV's Martin Short in “Jerry Lewis, Live On the Sunset Strip—Directed by Martin Scorcese”(!) capturing the bitter, post-Dino solo years like no one else ever has or will.

And leave us not forget Catherine O'Hara and Andrea Martin's killer“PMS” short which they wrote and debuted on a David Letterman Anniversary Special. It's a rarity, but I remember it from when it ran and it left me crying with laughter. Something tells me you'll sully an LCD screen or two watching it also. Just try not to.

Then there are these four sublimely brilliant “Eunice, Mama and Ed” Sketches, plus one magnificent batch of cast-rupturing Tim Conway outtakes.

And finally, another divine comedic confluence of giants—SNL meets SCTV—Bill Murray guest hosts an episode of SCTV and literally wrecks shop as an aging Joe DiMaggio running a San Francisco seafood restaurant in this swing-from-the-heels bit. Bill plays the “I'm-still-a-star, dammit” DiMaggio to a “T” and is aided mightily by Eugene Levy and Martin Short. Put your batting helmet on...this one's a home run—as are all the ones listed above. Kick back and laugh a little, and feel free to toss your faves into comments.

“Scampi! SCAMPI!