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40 Greatest Sketch-Comedy TV Shows of All Time

From Caesar to Schumer, 65 years of the Land Shark, the Chicken Lady and a bunch of Muppets

Waynes World; Key and Peele

Everett; Ian White

Television sketch comedy is having a bit of a moment. Key & Peele just scored their first movie deal, the Mr. Show team is collaborating for a much-ballyhooed non-reunion, the unlikely hit Portlandia just wrapped a fifth season, Kids in the Hall will be touring America this May and more than 23 million people watched the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special. 

Here’s our list of the 40 greatest sketch comedy shows of all time, dating back to the 1950 premiere of Your Show of Shows to four shows that still have new episodes ahead. 

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26

‘Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!’ (2007-2010)

"A lot of ideas need to look bad to work," Tim Heidecker told The Believer in 2008. "If certain ideas look too sleek and precious, they're not as successful." Saying Adult Swim's five seasons of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! merely look bad undersells the nightmarish success of Heidecker and Eric Wareheim's 11-minute spurts. Taking cues from low-budget public access television, David Lynch and probably psychedelic mushrooms, the show's green-screen visuals, anti-narratives, and Cinco-brand junk advertisements prove that cringing and laughing are millimeters apart. A mix of unpolished amateurs and perverse-minded pros give up all creative control to repetition gags, awkward puppet shows and a grotesque rap about "bloody nips." "Tim and I still have this theory that the realistic will always outdo the inauthentic," said Wareheim. "Always. That’s the main reason we haven’t hired a professional sketch troupe for the Awesome Show. Real people, for better or worse — mostly worse — will always be preferable."

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25

‘The Tracey Ullman Show’ (1987-1990)

Though history will remember it best as the launchpad for The Simpsons, The Tracey Ullman Show was a multiple-Emmy-winning character showcase. "Tracey is damn near unique," producer James L. Brooks told the L.A. Times. "On the show, we kept comparing her to Peter Sellers until we just got sick of it." The show's patient, plot-driven portraits of American home and work life underscored its creator's talent for accents and eye for subtle character quirks. Often 10 minutes in duration, the theatrical scenes rushed nothing. Though there were a handful of recurring characters (Francesca McDowell, a bright, struggling adolescent raised by "my dad…and my William), the Ullman Show never resorted in to the sorts of punchy, repetitive hallmarks of most sketch programs. For these reasons, the sketches required careful listening but rewarded repeat viewings.

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24

‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ (1979-1982)

Not the Nine O'Clock News was an alternative to the BBC1's evening news, but it was no less topical than the night's headlines. The show's young cast, including 24-year-old Rowan Atkinson, used their half-hour show to parody politicians (both Brit and American), talk shows and pop culture. It was a welcome and relevant alternative to the popular and provincial British comedy of the time, one that made fun of conventions as soon as they came into existence. "Television was lagging behind what was going on in society," producer John Lloyd told The Guardian, "and we brought it a little bit closer." Making fun of the U.K.'s newsmakers made them news as well: Their music video parodies of ABBA and the New Romantics turned the cast into rock stars (they even knocked Queen off the charts) and bestselling authors. The American version, Not Necessarily the News, was itself a success for Eighties HBO and a launching pad for Rich Hall's Sniglets books, a young writer named Conan O'Brien and future Saturday Night Live star Jan Hooks.

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23

‘The Fast Show’ (1994-1997)

Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson were comedians toiling away in writers' rooms when they hit upon an idea: What if someone put together a sketch show that simply knocked out as many skits and gags as quickly as humanly possible? "We thought, could you make a show that was essentially all highlights?" Higson told The Daily Mail. "The comedy equivalent of a greatest hits album." The result, aptly named The Fast Show, unleashed a rapid-fire succession of recurring characters and catchphrases ("Anyone fancy a pint?", "Does my bum look big in this?") with the Mail claiming that a typical episode averaged roughly a sketch a minute. More importantly, TFS became a bona fide pop phenomenon, unleashing as many zeitgeist-surfing lines as Saturday Night Live in its heyday — just say "Suit you, sir!" to anyone who lived in the U.K. in the mid-Nineties. Radio icon John Peel name-dropped the series on his show ad infinitum and called  it "the funniest thing on TV by a mile." Johnny Depp was such a huge fan that he allegedly begged to do a guest appearance, latter saying that scoring a cameo "was absolutely one of my proudest achievements."