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50 Greatest ‘Saturday Night Live’ Sketches of All Time

From Bass-O-Matic to Buckwheat, Garth Algar to Garth & Kat, the best of SNL’s (almost) 40 years

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America's greatest living comedy institution, currently in its 39th year, requires no introduction – but this list might. This is not a Wikipedia browse of SNL's most successful franchises or its most iconic moments, but a look at the best individual sketches – mainly because no one can convince us that a half-dozen dates with the Roxbury Guys are funnier than 90 seconds of Happy Fun Ball. Here are the classic moments that deserve their canonical status, and quiet cult skits that earned the same. And if you don't agree? Well, excuuu-uuuse us.

By Steve Ciabattoni, Jon Dolan, Kory Grow, Maura Johnston, Al Shipley, Jessica Suarez, Gwynne Watkins and Christopher R. Weingarten

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4. Wayne’s World: Madonna Fantasy

Original Airdate: May 11th, 1991

"It was terrifying," Mike Myers has said of kissing Madonna. And no wonder: In 1991, there was no more intimidating star than the just-banned-from-MTV Material Girl. Her fantasy rendezvous with Wayne and Garth was probably SNL's most perfect pop culture convergence ever: One of the most famous people on earth, writhing in the black-and-white world of "Justify My Love," the most controversial video of all time, speaking in the dopey slang ("No way!" "Way!") of the most popular recurring characters since the Blues Brothers. And we were only approaching Waynemania, which would peak in 1992 with their feature film. During shooting, Myers and Dana Carvey had a personal falling-out, and were never quite able to re-capture the magic – though that didn't stop Lorne Michaels from producing a sequel or doing the sketch seven more times.

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3. Dick in a Box

Original Airdate: December 17th, 2006

"[W]e wrote this song in a delirium of no sleep on a Wednesday or Thursday of the week. We recorded it that night, and we were laughing so hysterically – and probably through the delirium of trying to write something so funny, this came out of it," Justin Timberlake told NPR about co-writing the most popular SNL Digital Short of all time (and possibly the best Timberlake song post-FutureSex/LoveSounds). Though co-star Andy Samberg says this R-rated, very-bleeped send-up of '90s R&B was written in two hours, it's shelf life is seemingly endless – a performance at Madison Square Garden, an Emmy for Outstanding Music and Lyrics, two follow-up sketches, and a stardom for Samberg that continues today. "[Lorne Michaels] says the thing you're known for will be in quotes in the middle of your name," he told Esquire He's Lorne 'SNL' Michaels, and I'm Andy 'Dick in a Box' Samberg. If that's how it goes down, that will be A-okay."

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2. Buh-Weet Sings

Original Airdate: October 10th, 1981

"I remember typing the first Buckwheat sketch and almost falling off my chair because it was so funny," recalled SNL production assistant Robin Shlien in the Live From New York oral history. Debuting in late 1981, "Buh-Weet Sings" was based on Eddie Murphy's memories of the Our Gang comedies. It eventually blossomed into this hilarious infomercial for an imagined album of pop standards ("untz, tice, fee times a nady"). Murphy's Buckwheat became so popular and long-running that the staff eventually got tired of the character and decided to dramatically knock Buckwheat off in the equally brilliant "Assassination of Buckwheat."

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1. Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker

Original Airdate: May 8th, 1993

"It paints a picture; the phrase has a lot more meaning to it than just a catchphrase that stands alone," sketch writer Bob Odenkirk told the Chicago Reader about Matt Foley, the motivational speaker who's "35 years old, thrice divorced, and living in a van down by the river." "[T]here is a lot more to it when Chris did it, and he made that character whole. It's not a gimmick. You felt like there was a real person in that character."

Beyond Odenkirk's vivid storyline and Farley's honest portrayal, Foley was the single best use of the manic energy stored inside SNL's greatest physical comedian since John Belushi; a bundle of twitches, tics, throat-busting yells, and extreme pratfalls that made Chevy Chase look like Baryshnikov. Foley was invented by the pair in their days at Chicago's Second City, but quickly became a national legend since the folks on stage were laughing almost as hard as the audience. "Lorne didn't like us cracking up on air," said Norm MacDonald in The Chris Farley Show. "But it was always Chris's goal when it was live on air to make you laugh, to take you out of character, and he always succeeded. You could never not laugh."

The main victim in this sketch was David Spade: "In rehearsal, he's done the thing with his glasses… But he'd never done the twisting his belt and hitching up the pants thing," said Spade. "He saved that for the live performance, and so none of us had ever seen it. He knew that would break me."

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