Saturday Night Live is woven into the culture of America. People debate which were the best seasons or the funniest sketches and talk about the ups and downs over the years. For fourteen years, MADtv offered some company and competition to SNL in the late-night sketch comedy arena, producing some really amazing comedy that deserves to be recognized and remembered. The show changed and grew over the years and showcased some extremely talented cast members that need to be seen more.
MADtv had a golden age from 1999 to 2004, in my opinion. After starting as a TV version of the magazine of the same name, it found its identity and produced some stellar comedy before its eventual end.
Some really, really excellent work was produced before season 5 and after season 9, but I’ll highlight this era. The humor relates to when it was created, but stands the test of time. Here’s a list of 25 extraordinary sketches that provide clever ideas, fun characters, solid writing, and stupendous acting—at times daring to be experimental and boundary-pushing.
25. Man Up! Regional Championships
Sketch comedy has often struggled to write from different perspectives, and I think this sketch is a great example of African-American cast members creating something that doesn’t just fill a quota but stands out as great comedy.
24. Sick Wife
Michael McDonald and Stephnie Weir worked amazingly well together, and I dare say that this sketch says something about the human condition.
23. The Fun Room
Now here’s something that’s certainly weird, but remains approachable via good writing and ad-libs.
22. Stuart Gets His Picture Taken
A lot of great recurring character work came out of MADtv, and they were smart enough to make each recurrence unique enough to stand alone.
21. How’d You Get to be So Sweet?
This sketch is just so likable and surprising; while others make you laugh, this makes you giggle.
20. QVC: Fashion for Women Over 40
Here’s a solid sketch that they brought back a few times, each time being familiar but bringing something new. It’s also a great example of how MADtv made excellent use of special guests.
How can a sketch be both surprising and familiar, disgusting and sweet, real and absurd, and all the while funny as hell?
18. UPS: Brown Covers Your Ass
Video after the jump.
MADtv did a lot of stuff that was just unabashedly fun and silly.
17. Christmas Gifts from Mom
Here’s another solid sketch that’s just a good idea and the perfect execution provided by the cast.
MADtv’s recurring characters were often part of sketches that would be stand-outs without the benefit of already knowing a character.
15. “Beyoncé” by Destiny’s Child
Music video spoofs were always very good on MADtv; this one—in addition to being pretty foretelling—is funny even without knowing the material being spoofed.
14. Pretty White Kids with Problems
This sketch wholly captures an entire genre, and also stands out as the kind of superb work done by earlier cast members.
13. Feuding Parents
A good idea performed expertly.
12. One for the Road
Here’s a fun, entire-cast piece that isn’t afraid to be absurd and also hits a nostalgic tone for anyone familiar with sitcoms from the 70s and 80s.
11. Sopranos edited for PAX-TV
Video after the jump.
This sketch is what MADtv is all about; it marries two smart spoofs into one great sketch that showcases the high caliber of editing and directing that we got to enjoy.
10. Oprah’s Thinning Camera
Video after the jump.
They did several Oprah sketches; this one works as part of that recurring series, but also stands out with a special something more.
9. Santa Claus is Caught
Weir and McDonald again bring a bunch of great adjectives, like tender and subtle and ribald, along with hilarious.
8. Gay Straight Guys
Video after the jump
If you have a funny idea, you have to go all the way with it. The writing throughout this sketch handles some exposition needs in a clear and realistic way.
7. Pizza Complete-za Commercial
This sketch says so many things about the era of its creation; it’s hard to make fun of something ‘bad’ without having what you create also be annoying. I could watch this sketch ten times a day.
6. Stop It!
Special guest Bob Newhart highlights the terribleness of our modern age in a sketch that’s hilarious and expertly simple.
5. Spishak Ovens for Kids
Spishak Excuses! Excuses! Excuses! Excuses! 98!
Early seasons had fake commercials for products by Spishak. These two later sketches used a template and went to the extreme.
4. Prehistoric Glamazon Huntresses A.D.
At the time this sketch was written, TV was riddled with this kind of Xena-esque fantasy shows, but this sketch works without having to know the details of what’s being skewered.
3. Mrs. Campbell calls Miss Cleo
Here’s a recurring character sketch that isn’t afraid to go there.
2. Who do you love more?
Here, a very funny sketch folds in on itself to become an engrossing, experimental experience.
1. Jenny Jones
MADtv spoofed Jenny Jones several times, but here takes one small element of what they’re making fun of and invests in it.