TV: “Greatest Comedy Sketches” Inspire Deadly Serious Writing

mojo-photo-50greatest.jpgOkay, I’ll bite: (the sexy website) and (the, er, indie film channel’s website) have combined forces for some reason to bring us a list of the Top 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time. Sure, we’ve all got three hours to watch a bunch of YouTube videos of sketches we’ve all seen 100 times already. And I can ignore the fact that this joint venture requires one to jump back and forth between the two websites (opening a new browser window each time), and the fact that The State scored more entries than the Kids in the Hall. But it’s the writing that does my head in: leaden descriptions of each sketch that are so brutally unfunny, they seem to siphon off the comedic energy of the sketches themselves. Check out this neutered portrait of Monty Python‘s “Spanish Inquisition” sketch (#33):

In England, this classic Monty Python sketch assures us, simply uttering the phrase, “I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition!” triggers the sudden arrival of a trio of red-robed cardinals. Priding themselves on their capacity to surprise and instill fear, the hapless crew is too bogged down by repeated recitations of their mission, and in one instance, cross-town traffic, to prove at all menacing. (Like bad comics, the cardinals have not quite mastered timing and delivery.) Leave it to the Pythons to take religious persecution and burnish it into comedy. Instead of administering ruthless auto de fe on their startled victims, the cardinals rely on household sundries as tools of torture — a dish-drying rack, some plump cushions, a comfy chair. As Cardinal Ximenez, Michael Palin is mortified by the limitations of his bumbling team and tries to step up his game… by raising his voice: “I suppose we make it worse by shouting a lot.”

The cardinals are “too bogged down by repeated recitations of their mission,” are they? Talk about not mastering timing and delivery. Was this written by a grade school student on the planet Xenon, trying to explain to his fellow glepnorks the strange human concept of “humor”? “Then the dominant human enters the chamber of sound recording, where he demands a fellow human strike a metal polyhedron with greater force, thus causing the other sound-producing humans great consternation.” A story on humor has never sounded so sad. Perhaps, uh, Dan Savage and the Sundance Channel could join forces to put together their own Top 50 list?

Anyway, while Nerve & IFC managed to include two sketches from Chapelle’s Show, they skipped one of my favorites, “Celebrity Trial Jury Selection,” in which the funny human describes reactions to criminal charges against dominant humans in a way that causes the viewing human to reconsider his or her original opinions, apparently inducing humor:


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.