Saturday Night Live has a pretty basic structure from show to show. You have the cold open, the opening credits, the host monologue, a few sketches, the musical guest, Weekend Update, some more sketches, maybe another musical performance mixed in there, and the ending credits. It’s worked for them for decades and will work for them for decades to come.
One of the more volatile parts of the show is the final sketch. Airing after the second musical performance and coming sometime in-between 12:50 to 12:55, you’re going to get one sketch that is going to be a crapshoot. Not only in whether it’s going to be funny, but whether it’s going to be coherent. It’s the scraps of the writers, thrown a spot late in the night where people are either asleep or their viewership no longer matters.
A lot of these resonate through the years. While the studio audience might only chuckle once or twice, viewers at home carry them for a long while.
Here’s a look at some of the best 12:50 sketches in Saturday Night Live’s history. To qualify, they have to be the final segment before the closing credits and it can’t be a replayed sketch from an earlier show. Apologies in advance for the few examples in the 70s and 80s. I was born in the early 80s and even watching reruns makes identifying the final sketches confusing.
WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!
Season 5 Episode 1: Steve Martin, Blondie
This is like the father of the weird final sketches. Steve Martin walks on stage to marvel at some…thing…in the direction of the camera. What is it? We don’t know, but more importantly, Martin doesn’t know. All he can do is wonder, “What is that thing?” At first he’s rather amused by its existence, but his curiosity gradually makes him angrier and angrier.
Soon a more subdued Bill Murray joins him and shares his utter confusion. He’s got a more calm and doofy take on the confusion, contrasting with Martin’s increasing frustration. Then they start yelling at some kids for playing with that…thing when it’s very likely that even those kids don’t know what it is they’re up against.
Simple and silly, it ends perfectly without giving us any real closure.
Season 14, Episode 13: Leslie Nielsen, Cowboy Junkies
Mike Myers’ Wayne Campbell was created in earlier TV shows City Limits and It’s Only Rock & Roll, but the first instance of Wayne’s World being a thing came from the final sketch one late-80s night. Despite being so late in the show, it’s rather lengthy and is easily the longest sketch on this list.
This first installment lays down the groundwork and catchphrases for a concept that would appear 19 times in five years on the show, plus get two movies, an MTV special, and a lame video game. Wayne and Garth, who appear to be in their late teens or early twenties, host their own cable access TV show in a basement. Their guests are as low rent as you’d expect, such as babe they want to hit on and Garth’s dad.
Seeing the genesis of Wayne’s World is interesting for the historical sense, but the parts where Wayne drops a homophobic slur and they cheer on date rape haven’t exactly aged well in the last 30 years.
Season 17, Episode 6: Linda Hamilton, Mariah Carey
I’ll admit that they let Farley go full-Farley a little too long, but this one is easily one of his most memorable performances.
Schiller Visions is a Swedish TV show where, in this episode, they investigate the delightful American hidden camera commercials. Going with the classic setup of someone finding out that their coffee is made of Columbian decaf crystals and being amused and amazed, it’s explained that it took many, many attempts to get such a perfect reaction. One such instance is shown where the victim is played by Chris Farley.
As he’s told the truth about what he’s drinking, a musical sting kicks in as his expression slowly goes from confused to betrayed and murderously angry. Screaming, “YOU SON OF A BITCH!” he goes on a total rampage against everyone in the room for being lied to. He ends up being violently subdued.
He’s interviewed over the situation, which is the perfect end joke for the whole psychotic break.
BOULEVARD OF BROKEN BALLS
Season 18, Episode 4: Christopher Walken, Arrested Development
Christopher Walken’s whole deal is that he’s weird, awesome, and up for just about anything. That’s why we were truly blessed whenever he’d show up in the 90s. This musical performance sketch is just peak Walken.
Accompanied by a guy in the shadows playing the accordion, Walken goes full noir, wearing a trench coat with fedora and smoking a cigarette. Leaning against a lamppost, he sings about a beautiful and highly desirable woman who is not only a high-priced prostitute, but she’s also infested with multiple STDs.
So yes, it’s Walken singing about getting crabs from sleeping with a prostitute. Thumbs up.
Before it was a classic comedy film, Mike Judge’s Office Space was a series of animated sketches on Saturday Night Live. The animation is a bit rough, reminiscent of the very early Beavis and Butt-head stuff, but the whole concept of Milton and Bill Lumbergh are as fleshed out as we’d see in live action.
It’s pretty basic. Milton is an agitated worker who talks up a good game when he’s by himself, but allows himself to get pushed around by his smarmy boss Bill, who treats Milton like shit. Milton lets Bill have his way, only to nervously warn nobody in particular that he’s going to burn the place to the ground one day.
Somehow that turned into a Jennifer Aniston vehicle. And co-starring a guy from Mad TV, too! Go figure.
SO LONG, FAREWELL
Season 19 Episode 20: Heather Locklear, Janet Jackson
A truly poignant and incredibly bittersweet ending, this comes from the final episode of Phil Hartman as a cast member. Parodying a scene from The Sound of Music, the cast of SNL sing a variation of “So Long, Farewell,” mostly in the form of recurring characters they play. Adam Sandler and David Spade are the Gap Girls, Melanie Hutsell is Tori Spelling, Julia Sweeney is Pat, Mike Myers is Linda Richman, and so on.
The featured trio of Norm MacDonald, Sarah Silverman, and Jay Mohr (that’s one hell of a rookie crew) admittedly don’t have any major characters to play as. Neither does Michael McKean, who instead plays up the fact that he played Lenny on Laverne and Shirley.
After every quick verse, one to three people leave the stage. Soon all that’s left is a tuckered out Chris Farley as Matt Foley. Phil Hartman appears next to him and sings his goodbyes while adding, “You know, I can’t imagine a more dignified way to end my eight years on this program.”
THE HULK HOGAN TALK SHOW
Season 21, Episode 7: Anthony Edwards, Foo Fighters
This sketch is a minute-long setup into a hilarious punchline, followed by an okay few minutes that rides on the concept of the punchline. Apparently, in the reality of this sketch, WCW wrestler Hulk Hogan has his own talk show that’s in-your-face and celebrates professional wrestling. Said show has a lengthy and very excitable theme song that talks up Hogan’s explosive attributes.
All this to lead to Will Ferrell sitting behind the desk in a suit, informing us that Hulk Hogan couldn’t make it and that he would be filling in. To further contrast with the show’s ridiculous and fun setup, the guest is a nervous survivor of a terrorist kidnapping.
If anything, this sketch had, “It’s the HULK! HOGAN! TALK! SHOW!” stuck in my head for days.
JIMMY TANGO’S FAT BUSTERS
Season 21 Episode 20: Jim Carrey, Soundgarden
When it comes to lists of the best episodes of Saturday Night Live ever, one that pops up a lot is Jim Carrey in 1996. Start to finish, it’s just so incredibly solid and it even has Soundgarden playing “Pretty Noose” halfway into the show. Just…it’s so good!
The last sketch is possibly the most memorable part of the show. It’s an infomercial-like presentation for a guy named Jimmy Tango who has the ultimate way to lose weight fast. You wear a suit filled with vibrating heat beads and take lots of raw crystal meth. As he and his clients attest, not only do you lose an excessive amount of weight in no time flat, but the side-effects are monstrous.
What’s great here is that we get a meeting between Jim Carrey during the tail-end of his peak and virtual unknown Will Ferrell during his initial season. Not only a major collaboration years before we realize it, but there’s also the whole thing about Carrey being the initial choice for Elf and turning it down.
Anyway, RIDE THE SNAKE.
(…ride the snake…)
The ultimate final sketch is Bill Brasky, a recurring bit that rarely ever gets much of a reaction from the audience, but finds life by being quoted by its many fans in the years that follow. Three or four drunk men in suits hang out together, usually with John Goodman and/or Alec Baldwin mixed in there. One of them will bring up a mutual friend of theirs named Bill Brasky and the guys will go on drunken rants about how amazing and larger-than-life he is. It’s like a prototype of Chuck Norris facts, but with a meaner edge and more strangeness thrown in.
It’s amplified by the fact that these guys are broken and emotionally destroyed, presumably from having Brasky ruin their lives for his own amusement. Whenever someone tries to mention something horrible about themselves, it all falls on deaf ears and they go back to listing bizarre facts about the monster-of-a-man.
So who is this Bill Brasky? Well, he’s a hell of a salesman whose height and weight gets higher with each description. He murdered the Banana Splits, punched a hole through a cow rather than look around it, can take a shotgun blast standing, drives an ice cream truck covered in human skulls, can cut an uncooked steak in half with his urine stream, and once killed Wolfman Jack with a trident.
That’s classic Will Ferrell, by the way. Guy loves writing jokes about people being killed by tridents.
Season 23 Episode 4: Chris Farley, The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones
One of Chris Farley’s most memorable SNL sketches would also be his final one. In a time when El Niño was constantly in the news as some kind of troubling weather event, one news station admits to having exclusive footage of the storm. El Niño ends up being Chris Farley as a professional wrestler, cutting a promo about being an ass-kicking storm that nobody should mess with. It’s such a goofy concept, sold completely by Farley’s commitment to the bit and classic intensity.
But really, everyone remembers the part of his rant when he says, “For those of you who don’t ‘habla espanol,’ ‘El Niño’ is Spanish for… ‘The Niño!’”
Jim Breuer appears as a passable Ric Flair impression to continue things going off the rails.
Season 24 Episode 15: Ray Romano, The Corrs
As an SNL host, Ray Romano’s top talent was enthusiastically rambling about stuff while everyone reacted like he was a weirdo. That’s why his “Sweet Sassy Molassy!” SportsCenter sketch is so memorable and why they pretty much used the same kind of blueprint for the same episode’s final bit.
The sketch is a take on one of the most cliché war movie scenes where a group of soldiers discuss their plans for what they’re going to do if and when they come back from World War II. One guy wants to see his wife. One wants to open up his own restaurant. Romano’s Petracelli starts, awkwardly enough, with a fantasy about entering a hotdog eating contest, throwing up, and realizing he only got third place. At first, everyone is sort of seeing where he’s coming from. Enough to humor him, at least.
Soon, his plans for return go well over the line of bad taste. He wants to enslave hobos, make a coffee table book of penis photos, and force a blowjob from a chicken. As you can guess, his fellow soldiers do not want to hear any of this and would rather not share a foxhole with him.
During the scrolling text epilogue, Hitler is brought into the equation to heighten how messed up Petracelli truly is.
BRIAN FELLOW’S SAFARI PLANET
Season 24 Episode 19: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Backstreet Boys
Brian Fellow was one of the better characters during Tracy Morgan’s time on the show. The first time they did the sketch, it was the last one of the night and it was a whole lot simpler. The intro mentions that Brian Fellow was a director of the Southeast Asian Animal Rescue Project and the Animal Operations at the San Diego Zoo, as well as undersecretary of the Interior for Wildlife Management.
Then he does his usual spiel. Not only is he completely ignorant about animals and nature in general, but he’s also confrontationally sassy about it. The joke of this introduction is that his guests come to realize that he’s lied about his qualifications and eventually storm off.
Later installments would do away with that and make it apparent from the beginning that Brian Fellow has no idea what he’s doing. His ignorance is just so charismatic that you can keep cranking out sketches about his misunderstandings when it comes to the animal kingdom.
POTATO CHIP THIEF
Season 35 Episode 8: Blake Lively, Rihanna
Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, and Blake Lively put together a magnum opus of intense nonsense. They give 110% on a loud and purely insane sketch that could only happen at this point in the show. The joke works on its own, but there are so many minor things lining the sketch that never add up and make it sillier and more brilliant.
It takes place at NASA, where Forte’s Mr. Greenblatt is doing a job interview with Sudeikis’ Mr. Aymong, who is really just Sudeikis playing Colonel Sanders for no real reason. Greenblatt leaves the room to get the space test (which is kept in the fridge?) and asks Aymong not to eat any of the potato chips on his desk. Aymong eats one in secret and what follows is a whole lot of loud overacting, filled with excessive conviction.
This includes Lively’s secretary character repeatedly screaming, “YOU DON’T TAKE A MAN’S POTATO CHIP!”
Everyone pronounces “potato chip” weird in this sketch too. It’s part of the charm.
All this screaming leads to a disgusting denouement that helps make Potato Chip Thief a true cult favorite.
OUTRAGEOUS CLOWN SQUAD
Season 35 Episode 19: Ryan Phillippe, Ke$ha
One of the unsung great recurring SNL sketches is the Under-Underground Records series. For the most part, it takes the form of a commercial where DJ Super Soak and Lil Blaster hype up some kind of concert event that makes a Stefon club sketch seem tame. Their second foray went in a different and much more niche direction.
You see, around that time, the Insane Clown Posse released a music video for a song called “Miracles.” People laughed off the ridiculous song, known for the lyric, “Fucking magnets, how do they work?”
Here, we see a parody of that video as performed by the Thrilla Killa Klownz. One of which is Ass Dan, mentioned in the initial Under-Underground Records Sketch as a mud-eating dude who’s bad at He-Man impressions and is also dead. Ass Dan would become a regular in these sketches, revealed to be alive, only to die once again.
The song itself is about how there are so many things that science can’t explain, like where does the sun go at night? Are children small or just far away? What are clocks? Why does the other clown rapper’s kids look so much like Ass Dan?
It’s a fantastic sketch that so few people would get and that’s why it’s the ender of the show.
Season 38 Episode 8: Jeremy Renner, Maroon 5
Jeremy Renner plays a man given one of the most nightmarish tasks: identify his brother’s dead body at the coroner. Renner’s character isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, so what initially seems like a simple undertaking ends up being anything but. Rather than identify the cadaver as his brother, he instead suggests everything from Yao Ming to JFK to the American Dream.
Renner’s fantastic here, as is Jason Sudeikis as the annoyed detective. Bill Hader as the coroner heightens the sketch by going from secondary straight man to just as off-track as Renner. When Renner suggests that the body is the coroner’s brother, Hader takes a second to stare at the body and go, “Dennis?!”
The real star is Taran Killam, playing the dead brother. Sure, remaining still for several minutes doesn’t seem so impressive, but Hader does everything he can to make Killam break (ie. casually slapping on him like he’s bongos) and the guy remains stone-faced the entire time.
Around the beginning of the 2010s, Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong started doing a repetitive, yet absolutely hilarious, sketch that could only be shown as late as possible. The two play self-proclaimed former porn stars that star in self-produced commercials for various classy and expensive products. Their master plan is to send the tape to the company and get free samples of said product, whether it means expensive watches, champagne, or Lamborghinis.
It doesn’t help that the two are dumb as rocks and completely strung out, only half-coherent as they mispronounce the product, get words and phrases wrong, and fall into reminiscing about their most disturbing pornographic misadventures.
“I thought I was banging Seal Team Six, but it was actually sixteen seals. I was like, ‘Thanks America! Arf, arf!’”
Like clockwork, the host of the episode screws up their entrance twice, only to appear at the end as some kind of specialty porn star. They’re just as ignorant as the other two and try to close it out while Strong throws in one last raunchy joke.
And of course the actual President of the United States showed up in one of these. Of course he did.
HERMAN AND SONS SPERM BANK
Season 39 Episode 19: Seth Rogen, Ed Sheeran
George Herman (Seth Rogen) and Eugene Sons (Keenan Thompson) unfortunately have to close down their sperm bank. That means a white liquid liquidation sale. The sketch almost peaks early with a crazed Aidy Bryant screaming and racing past them with a shopping cart full of semen containers.
Still, it continues strong with a side-story about their great-grandfathers starting the business mysteriously collecting sperm back before artificial insemination was invented.
Finally, it hits its final stretch with the revelation that after they close down the sperm bank, the place is going to become a TCBY. The joke is obvious, but damn if Rogen doesn’t sell the hell out of the line delivery when they get to the final punchline.
DYING MRS. GOMEZ
Season 43 Episode 17: Sterling K. Brown, James Bay
Sterling K. Brown is Michael, an old friend of elderly woman Mrs. Gomez. She’s on her deathbed and wishes to tell him something important. Weakly, she explains:
“Never made it as a wise man. I couldn’t cut it as a poor man stealing. Tired of living like a blind man. I’m sick of sight without a sense of feeling. And this is how you remind me. This is how you remind me of what I really am.”
Michael recognizes the Nickelback lyrics and explains the would-be final words to Mrs. Gomez’s loved ones by singing the song. One paramedic shows respect for how those are the most kickass last words he’s ever heard. Things escalate and they even explain the significance by pointing out that Mrs. Gomez went to dozens of Nickelback concerts and was dying from a moshpit mishap.
Brown is the highlight here for his hammy acting mixed with dramatically staring directly at the cue cards all throughout. It just adds the right flavor to this.
While it doesn’t qualify for the list, SNL did a similar enough sketch about Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
Any other 12:50 sketches you think deserve mentioning? Sound off down below!