NBC's sketch comedy institution "Saturday Night Live" is such a fixture on TV that for many people it's the first and last word in sketch comedy. This would be unfortunate, though, since while "Saturday Night Live" is a fine program, there have been other sketch comedy shows on TV before and since that have served as an inspiration for "SNL" in addition to featuring more individualistic comedy voices. Here are five of them.
One of the principle precedents for a show like "Saturday Night Live" was "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." The 60s comedy showcase featured old-fashioned, vaudevillian sketch humor dressed up in ultra-modern hippie trappings. The resulting culture clash was something truly original that even at its best "Saturday Night Live" has never been able to quite capture. Although it might be a trade-off, since a lot of the jokes on "Laugh-In" fall flat today due to their dated surroundings-then again, most sketches were over in under 3 minutes…let's just call it a draw.
"Monty Python's Flying Circus"
Another of the inspirations for the original "Saturday Night Live" was "Monty Python's Flying Circus," which in many ways invented modern comedy as we think of it today. The British comedy troupe perfected the absurd and ridiculous style of humor that can still be found in places like the Adult Swim programming block on Cartoon Network, TV advertisements, and yes, "Saturday Night Live."
The Canadian sketch comedy series "SCTV" was a big break for stars who would later become "SNL" castmembers themselves, such as Martin Short. And unlike "SNL," "SCTV" has an unprecedented attention to detail and visual style that comes from their practice of not having a studio audience to worry about. This leads to film and TV parodies that go to great lengths to capture the visual style of the thing being parodied-a practice that is now commonplace in comedy.
"Mr. Show With Bob and David"
Arguably the greatest sketch comedy series of all time is "Mr. Show," featuring the comic talents of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, as well as future comedy stars like Brian Posehn, Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, and Jack Black. And the sketches are razor sharp-using HBO's famous lack of programming restrictions to tackle subject matter that "SNL" would never go near.
"The Ben Stiller Show"
Over the years, the FOX network has attempted to challenge "SNL"'s sketch comedy supremacy with sketch comedy programs of their own. Probably the best of the bunch is "The Ben Stiller Show." Before Ben Stiller was the huge movie star he is today, he was a talented comedian and writer, and his TV show featured writers and actors like future "Mr. Show" creator Bob Odenkirk, comedian Janeane Garofalo, and future movie mega-brand Judd Apatow.