Season 46 of Saturday Night Live felt like it existed across two monumental years. It kicked off during the waning days of the Trump presidency, with a deadly pandemic still raging across the globe and only a few first responders in the audience; it ended under the Biden/Harris administration and with full in-person audiences back in Studio 8H, as vaccines became widely available and optimism about the reopening of America this summer reached a fever pitch.
It was undoubtedly a season made under incredibly difficult circumstances, and it’s undeniable that the comedy suffered as a result. There were only three or four really good episodes this season, and only a handful of hosts who were in sync with the rhythms of live sketch comedy. Otherwise, there were moments where the strain of trying to make comedy out of this historically dark period was just unpleasant.
But within those rough weeks and comedy dry spells were still some memorable, often hilarious gems worth revisiting. Below, you can check out our favorite live sketches, pre-taped segments, Weekend Update guests and monologues from a season that is probably better served by small bits like these instead of in full hour-and-a-half installments.
The 11 Best Live Sketches Of The Season
11. Birthday Gifts (Host Regina King): This was a sharp, funny reminder that substituting cutesy signs for a personality could actually be a cry for help.
10. The Muppet Show (Host Keegan-Michael Key): Melissa Villaseñor pulled out a stellar Lily Tomlin impression, Kyle Mooney voiced Kermit to a tee, Beck Bennett and Mikey Day inhabited Statler and Waldorf, and of course Key and Kenan Thompson killed as the overly-protective bodyguards who think Kermit is a dragon. Huge props to the puppeteers as well for the way Statler and Waldorf tremble toward the end.
9. No More Masks Cold Open (Host Keegan-Michael Key): The cold opens have been among the worst sketches on SNL over the last five years. So it was a total surprise and delight to see this one, a funny, clever, topical sketch about vaccines and the CDC’s new COVID-19 guidelines featuring just about the entire cast (with no awkward guest stars).
8. Hailstorm (Host Dave Chappelle): This was one of the lowest concept—but best written—sketches of the season, an unexpectedly charming and sweet character sketch about two friends (Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon) who end up becoming something more than friends during a storm.
7. Uncle Ben (Host Dave Chappelle): This felt as close to a classic Chappelle’s Show bit as we will ever get. The concept—Aunt Jemima (Maya Rudolph) and Uncle Ben (Kenan Thompson) have to their defend their jobs—seemed like a perfect Chappelle riff, and the sketch just got better as it went along, adding Chappelle’s Allstate Guy and Pete Davidson’s ridiculous Count Chocula, culminating in the hilarious line, “Seriously, America: Look at Pete Davidson’s lips.”
6. Mirror Workout (Host Nick Jonas): The saga of Shannon Delgado, who was trapped inside a workout mirror after being cursed by a fortune teller, felt like a spiritual successor to David S. Pumpkins.
5. New York Musical (Host John Mulaney): I am a sucker for Mulaney’s NYC-centric Broadway pastiches (see: Diner Lobster, Bodega Bathroom and Airport Sushi), and this was another great one about buying underwear from a Times Square souvenir shop. Lots of cast members got standout moments, including Kenan Thompson’s Minion, Maya Rudolph singing “I’m Still Here” from Follies, Beck Bennett’s peeping tom, and Chloe Fineman’s Westchester superspreader.
4. The Birds (Host John Mulaney): And yet, rewatching all of this season’s sketches for this list, I enjoyed this recurring Cinema Classics sketch even more than the musical one. This sendup of the Hitchcock classic featured birds tossing sandwiches and turtles, what more could you want from sketch comedy?
3. Super Bowl Pod (Host Dan Levy): If you want to explain to someone in the future what America was like during the pandemic in the period just before coronavirus vaccinations became widely available, just show them this sketch.
2. Season 46 Finale Cold Open (Host Anya Taylor-Joy): It’s not really fair to call this one a sketch, as it’s more of a fourth wall-breaking summation of season 46. It speaks to the rocky nature of this season that watching the cast somewhat sincerely reflect on how much has happened in the world and at Studio 8H over the last year was funnier and more exciting than most of the sketches that preceded it. This remains a poignant high point for the show during a dark period.
1. AMC Theaters Commercial (Host Anya Taylor-Joy): For the first time in the many years I’ve been covering SNL, I really struggled to enjoy the show this year. I appreciated having it back as a comfort, and signifier for things getting back to normal, more than I laughed at anything. I don’t think there were any consensus classic live sketches this year among fans, but when push comes to shove, this is the one sketch I’ll probably hold onto for a long time, because it’s the only one I already love quoting to my friends. Every time I go to the movies, I’ll think of Beck Bennett’s Diesel impression, the garbage can with the little hole that nothing really fits in, the second concession stand that’s never open, and of course, the bird trapped in the lobby. IT’S AMAZING.
- Timothée Chalamet channelled all his dramatic chops to play a rebellious COVID particle in Coronavirus Holiday, and very convincingly played the world’s most dedicated Jets fan in Sportsmax.
- It’s always a joy whenever Kate McKinnon & Aidy Bryant team up together, and we got a few of those sketches—which wholly rely on their chemistry—this season, including the very funny Supermarket Sweep and Stunt Performers.
- Adele wasn’t the musical guest when she hosted last fall, but she still stole the show when she sang a medley of her hits in The Bachelor.
- Dan Levy and Cecily Strong sang that classic football anthem Hot Damn.
- Regina King and Maya Rudolph were each unforgettable playing two very different kinds of divas in ’70s Green Room and Hot Ones with Beyonce.
- The best cut-for-time live sketch of the season was Sending Drinks, which had some very fun performances from Bowen Yang and host Keegan-Michael Key.
- Hollywood Squares was a very clever twist on the show’s typical game show format.
- Proud Parents had the best ending of any sketch this season.
- Kristen Wiig and Bowen Yang truly committed to the absurd pop song in U.S.O. Performance.
- New Normal was a very funny snapshot of where the country was at last fall.
- Kate McKinnon and Mikey Day’s creepy performances made Twins a standout.
- Host Daniel Kaluuya and Cecily Strong were inspired by this immortal Kim Cattrall scat clip for Half Brother.
- And John Mulaney asked some slightly inappropriate questions in Headless Horseman.
The 12 Best Pre-Taped Sketches Of The Season
11. Bits (Host Jason Bateman): Despite being on the show for almost eight years, Kyle Mooney still feels like an underrated member of the cast. His singular, surreal sketches stand out from the rest of the show and are always unmistakably him (which is possibly why they get cut-for-time so often). This was about one man’s struggle to come up with funny jokes around his friends. Or as one YouTube commenter put it, “This is a real footage of Kyle Mooney at the latest pitch meeting.”
10. Viral Apology (Host Daniel Kaluuya): Another Mooney creation! This sketch was specifically mocking disgraced YouTuber David Dobrik and the Vlog Squad, but you don’t need to know anything about that controversy to enjoy the universality of it.
9. Christmas Morning (Host Kristen Wiig): This sketch, starring SNL legend Wiig, combined a fun holiday song with an important moral about paying more attention to moms over the holidays.
8. December To Remember Car Commercial (Host Timothée Chalamet): One of the best fake ads of the season, in which it quickly becomes clear that Beck Bennett’s clueless, unemployed dad doesn’t know what a down payment is, to the horror of his family and neighbors.
7. Murdur Durdur (Host Elon Musk): This was the one shining sketch during Elon Musk’s godawful episode, a hilarious sendup of very good HBO detective show Mare Of Easttown with a dose of 30 Rock‘s “Rural Juror”-style humor (and very little Musk).
6. The Last Dance: Extended Scene (Host Keegan-Michael Key): This was a parody of a docuseries that came out over a year ago, so it wasn’t exactly timely. But who cares about timeliness when you get Key as a sociopathically competitive Michael Jordan and an uncanny, hilarious Heidi Gardner as Jordan’s curly-haired bodyguard John Michael Wozniak.
5. New York PSA (Host John Mulaney): Kate McKinnon got the chance to let loose as a kooky old lady who really should be NYC’s new mascot in this sweet, short sketch about NYC bouncing back during the pandemic.
4. Tiny Horse (Host Timothée Chalamet): This was a love-it-or-hate-it sketch about…well…a tiny horse who is extra tiny today. It veered a little more to the sweet and surreal rather than hilarious, but the utter randomness and sincerity won me over hard.
3. Zillow (Host Dan Levy): As a 30-something, this sketch about the erotic power of browsing Zillow listings hit me really hard.
2. Take Me Back (Host Dave Chappelle): Somewhat surprisingly, Beck Bennett had the most screentime of any cast member this season, more than heavy-hitters like Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson. But it seemed well-deserved when he was anchoring sketches with absolutely perfect comic timing and editing like this one.
1. The Job Interview (Host Regé-Jean Page): This great Bennett sketch, where he plays brilliantly off of first-time host Page, was one of the most surreal, rewatchable highlights of the enter year. Someone get Kevin Netflix on the phone, we can save the company.
The Best Weekend Update Guests Of The Season
Dr. Wenowdis (Host Bill Burr, Timothée Chalamet): Even when the show was struggling to find laughs with hosts this year, Weekend Update remained one of the most consistently enjoyable parts of each episode. In the second episode of the season, Kate McKinnon donned a silly wig and mustache to introduce the best new recurring character of the year, Dr. Wenowdis. The character was really a chance to combine sublime wordplay with a refreshing frankness about the terror of the moment. “It’s such a crazy time, and this is something I started doing during COVID. I have a lot of wigs and mustaches at my disposal, it’s a nice way to escape, it’s refreshing to play a character who know this,” she said.
Famous 80’s Cocaine Wife Carla (Host Issa Rae), Landis Trotter (Host Kristen Wiig), Jeff and Hattie Deeley (Host Daniel Kaluuya): Heidi Gardner has become a master at coming up with new Weekend Update characters, and she had plenty this season to enjoy. To highlight a few favorites: there was Famous 80’s Cocaine Wife Carla, who I think was an incredibly specific parody of Jennifer Lawrence’s character from American Hustle (with a dash of others like Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface). There was Instagram influencer Landis Trotter, who had some sponsored holiday gift suggests. And she killed it as an elderly lady in a May-December “romance” with Mikey Day with Jeff and Hattie Deeley.
The Iceberg on the Sinking of the Titanic (Host Carey Mulligan), Bowen Yang on the Rise of Anti-Asian Hate Crimes (Maya Rudolph), Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese on New York City (Host John Krasinski): Bowen Yang was a breakout Weekend Update star last season with Bottle Boi and “trade daddy” Chen Biao. But I think he topped himself this year with these three segments, the best of which was The Iceberg on the Sinking of the Titanic, one of the funniest things on SNL all year. It was powerful when he appeared as himself later in the season to talk sincerely about the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. And he also unveiled a hilarious and unexpected Fran Leibowitz impression.
The Village People On Donald Trump Using Their Music (Host Adele): Donald Trump (remember him?) had a predilection for using music at his rallies by artists who wanted absolutely nothing to do with him. After an infamous clip of him dancing to “YMCA” at one such rally, the band, led by Kenan Thompson, went on Weekend Update to ask him politely to stop it already or else they’ll shave Ivanka’s head.
A Weary Mother in Her Darkest Hour on Disney’s Reopening (Host Elon Musk): Ego Nwodim unleashed an unforgettably funny, emotional, and haggard monologue as a mom sleeping on her feet like a horse.
Melissa Villaseñor on How to Quarantine Alone (Host Adele), Melissa Villaseñor on Christmas and Dolly Parton (Host Timothée Chalamet): Villaseñor is a criminally-underrated part of the current cast who is absolutely killer at impressions, even if she doesn’t get to use them on the show half as much as she should. So if she wants to dress up as Dolly Parton for the holidays and absolutely nail some parodies of her classic songs, she should. Or if she wants to interject impressions in between cries for help during the pandemic, that works too.
Pete Davidson on Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic (Host Anya Taylor-Joy), Pete Davidson on Staten Island COVID-19 Protests (Host Jason Bateman), Pete Davidson on J.K. Rowling’s Transphobic Comments (Host Bill Burr): Pete Davidson is not everyone’s cup of tea: he’s never been a very good sketch comedy performer, he often veers toward winking at the camera and breaking character, and he has no particularly notable impressions. But the one thing he is very, very good at is channeling his own personality to perform standup-like bits on Weekend Update. Here are three highlights from this season, the best of which may have been his appearance in the season finale, which may double as his final appearance on the show.
Colin Jost and Michael Che Swap Jokes for Season 46 Finale (Host Anya Taylor-Joy), Christmas Joke Swap 2020 (Host Kristen Wiig): Colin Jost and Michael Che gave us two iterations of their always-hilarious joke swap bit—in which they write awful jokes for one another and read them sight unseen on air—this season. Both were of course hilarious, but the season finale one was probably the most mortifying one yet, with Che besting Jost with a series of mortifying “Black Superman” punchlines.
Jeanine Pirro on the Mexico–United States Border (Host Anya Taylor-Joy): And last but certainly not least, the great Cecily Strong, who may be leaving the show. She has always been as good at playing straight dramatic-leaning roles as she is the silliest characters, and her exquisite physical comedy as Pirro is among her best roles. If this is the last we see her on the show, she went out on a wine-tossing high.
- Aidy Bryant was off shooting the third season of Shrill for much of the early part of the season, but she popped up for a hilariously short Aidy In America bit.
- Kyle Mooney returned two more times to play a horrifying-looking and hilariously egotistical Baby Yoda.
- Kate McKinnon had her own over-the-top, grotesque character pop up a few times: Rudy Giuliani.
- Kenan Thompson’s lovable neighbor Willie is always a treat.
- Chris Redd had me in stitches with his impression of an oblivious Smokey Robinson.
- And Beck Bennett turned smug horse trainer Bob Baffert into a real-life Bond Villain.
The Best Monologues Of The Season
John Mulaney: As always, stand-up comics usually provide the best monologues, and that was true here; the bits about the Cuomo press conferences and Mulaney’s grandmother were especially good.
Dave Chappelle: This was, for my money, the best monologue of the season. For over 16 minutes, Chappelle soberly reflected on the election and the state of America, and also made some incredibly provocative jokes about what the hell has been going on during the pandemic. Some of the riffs felt more like works-in-progress, a messy attempt to summarize a surreal year that isn’t quite over; other parts were compelling and risky, even if the more sobering bits about his grandfather, racism and the “kindness conspiracy” were far better than some of the more confrontational punchlines—something he himself acknowledged, saying, “I can’t even tell something true without a punchline behind it.”
Timothée Chalamet: We’re suckers for a celebrity who loves the city, so Chalamet’s charm-packed monologue was particularly welcome. He talked about his love for celebrating Christmas in NYC, revealed that his mother was once an extra on SNL in the early ’90s, and did one of those “fake piano playing” bits that almost always kills.
Kristen Wiig: Next to doing a biographical getting-to-know-you segment, or taking audience questions, the most popular monologue bit is to sing a song. And sometimes it can be very funny, like when Wiig was joined by Maya Rudolph and Kate McKinnon to sing a fun, semi-nonsensical version of “My Favorite Things” to close out 2020.
Keegan-Michael Key: I got the impression that Key, a sketch comedy legend who previously starred in MADtv and Key & Peele, has been waiting all his life to host SNL. So of course he was ready to tackle every monologue cliche, including singing a song about crafting the perfect monologue, taking a question from the audience, and inviting a couple of cast members to appear on stage with him.