?Since debuting in 1975, Saturday Night Live has devoted a considerable amount of time to celebrating nerdy subject matter. Recurring characters ranging from Mango, the androgynous Pat, Doug and Wendy Whiner, and Lisa Loopner and Todd DiLaMuca (fittingly known as “The Nerds”) have popped up during the course of the series’ run to comment on individuals who live their lives on the fringes of the mainstream. A dissection of what makes geeks tick is terrific and all, but SNL‘s bread and butter has always been how it comments on pop culture. Fortunately, so much of entertainment revolves around comics, sci-fi and other pursuits that used to be considered geeky but now have become commonplace. As such, SNL has set their comedic sights on skewering these nerdy TV shows, movies, books and personalities over the years. But which nerdy sketches from the show’s 37 seasons are especially worthy of praise? That’s where today’s list comes in. Whether you enjoy consuming mass quantities or seeing losers being shit on by their hero, there will be plenty of unforgettable moments here to please you. So without further adieu, live from the internet, it’s Topless Robot!
There’s no more fitting way to kick off a list of nerdy SNL sketches than with the Coneheads. These iconic aliens who “come from France” made 11 appearances on the series before spinning off into an animated pilot, the underrated 1993 film (seriously, check it out) a short-lived Marvel comic and some Playmates action figures that currently are taking up valuable real estate deep in the bowels of my walk-in closet. Originally airing in 1978, the above sketch has Beldar, Prymatt and Connie appearing on Family Feud. It is a great example of how much Dan Aykroyd and company could accomplish by simply giving an extraterrestrial makeover to the familiar fish out of water comedy trope.
14) Shop at Home Network
A Jedi may not crave adventure or excitement, but they sure dig getting big laughs. Mark Hamill did just that when he turned up in a 1997 episode as the ultimate Star Wars collectible being peddled by a home shopping network. Doing impressions and generally, um, hamming it up, Hamill proved that he had a Millennium Falcon-sized sense of humor about himself in the sketch. $800,000? Seems like a bargain for sure.
13) The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise
From out of the gate, Saturday Night Live had nerd appeal in a time when celebrating geek passions was hardly commonplace. Along with the oddball Jim Henson “Land of Gorch” sequences, the nerdiest thing about the debut season was the infamous Star Trek parody sketch, “The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise.” Thanks to the peerless writing of Michael O’Donoghue, the lengthy skit mutates from a loving Trek spoof highlighted by John Belushi’s perfect Shatner impression to a meta commentary on showbiz that was unheard of for its time. As you’ll see later in the list, it was hardly the last time a Trek-themed SNL sketch captured the cultural zeitgeist.
12) Star Wars Auditions
Given all of Lucas’ tinkering with Star Wars over the years, the next logical step is for him to just remake the movie entirely. This seems inevitable, right? So when the reboot rolls into theaters, let’s just pray it stars Kevin Spacey as Christopher Walken as Han Solo. That’s really the only acceptable recasting.
11) Philadelphia Action Figures Commercial
This pitch-perfect fake commercial for action figures based on the Tom Hanks AIDS drama Philadelphia doesn’t just cross the line between good and bad taste, it plays hopscotch all over it. Still, that transforming Antonio Banderas figure would have been a huge seller…
10) Spider-Man Lawsuit
An entire law firm dedicated to injury lawsuits spawned by Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark? Seems totally reasonable to me.
9) Superhero Party
After the Justice League destroys all of the world’s villains, superheroes suddenly find themselves with nothing to do but eat, drink and focus on their relationships. That’s the premise of this 1979 skit in which a now-married Lois Lane — played by episode host Margot Kidder — and hubby Superman host a party for their friends. The result? Plenty of super melodrama and the confirmation that the foulest stench in the universe comes from the Hulk’s dumps. Crude though it may be, this is the best pre-Watchmen examination of superhero ennui.
8) Love Boat: The Next Generation
7) Frodo and Gollum
In 2003, viewers were given a glimpse into what a Laverne & Shirley-esque sitcom starring Frodo Baggins and Gollum would be like when Elijah Wood hosted. Sadly there’s only a brief clip available online (thanks NBC!), but suffice to say that if Wood ever gets tired of his Wilfred gig a Frodo and Gollum show should been greenlit immediately.
6) Batman Digital Short
Just as Luke and Leia incest jokes are tired, gags about what a freak the Caped Crusader is have been done to death. A Batman joke involving Steve Buscemi however is another manner entirely. In this digital short from last year, Buscemi plays a harried Commissioner Gordon whose life is constantly interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Batman. As the Dark Knight intrudes on Gordon’s most intimate moments, Buscemi’s performance reaches Basil Fawlty heights of annoyance. It is a gift to watch, and one that elevates average jokes into something really memorable.
5) Astronaut Jones
4) Nick Winter’s Star Wars
Hands up if you now sing these Bill Murray lyrics in your head every time John Williams’ Star Wars theme plays. Yep, me too.
Like The Empire Strikes Back before it, James Cameron’s Aliens is a rare example of a science fiction sequel that improves on its predecessor. When Sigourney Weaver hosted Saturday Night Live in 1986, she did the impossible by starring in a sketch that showed the only way Aliens could have been made even better. For those who haven’t seen it, let’s just say that E.T. and bloodshed are involved.
2) Planet of the Apes Opening Credits
When Charlton Heston hosted in 1993, the writing staff used the opportunity to create the most ambitious sci-fi sketch in SNL history by filming a shot-for-shot remake of the opening credits with the cast in full Planet of the Apes makeup (the premise of the gag was that Heston was a human slave who was captured and forced to entertain the masses, as was the show’s musical guest, singing human Paul Westerberg). The monologue is featured above, and you can check out the intro here. The commitment to a joke on display here is the sort of thing Saturday Night Live doesn’t do nearly enough of. As for Apes fanatics, this sketch gets them whipped into a fervor of “It’s a madhouse!” proportions every time they think of it.
1) Get a Life
Written by Robert Smigel of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog fame, this infamous sketch is nothing short of the greatest takedown of nerds ever. What I’d like to know is exactly how much input Shatner had into its creation. Given how natural his performance is here and the fact that he later named an autobiography Get a Life!, I’m guessing a significant amount (it’s easy to imagine the folks at Paramount showing this sketch to every new Trek cast member in preparation for the sorts of nonsense they would have to endure once they hit the convention circuit). While nerds enjoyed this because it hit so close to home, everyone else relished how relatable it made Shatner seem. Interesting enough, this six-minute clip says more about the human condition than the entirety of Star Trek‘s original run. Of course, there are many of you wonderful geeks who will argue this point with me in the comments. Which just makes this clip all the more biting, funny and true.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.