Stefon & The Best Comedy Sketch Breakers Not Named Jimmy Fallon
“I think you should not break,” the decidedly disingenuous Jimmy Fallon told Interview this month. “I never did it on purpose, and I always felt bad if I did, but I tried my hardest not to.” Dude. Are you serious? You’re the guy Peter Griffin had to pummel for ruining comedy sketches with your “I can’t contain my mirth!” hysterics.
Fallon protests that he couldn’t help it. “People started knowing that I was an easy laugh, so Will Ferrell or Molly Shannon would go out of their way to make me laugh. We were playing, and I was just having a good time. There’s probably a bunch of sketches where I laughed that no one talks about, but there’s a few that got famous.”
Jimmy knows sketch comedy’s dirty secret: Breaking works. Lorne Michaels himself considers it a cheap trick, but it’s hilarious for the same reason that a fart in church is hilarious -- good girls and boys don’t do it, it breaks all the rules of propriety, and oh god, it’s happening, you guys! Laugh-inducing goof-ups happen all the time in pre-taped comedy--that’s where blooper reels are born. But live comedy is where breaking really scores. Here are our favorite examples of when cracking up put a comedy sketch over the top.
Debbie Downer: Disney World
We’re going out of our way to avoid rewarding Fallon for his “accidental” snickers, but he plays a supporting role in the sketch that arguably made Rachel Dratch’s Saturday Night Live career. (Oral history Live From New York notes that Fallon was the first to crack up but serial breaker Horatio Sanz wasn’t far behind.)
Dratch was worried that the giggling would ruin the sketch, especially after the chuckle fits during rehearsal. “I was thinking, ‘These guys, they better not mess up my thing with cracking up,’” she remembers. But “we were all just giddy from the rehearsal. I can’t really explain— it was just a random giggle fit that was completely contagious.”
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Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family
This Jimmy Kimmel/Norman Lear joint had a dual gimmick -- a nostalgia play with contemporary comics, and the live-wire act of live television. Flubbing a line was a possibility (watching other Live in Front of a Studio Audience shows, it was a probability), but who knew Foxx would call so much attention to it?
Director James Burrows was horrified, but the audience didn’t seem to mind.
Look up “Harvey Korman cracks up” on YouTube and it’s easy to drown in The Carol Burnett Show star’s endless breaks. “We never broke up on purpose, never,” says Carol, channeling the denial of her own inner Fallon. “Harvey would get so mad at himself because he’s the consummate actor.”
So here’s our question, Carol -- if it was all an accident and everyone got so mad, why not just stop taping and film again? (The answer is easy--this was way funnier.)
Short Shorts for the USA
The only thing funnier than comics cracking up in a sketch? It’s that one comedian who keeps a straight face despite the hysterics. Will Ferrell might have been the master, somehow keeping it sober in the classic “More Cowbell” while Fallon and Sanz lose their mind. He does it again here, playing it straight while Dratch and Sanz hide their faces. In Rachel’s defense, Ferrell’s butt cheeks are all up in her business.
Inside the Beltway
This solid political sketch was rolling right along, covering up costume changes with graphic montages until one poor stagehand is caught on camera trying to help Aidy Bryant switch her jacket. (Jump right to the 4:40 mark if you want to cut to the point where the sketch starts to implode.)
Unlike a Fallon groveling for laughs, this one is purely a product of the realities of rolling cameras. Ladies and gentlemen, live television!
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Live in Front of a Studio Audience: The Facts of Life
The live show event that keeps on giving. In this recreation of a Facts of Life episode, Jon Stewart’s brace-faced geek is doing just fine until Will Arnett as Dink gets up in his grill.
Stewart is the one who truly can’t keep it together, but sneak a peek at Jason Bateman, doing everything he can not to bust out laughing. With those wigs, can you blame any of them?
No one, especially not Ryan Gosling, can get through one of Kate McKinnon’s alien abduction sketches without collapsing into a giggle puddle. But McKinnon is extra-evil in this funny ad for Business Garden Inn & Suites & Hotel Room Inn.
Billie Eilish is game but she’s no professional comic, and it’s as if McKinnon can smell blood in the water. She’ll stop at nothing to get Eilish to break, including literally poking her in the ribs. Oh, and you really should see the cave.
Lots of breaking here, but this sketch is included primarily so you can see Pete Davidson’s Count Chocula spit out his fangs.
Stefon Gives Halloween’s Hottest Tips
Why is it that Jimmy Fallon gets so much grief for breaking when Bil Hader’s Stefon exists?
Maybe we cut Hader some slack because writer John Mulaney was so intent on making him break. Mulaney revealed his Jewish Dracula joke to Hader right before air and he couldn’t stop laughing. “Then on-air you could see his eyes— because it’s a longer joke, it’s not just a little detail— you could see from his eyes that he was already gone from the beginning of the joke,” Mulaney says in Live From New York. “That was very satisfying because he broke before he even got to the joke.”
Hader feared the wrath of Lorne, who in the show’s early days derided breaking as “too Carol Burnett.” (Little did he know.) A guilty Hader apologized to the show’s producer at an after-party but Lorne wasn’t mad. “Well, if what you’re saying isn’t funny, then we have a problem,” Hader recalls Michaels saying. “It’s when what you’re saying isn’t funny and you’re trying to save the sketch, or you’re trying to pull focus away from other performers … and just trying to pull it all to you, then that’s when we have a problem.”
Truth is, it’s rarely a problem. Because, dirty secret, breaking works.
Top image: Broadway Video