The Most Controversial SNL Skits Of All Time

"Controversy" is the middle name of "Saturday Night Live". Since 48 years ago, the sketch comedy show has been a reliable purveyor of topical and political jokes, skewing the most serious news of the day, from the Monica Lewinsky scandal to ISIS fundamentalism. Eventually, people began watching "SNL" after some breaking news, eager to see which cast member did what impression. With that kind of responsibility, edginess was expected, and controversy became inevitable.

But sometimes, "SNL" pushes the envelope a tad too far. Take for example the entire Donald Trump episode in 2016. Trump was already very controversial, and so was the move to give him hosting honors. About 200 protesters gathered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza with signs denouncing the decision by "SNL," reports NBC News. In hindsight, cast member Taran Killam said the experience was not enjoyable and looks back on it with shame, via NPR

Meanwhile, musical guests had their own controversies: Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor was permanently barred by NBC after ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II on stage (via The Independent). The punk rock band Fear was banned after causing violent mayhem during their "SNL" performance in 1981, notes Far Out Magazine. But mainly, controversies surrounding "SNL" will always lie with their sketches. Let's take a look at the individual skits that had viewers crying foul.

The 1994 Canteen Boy sketch

During the Sandler-Spade-Farley-Rock, etc. era, one of the most prominent recurring characters was Adam Sandler's Canteen Boy. Throughout several sketches, Sandler embodied a naive 27-year-old scout who was comically clueless that he was the victim of bullying. Several mean-spirited jokes, usually given by whichever celebrity was hosting that night, went right over his head. Even Sandler felt sorry for his own character, as he once told the Los Angeles Times. But it was all in good fun — that is, until Alec Baldwin made an appearance as Canteen Boy's scoutmaster. 

In the skit, Baldwin's character makes several sexual advances at Canteen Boy. He takes off his shirt and forces Canteen Boy to share a sleeping bag with him. Even though other sketches already established Canteen Boy's adult age, notes The Washington Post, his naivete and position as a boy scout had audiences think otherwise. So they assumed the sketch was joking about child abuse.

As reported by The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper reported that he received complaints from viewers who were too disgusted to finish the skit. The Boy Scouts of America even weighed in and said child molestation was nothing to joke about. When Baldwin returned to host later that year, he waved away the controversy with several jokes and reminded the audience that Canteen Boy was of age — and a similar reminder preceded the skit during re-airings.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

Chris Farley's 1990 Chippendale Audition

Chris Farley's famous "Chippendales" sketch has one joke in it: Farley's body size (via "Saturday Night Live"). Farley wouldn't be the first comedian, or the last, to use his large body mass to comedic advantage, but with new attitudes on body-shaming, that style has fallen largely out of fashion, as described by Vox. But shifting tastes isn't the only factor casting shadows over "Chippendales"; it was controversial from the beginning. 

The sketch features Farley competing with the muscular Patrick Swayze for a Chippendale role, and although Farley's character is seriously considered for the job, he loses. Farley's castmates have come out in the years since to voice criticism of the overlying insult of the sketch and what it might've done to Farley's psyche. Farley died at 33 years old in 1997 due to substance abuse, and it's widely believed that personal struggles with self-worth were to blame, notes Biography.

According to the biography "The Chris Farley Show," Chris Rock believed that the sketch was the first step toward Farley's spiral, calling the sketch's premise cruel. Rock believed Farley would've turned down the sketch but lacked the confidence. Bob Odenkirk was more blunt and called the sketch weak, and lamented that Farley agreed to it.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Fred Armisen's 2008 David Paterson Portrayal

On December 13, 2008, Fred Armisen debuted his long-running David Paterson impression on "Saturday Night Live." The next day, the former Governor of New York lambasted it for mocking disabilities. The sketch in question had Armisen closing one eye, in reference to Paterson's legal blindness, and needing help to position his chair (via NBC). Armisen's Paterson is also unaware that he holds a graph upside down. The New York Times said the portrayal made Paterson look like a buffoon, and Paterson's office responded by calling the sketch offensive.

But this didn't spell the end to Armisen's impression. Paterson continued to be a regular character on the "SNL" segment "Weekend Update," along with Armisen's skidding around his rolling chair as if he lacked depth perception, per The New York Times

But the actual Paterson was finally able to get payback in 2010 when he appeared alongside Armisen's character and told a few jokes of his own. It was near the end of his term as New York's governor, so he was able to address constituents, but he was also able to take shots at Armisen, calling him a cheap imitation. He also criticized the decision by "SNL" to mock his blindness (via "Saturday Night Live").

The 2009 Tiger Woods sketch

It was 2009, and Tiger Woods was answering to the media about his cheating controversy. News about his marital affairs played on CNN like the latest Congressional hearing, and "Saturday Night Live" knew it was fair game. However, the comedy show decided to joke about the scandal in a way that brought about their own. 

In the sketch, Woods, played by Kenan Thompson, apologizes into the camera while his wife, played by Blake Lively, smiles behind him (via "Saturday Night Live"). The sketch regularly cuts to Wolf Blitzer reporting the news. Each time the camera cuts back to Woods, he has a new injury. The implication is that Elin Nordegren, his wife, is injuring him in retaliation for his sexual transgressions. This was a reference to a mysterious accident Woods suffered in real life at the time of the scandal (per HuffPost), although the sketch's theory behind it was fictional.

"Saturday Night Live" essentially made a joke about the couple involving domestic abuse, and not everyone was laughing. Speaking to TMZ, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Rita Smith, said the show made light of a serious matter. Smith argued that the sketch's humor would only serve to undercut public support for domestic violence victims.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

The 1988 Nude Beach sketch

In the 1988 sketch "Nude Beach," host Matthew Broderick and all the other male cast members are letting it hang (via "Saturday Night Live"). In a vacation setting, the characters compliment each other's genitals, are preoccupied discussing their penises in various ways, and rib Broderick's character for his rather small one. 

In fact, the word "penis" is said over 40 times, notes Showbiz CheatSheet. The sketch ends with a public announcement: "Saturday Night Live" took advantage of censorship changes at NBC and wanted to spread a positive message concerning genitalia. The sketch was written by Conan O'Brien in his early career, and it's likely he had fun with it.

Not everyone did, of course. William Clotworthy, the show's censor responsible for keeping the writers honest with FCC laws (per The Hollywood Reporter), said that the show received 46,000 complaint letters. The vast majority of them originated with Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, according to his book "Saturday Night Live: Equal Opportunity Offender" (via CheatSheet).

The 2011 Tim Tebow and Jesus sketch

During the 2011 NFL season, Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow turned many football fans into believers. For six consecutive games, Tebow would showcase subpar throwing skills and burrow his team into a deficit before suddenly leading them to an improbable comeback victory — it befuddled many. Tebow's strange hot streak created a cult around him dubbed "Tebowmania," per NPR. And at the center of Tebow's mystique was his faith: A proud Christian, Tebow would cite Bible verses in his eye black while in college, forcing the NCAA to outlaw the practice, notes ESPN. In the NFL, Tebow's prayerful genuflection during games was memed and called "Tebowing," as reported by Time.

This was easy fodder for "Saturday Night Live." They responded with a sketch in which Tebow is visited by Jesus Christ — in the locker room (via "Saturday Night Live") — and Jesus turns out to be more of a Brady fan, among other jokes. The sketch wasn't received well by many, not only because religion is a sensitive topic, but because Jesus advises Tebow to lay off his religious exuberance. 

Tebow's avid faithfulness was also plainly mocked, prompting high-profile criticism: Televangelist Pat Robertson decried the sketch as bigotry on CBN (via CaSmokey), while Fox News' Bob Beckel denounced the portrayal of the holy Christian figure and accused "SNL" of commercializing the topic.

Pete Davidson's 2018 Dan Crenshaw skit

The Pete Davidson-Dan Crenshaw controversy was a multi-part saga. It began on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections when Davidson visited the "Weekend Update" desk on "Saturday Night Live" to give his comical takes on that year's candidates (via "Saturday Night Live"). Among them was Crenshaw, a war veteran who served as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer for a decade and lost his right eye during an IED blast (per Crenshaw for Congress). Crenshaw wears a black eye patch, which Davidson poked fun at, but what really caught the ire of viewers came next.

Davidson proceeded to acknowledge that Crenshaw sustained the injury during the war, but waved away the point flippantly. The National Republican Congressional Committee demanded an apology from Davidson and NBC (via CNN). On Twitter, Crenshaw said that he could take a joke, but thought injured veterans should generally be off-limits. Everything seemed to be over when Crenshaw made a "Weekend Update" appearance alongside Davidson (via "News 4 Tucson KVOA-TV"). Crenshaw took some shots at Davidson's appearance and addressed the audience about U.S. veterans.

Fast forward two years, and it appears not all was well behind the scenes. During his 2020 Netflix stand-up special, Davidson effectively rescinded his apology by saying he didn't think he did anything wrong at the time and took credit for Crenshaw's subsequent fame, reports The Hill. Davidson essentially felt wronged by "SNL" for having to apologize. Crenshaw responded to that, as well, calling Davidson's bitter remarks sad.

The 2015 father-daughter ISIS sketch

In 2015, The New York Times released an article titled "ISIS and the Lonely Young American," detailing a frightening trend at the time of vulnerable Americans recruited online to the Islamic State. Naturally, "Saturday Night Live" took a shot at it. 

In the innocuously titled "Father Daughter Ad," Taran Killam plays a father who is saying goodbye to his daughter, played by host Dakota Johnson, as she's about to go off somewhere (via "Saturday Night Live"). You're led to believe it's the U.S. military she's joining from the looks of her military-grade backpack. But then comes the comical twist — her ride to the next destination is a white pickup truck with the Islamic State flag emblazoned on it and terrorists with guns in the back. A proud Killam tearfully watches her leave as the audience laughs.

A backlash online followed: A flood of internet users were confused about who the sketch was lambasting and found the context of the joke offensive, as reported by ABC News.

The 1993 Wayne's World sketch about Bill Clinton

The president's children are generally considered to be off-limits when it comes to criticism and ridicule. After all, it wasn't their choice to live in the White House. "Saturday Night Live" didn't seem to care when they joked about Chelsea Clinton during a "Wayne's World" sketch. Garth and Wayne were talking about the top 10 things they loved about Bill Clinton, and Chelsea was listed at number two (via "Saturday Night Live"). The reason, however, wasn't so nice: Unlike the Gore daughters, who were listed at number three, the 13-year-old Chelsea wasn't "schwing!" material, according to the sketch. In other words, she wasn't attractive enough, reports The Seattle Times.

It was immediately controversial: Bill Clinton said the writers were insensitive (via People), and after criticism from Hillary Clinton, "SNL" admitted their transgressions. Mike Myers wrote a letter of apology to the family, and executive producer Lorne Michaels said the sketch wasn't worth hurting the feelings of an adolescent who didn't choose public life, notes the Seattle Times. The joke has now been omitted from official online versions of the sketch. 

Chelsea has commented on the incident as an adult during an episode of "Gutsy," a docuseries she hosts with her mother. Let's just say, the joke is even worse in hindsight: Chelsea still can't believe that a room of adults thought that a joke sexualizing a 13-year-old would be a good idea, per Insider.

The 2017 Safelite Skit

In 2017, "Saturday Night Live" released a Safelite Autoglass ad spoof in which a repairman makes passes at his customers (via "Stephen Koepfer"). Beck Bennett plays the repairman in this awkward sketch, in which he becomes increasingly interested in the family he helps, particularly the 17-year-old daughter of his client. The windshield of the mother's car is also mysteriously getting cracked over and over. It becomes clear that the Safelite repairman is the one responsible for the needed repairs in his strategy to get closer to the underaged girl. After the girl denies feelings for him, he then takes his chances on the mother. The mother and daughter then make their escape.

Safelite was weirded out, to say the least. They put a response, saying the sketch crossed a line, and assured customers that Safelite repairmen are completely normal (via Twitter). They also assured followers that they had no input on the sketch. "SNL" must've had second thoughts about it, too, since re-airings of the episode omitted the sketch, reports Vulture. You also can't find it on its official YouTube page or Hulu. 

It was replaced with another Bennett and Kyle Mooney sketch, "The Last Fry," which features the episode's host Gal Gadot (via "Saturday Night Live"). Although originally cut for time, you'd have to wonder why the producers didn't run with this one to begin with.

The 2013 Rosetta Stone sketch

The booming sex industry in Thailand is a problem that its government would like to sweep under the rug. Sex work is illegal in the country, but since well-paying jobs are often scarce, many poor Thais take advantage of the country's long history of sex tourism, reports NPR. It's not only embarrassing for the conservative Buddhist nation but for the men abroad who take advantage of it, according to the "Saturday Night Live" sketch "Rosetta Stone" (via "Saturday Night Live"

The sketch is set up like a typical language-learning ad, where happy adults boast new language skills thanks to the program. That is, until an increasing number of tight-lipped men are vague about why they're learning Thai. And the phrases they memorize show pretty clear intentions: How much? Is that for the whole night? Oh my god, what have I done?

The Thai government wasn't laughing. Culture Minister Sonthaya Kunploem said the sketch didn't represent the country accurately and was making sure the United States knew that with talks through their Foreign Ministry, per Reuters. Thailand government officials also attempted to get the sketch scrubbed from the internet through the Foreign Ministry.

The 2017 Aer Lingus sketch

This time, "Saturday Night Live" managed to offend an entire country. When Saoirse Ronan hosted in 2017, they obviously had to do something Ireland-related, so they decided to pick on the nation's flag carrier, Aer Lingus. In the sketch, there are dog lovers and many references to potatoes (via "Saturday Night Live"), and many thought it relied on Irish stereotypes. 

On Twitter, Donald Clarke of the Irish Times lamented the overdone accents and the stereotypical love of potatoes. Irish musician James Vincent McMorrow thought potato jokes were so worn out that the sketch wasn't funny (via Twitter). And Irish author Louise O'Neill also really, really hated the potato bit (via Bustle): She said Americans had no leg to stand on because of all the typical greasy, hormone-filled fast food in the States.

Aer Lingus also chimed in with a Donald Trump-style tweet, calling the sketch unfunny, biased, and sad. Ronan tried to clear up the controversy during an appearance on "The Late Late Show" (via Twitter), where she affirmed her allegiance to Aer Lingus, noting that she's collected points with the airline, and revealed that she was adamant about having an Irish-themed sketch while hosting. She added that the sketch was meant to be all in good fun.

The 2008 Bailout sketch

It was 2008, and political skits on "Saturday Night Live" understandably focused mostly on the elections and the financial crisis: "The Bailout" was about the latter. It featured so-called average Americans who were presented as victims of the financial crisis, but were actually partially responsible for it (via "Saturday Night Live"). Among them were Herb and Marion Sandler, the real-life former owners of Golden West Financial. The two were considered pioneers of the predatory lending tactics that led to the housing market collapse, notes Forbes. The sketch introduced them, played by Darrell Hammond and Casey Wilson, as "people who should be shot," details Deadline. Of course, that's icky for various legal reasons.

The sketch was quickly taken down by NBC after it was aired, and then reposted to the "SNL" website with the Sandler appearances taken down. The Sandlers themselves were angry by the sketch and said the accusations against them were unfair, reports the Los Angeles Times. But the scandal surrounding the sketch went further.

Because the sketch laid blame against Democrats for the crisis, while crediting the Bush administration for sounding the alarm against the risky mortgage loans, it found favor with some conservative voices. And when the sketch was taken down, some conspiracies started floating in right-wing circles: Influential commentator Michelle Malkin wrote a blog on The Unz Review, saying the Sandlers and Democratic donor George Soros, who was also featured in the sketch, were responsible for its temporary disappearance.