With shows like Louie, Arrested Development, and The Office having emerged within the last 10 years, it’s safe to say that scripted television comedy is at an apex – at least for the time being. But even considering all the brilliant writing that’s happened on these shows and others like them, some of the funniest moments on TV remain those spontaneous moments when the fourth wall is broken down. When we see actors break and get the giggles, it can be even funnier than if the bit or sketch had gone off without a hitch.
So here, we present to you some of our favorite moments when a character breaks and everything falls apart.
Every Stefon sketch ever, on Saturday Night Live
Know why Bill Hader cracks up during every single Stefon sketch ever? Turns out writer John Mulaney occasionally tosses in new jokes at the last minute, so Hader performs some of the most insanely absurd lines for the first time on the air. And, natch, everything’s funnier the first time around – so Hader laughs. Ballsy move on Mulaney’s part, but it sure makes for some wonderful live TV moments. Anyway, I just picked a sketch that I love, mostly because I want to go to Twice and see a human fire hydrant.
Stephen Colbert talks about celebrity couples, on The Colbert Report
In this bit from Feb. 9, 2006, Stephen Colbert makes portmanteaus (look it up, kids) of celebrity names a lá Brangelina. Turns out the William H. Macy – Felicity Huffman combination is hilarious, and Colbert loses it. Nothing else needs to be said. I will tell you this for sure: my first-born child will be named Filliam H. Muffman. This is not a joke.
Andy Kaufman stops acting, on Fridays
This moment is part of television lore, in part because there’s still debate as to whether or not this is legit, or a performance-within-a-performance. Kaufman allegedly breaks character in the midst of a sketch on Fridays, which prompts an on-camera spat between Kaufman and Michael Richards of Seinfeld fame. And then it starts going even further downhill. Authentic fight or a totally meta moment of comedy? You be the judge. In any case, it’s awkward as shit.
Three-Headed Broadway star, on Whose Line Is It Anyway?
I’m a huge fan of the original British Whose Line series, but the Drew Carey version that aired more frequently in the good ol’ US of A still had its moments. This one involves Drew joining with Wayne Brady and Ryan Stiles as a part of the three-headed Broadway star game, which requires each performer to say one word at a time to create an improvised song. Apparently Drew didn’t get the memo, though, as you’ll see in the clip. It’s funny throughout, but the real kicker is the final word of the song. I won’t spoil it for you.
Extreme stupidity, on Saturday Night Live
Sometimes, screwing up a line somehow meshes perfectly with the content of a sketch and makes it even funnier. In this classic sketch from the second season of Saturday Night Live, Candace Bergen chides Gilda Radner for her extreme stupidity, but accidentally calls her by the wrong name before breaking. The moment was completely spontaneous but also apropos, as you’ll see when Gilda continues nudging the sketch along.
Stephen Colbert interviews Jane Fonda, on The Colbert Report
One of the laws of improv comedy is to always say yes: if a player takes the scene in a particular direction, you always go with it, however weird it might be. Needless to say, it would take quite a bit to make an improv powerhouse like Stephen Colbert – who trained at Chicago’s Second City – uncomfortable when things go awry. But never fear! Jane Fonda did the impossible. Check out this interview on The Colbert Report, where Fonda cuddles with a decidedly subdued, awkwardly giggly Colbert.
Debbie Downer visits Disneyland, on Saturday Night Live
You knew we’d pick this one. In Lindsey Lohan’s pre-cocaine days, turns out she was a pretty solid actress and – surprise – kind of funny, sometimes. But in this Saturday Night Live sketch, she didn’t really have the opportunity to be intentionally funny, because almost everyone involved in the scene falls apart after Debbie Downer flubs a line. It’s one of the most infamous and hilarious moments on SNL in the past ten years. Fortunately, the world was given a new story-topping trump card: just say “It’s official, I can’t have children” if there’s ever a lull in your conversation.
Stephen Colbert reports on a scandal, for The Daily Show
This is one of the funniest moments in The Daily Show’s storied history, so it’s only right to close with it. Colbert’s iron-clad commitment to his character as the bombastic but ignorant right-wing apologist on The Colbert Report only makes his breakdown even more hilarious. And believe me: this bit never, ever gets old. If you don’t like it, it’s the spanking machine for you. You’ve been warned.
So, what are some of your favorite moments where actors and actresses just lose it with laughter? Tell us in the comments section!