Despite the third word in the title, pre-recorded content has been a major part of “Saturday Night Live” for all of its 40 years. This was never more prominent than it was from 2005-2013, when Andy Samberg and the rest of the Lonely Island (writers Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaeffer) were dominating the “SNL” conversation with their digital shorts. Samberg, Taccone, and Schaeffer were originally a comedy team in Southern California who had amassed a sizable following on YouTube. After being hired at “SNL,” they managed to produce over 100 of their idiosyncratic shorts in a little under a decade.
Which of the digital shorts stands above the rest? Which mix of white boy rapping, genital-based humor, and cats that shoot lasers out of their mouths had the most memorable surprises? Do any of the non-musical shorts stand up to the song-and-dance numbers? Here we present our ranking of the shorts with which the Lonely Island made their strongest marks on Studio 8H. (The Lonely Island was also behind some material that is not officially considered digital shorts. For the purposes of this ranking, only sketches that began with the “An SNL Digital Short” title card were considered.)
10. The Date (9/26/09)
The profoundly committed insanity of Will Forte has a knack for getting surprising performances out of his more staid co-stars, and thus this candlelit dinner scene features the best acting of Megan Fox’s career, in the best digital short that does not feature Andy Samberg in front of the camera. Forte’s character here is utterly fascinating. He seems a little slow, with boyish expressions and a drawn-out speaking voice. But it turns out that he is exceedingly layered, apparently macho enough to be a SWAT team commander but sensitive enough to be devastated by the slaughter of the lambs that he raises. Despite the risk of inconsistency, Forte ties it all together with his humanistic approach to bizarre comedy.
9. Shy Ronnie 2: Ronnie and Clyde (10/30/10)
The musician guest stars of the digital shorts worked as well as they did because they were paired so astutely with someone from “SNL” (usually Samberg). The confident swagger of Rihanna provided an extreme counterpoint to the severely stage-frightened Ronnie, who can only break out of his shell when the Barbadian chanteuse is not in the room. This sequel pulled off the trick of placing the original in a new context, rendering Ronnie and Rihanna the most stylish bank robbers around.
8. Jizz in My Pants (12/6/08)
There was seemingly no limit to the extent of the Lonely Island’s dick-based humor, and it worked as well as it did because even though it featured exaggerations, it was exaggeration of familiar experiences. Uncontrollable ejaculation is familiar to most men, but usually not to the extent that it can be caused by a mere smile, or the twist ending to a movie, or eating a grape. But it is the exaggeration of real feelings in which music often finds success, and thus the seemingly mundane was made awesome in this number that tied that connection to one of the most pleasurable experiences in life.