Earlier this week, the Emmy nominations were announced, and the funniest show of 2019, I Think You Should Leave, was shut out of the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series category. Some of the shows that were nominated (like Documentary Now and Drunk History) are quite good, while others seem like legacy choices (Saturday Night Live) or frankly don’t belong because they’re actually terrible (Who Is America?)
But none of them are nearly as “outstanding” as I Think You Should Leave, which is the most flat-out most hilarious sketch-comedy program since Chappelle’s Show. What gives? Perhaps it wasn’t nominated because I Think You Should Leave isn’t really in competition with other sketch shows right now. It’s only in competition with itself.
With that idea in mind, I decided to rank all 29 sketches from the show’s first season. Who is the most ticklish? Who is the most jigglish? Let’s find out!
29. “Traffic” (Episode 4)
Many of the biggest I Think You Should Leave partisans love this sketch. In terms of taking a simple idea — a guy won’t stop honking at a “Honk If You’re Horny” bumper stick — and pushing it to absolutely insane extremes, “Traffic” has much to admire. It’s certainly unpredictable, given that the sketch ultimately climaxes at a funeral. Plus, there’s a typically gonzo performance by Conner O’Malley, an always welcome presence in other Robinson projects like Detroiters and his excellent episode of Netflix’s The Characters. However … it goes on for a very long time and hearing that much horny car-horn is ultimately pretty grating. But while I don’t find “Traffic” funny at all, I can’t help but admire this show’s willingness to go big even on the thinnest of premises.
28. “Babysitter” (Episode 5)
Here’s another sketch that takes a simple idea — getting caught in a lie at a party, and then haplessly lying some more in order to cover it up — and fearlessly pushes it to surreal levels of extraordinary social inappropriateness. Digging beyond the bland niceties of human interactions to reveal the nightmarish anxiety that lies beneath is basically this show’s M.O., but I Think You Should Leave does it a bit more deftly in other sketches.
27. “Pink Bag” (Episode 2)
This sketch is basically a riff on why whoopee cushions aren’t funny. “Is that the joke? That I farted and nobody barfed?” is a very solid argument.
26. “Bozo” (Episode 6)
Like “Babysitter,” this sketch is about getting caught in a lie, only this time it involves a guy fabricating a black-and-white YouTube video of Bozo The Clown with dubbed over gibberish dialogue about jacking off. What other show presents an opportunity to type such an amazing combination of words?
25. “Lifetime Achievement” (Episode 4)
As a critic, it is my duty to describe I Think You Should Leave as a treatise on modern alienation and our collective shame at not measuring up to cultural ideals about masculinity, status, and wealth. But, honestly, sometimes you just want to see a dog hump a man’s head. Also: How exactly did the writers hit upon a lifetime achievement ceremony honoring Herbie Hancock as the setting for this premise? I’d like to think there were just looking for an excuse to use the line, “That’s why I love Herbie Hancock—he loves to lie.”
24. “Fenton’s Stables & Horse Ranch” (Episode 6)
R.I.P. Shortstack, a miracle of modern horse-breeding too modestly endowed to make it in this world.
23. “New Joe” (Episode 3)
One of the best parts of I Think You Should Leave is how it’s able to get spectacularly weird performances from special guest stars, whether it’s semi-regulars like O’Malley or ringers like comedy legend Fred Willard, who brings his charming middle-American guilelessness to the role of an organist who is way too jolly (and far too prone to smashing dishes) to play a funeral.
22. “Both Ways” (Episode 1)
The most underrated I Think You Should Leave sketch. As the opener of the first episode, it’s like an overture for the rest of the series. Robinson plays an awkward but essentially nice man who would rather almost pull a door off of its hinges than admit that he didn’t realize you could simply push it open. It’s both an extremely silly comedic conceit and a metaphor for the pitfalls of pride. Smart and dumb working in perfect tandem.
21. “Baby Shower” (Episode 6)
Whether this sketch works for you depends on if you find phrases like “Stanzo brand fedoras” and “1,000 plastic meatballs” and “50 black slicked-back hair wigs” funny. I, for one, happen to find them hilarious, as would anyone who would invest too much money in an ill-conceived mob movie.
20. “Christmas Carol” (Episode 4)
Robinson’s Detroiters co-star Sam Richardson makes two appearances in I Think You Should Leave. This is the less memorable one, though that says more about how amazing the other one is. (This is also the lesser of two sketches that reference a skeleton army.) Still, Richardson’s gusto here as a solider from the future who enlists Ebenezer Scrooge to fight an army of “bonies” is infectious.
19. “Wilson’s Toupees” (Episode 2)
The magic of I Think You Should Leave is how bizarre and totally original ideas get stuffed inside of other bizarre and totally original ideas. The grabber in this sketch is something called a Natural Fake Gorilla Attack Hair Removal System — just watch it — but what always makes me laugh the hardest is the idea that a bald man doing a Curly Howard impression in the office represents the height of confidence.
18. “Choking” (Episode 5)
Again, doing anything to avoid embarrassment in a stressful social situation — in this case, stuffing down jalapeño poppers to hide the fact that you’re choking in front of internationally famous polymath Caleb Went — is a go-to conceit for this show. What sells it is Robinson’s underlying deference in the presence of his idol, as well as the gurgling sounds he makes when he refuses medical assistance.
17. “Has This Ever Happened To You?” (Episode 1)
Of all the recurring themes, ideas, and phrases that pop up throughout I Think You Should Leave, is any world more poetic than “mudpie?” Mudpie appears here and in another sketch later on in Episode 1, and it has since become a staple of my least reputable conversations with my friends. Somehow, this synonym for excrement sounds both charming and disgusting. I truly appreciate this show introducing it into my life.
16. “Party House” (Episode 6)
Has Jim Davis seen I Think You Should Leave? To be clear, the man who created Garfield was not actually murdered by a psychotic fan with a fully furnished Garfield house. He’s a 73-year-old cartoonist who continues to live in his home state of Indiana. I wonder if Jim Davis’ Netflix algorithm has recommended this show yet? If it has, Davis would have to watch to the very end of episode six to see himself get referenced. Assuming he’s done that, he would probably have to be a pretty big fan to make it that far. So … maybe he wouldn’t mind? To be on the safe side, let’s make sure to keep Jim Davis from seeing “Party House.”
15. “New Printer” (Episode 5)
The conceit of telling a joke that you think is hilarious and nobody else appreciates goes back at least as far as the George-centric subplot of the “jerk store” episode of Seinfeld. But what makes “New Printer” work is the performance by Patti Harrison, whose desperation over feeling unpopular is as unsettling as it is relatable.
14. “Chunky” (Episode 6)
The minds behind I Think You Should Leave have a thing for creepy guys lurking inside of mascot costumes. The violent game show creature in “Chunky” is reminiscent of the unforgettable Wagu, the fuzzy green creature from Robinson’s episode of The Characters who’s not allowed to touch female audience members at the Pointer Brothers show. Similarly, Chunky doesn’t know how to appropriately insert himself into a Press Your Luck-style game show, opting instead to torture an unlucky contestant played by Andy Samberg.
13. “Laser Spine Specialists” (Episode 3)
Fake commercials are a staple of sketch-comedy shows, and I Think You Should Leave returns to that well time and again. But “Laser Spine Specialists” takes the trope in a completely unexpected direction, winding up at a kind of homage to the coked-out recording studio scenes from Boogie Nights. The commercial’s pathetic protagonist wants to be a pop star, and a sleazy studio manager (played by the reliably bonkers O’Malley) convinces him he can have a hit with “Moon River Rock,” a ditty pitched square in his Q Zone.
12. “Nachos” (Episode 4)
By this show’s usual bizarro world standards, “Nachos” has a relatively straightforward sketch-comedy premise. A guy and girl are on a date, the guy gets mad that his date eating all the meat and cheese on the nachos, he tells the waiter to intervene, and the girl subsequently busts the guy. You could almost imagine “Nachos” as a scene in an Albert Brooks movie. What makes it a prime example of I Think You Should Leave‘s unique sensibility is the look of quiet terror on Robinson’s face when his doomed-to-fail scheme has blown up in his face. When his exaggerated protestations fail to save him (“Whaaat?”), he frantically grasps for air like a man in the process of drowning.
11. “Which Hand?” (Episode 3)
No matter how silly I Think You Should Leave gets, most sketches are grounded in common fears about how those around us, even our loved ones, perceive us. “Does my spouse actually love and respect me?” is about as primal as anxiety can get, and “Which Hand?” exploits it mercilessly in the service of rightly exposing the evil of magicians. Cecily Strong’s performance as the wife of a man who is gently mocked during a magic show really makes this sketch work. She’s very funny, but she plays it straight, like she’s starring in an Ingmar Bergman marriage drama.
10. “River Mountain High” (Episode 4)
Yes, the parody of a basic cable teen drama is basically perfect. But what makes me love “River Mountain High” is TC Topps’ TC Tuggers, “the only shirt with a dope tugging knob.” Am I crazy to think that TC Tuggers is actually an amazing idea? I would never wear it ironically on a bar crawl, like a Snuggie. Nor do I care that it doesn’t come in other styles. I have ruined plenty of shirts by pulling them of my body. Like Principal S., I don’t think TC Tuggers is a joke at all. Don’t joke about TC Tuggers.
9. “The Day That Robert Palins Murdered Me” (Episode 5)
Incredibly, Walk Hard did not make it illegal for biopics to run through the paces of every stock biopic scene. Hopefully, “The Day That Robert Palins Murdered Me” will finish the job of killing off at least one cliché of the genre — the audition scene, in which “a whole new sound” is spontaneously invented. In this case, the course of rock history is almost changed by an improvised ditty about the oncoming skeleton war. Except the record producers prefer the parts that don’t involve skeletons using worms and bones for money.
8. “Brooks Brothers” (Episode 5)
Hey, you wanna read political subtext into I Think You Should Leave? I didn’t think so. However, one could interpret this sketch about a guy in a hot dog suit trying to deny that he crashed a hot dog-shaped car into a clothing store window as a metaphor for the current administration. Or you could just enjoy watching Tim Robinson steal expensive suits while randomly (Random!) yelling the names of various porn websites.
7. “Instagram” (Episode 1)
Just when you think that we’ve reached the end of innovative vulgarity, along comes “Instagram,” one of the most quotable of all I Think You Should Leave sketches.
Let’s do a sub-ranking of the best lines just from this sketch:
4. “No coffin please — just wet, wet mud!”
3. “Sunday funday with these pig dicks!”
2. “Total tuna cans!”
1. “Hog shit snarfing contest!”
6. “Biker Guy” (Episode 2)
I love it when I Think You Should Leave is unexpectedly sweet. So much of the humor is based on hostile reactions to impossible social situations. With “Biker Guy,” it’s nice to just sit back and watch a motorcycle dude from another planet marvel at how a car is like two motorcycles with a house in the middle.
5. “Gift Receipt” (Episode 1)
At the end of I Think You Should Leave‘s first episode, the show plays the expectations of the audience against it with “Gift Receipt.” The set up is that Tim Robinson is once again an insecure guy who gets out of line at a party. But instead of making him the butt of the joke, “Gift Receipt” slowly turns the tables on the charming and seemingly reasonable Steven Yuen, who might have in fact poisoned his friend with (here’s that word again) mudpie. All the while, you’re still on Yuen’s side, given that Robinson seems more and more insane. (“I eat paper all the time!”) But by the end, insanity has soundly defeated reason and the levelheaded conservation of paper.
4. “The Man” (Episode 2)
If it were possible to win an Emmy for just a couple of minutes of screen time, Will Forte would be highly deserving for what he does in “The Man.” For a show distinguished by numerous outstanding guest spots, Forte is arguably the best of the bunch. Playing an homage to pretty much every creepy old guy who’s ever shown up in a Wes Craven or John Carpenter film, Forte is a man set on getting revenge upon the crying baby who ruined his trip to London in 1982. He tracks down the adult baby, and commits to crying next to him for the duration of the trip. But just when it appears that his dastardly plan has succeeded, he’s moved to a different seat. But surely this has merely set up the inevitable franchise of “The Man” horror sketches.
3. “Game Night” (Episode 3)
Forte’s closest rival in the annals of I Think You Should Leave guests is Tim Heidecker, who inhabits the ponytailed jazz fan Howie with uncommon attention to detail. Given how hilarious Heidecker is, it’s amazing how nothing that he says remotely resembles a joke. So much of “Game Night” hinges on how Heidecker smugly recounts his obscure (and made-up) favorites, including immortals like Roy Donk (“The King of the Tuk Tuk Sound”), Mookie Kramer and the Eight Balls, and Paul Bufano. Yes, (head slap) Paul Bufano!
2. “Baby of the Year” (Episode 1)
Nothing quite distills what makes I Think You Should Leave so magical and strange and completely its own thing than a baby pageant where an audience member screams, “I hope you f*cking die!” at a toddler. Then there’s the “In Memoriam” segment, where we learn that Little Jeffy Jeremy died at age 96 from having his throat slashed. But no matter the aggressive awfulness of bad-boy baby Bart Harley Jarvis, the MVP of “Baby of the Year” is Richardson, who finally says “trash it” after a failed assassination attempt on Jarvis.
1. “Focus Group” (Episode 3)
Here it is, the platonic ideal of a I Think You Should Leave sketch — a quick snapshot that starts in the real world and quickly descends into utter absurdity, with a perfectly deranged performance at the center by Cuban actor and comedian Ruben Rabasa. He’s the reason why “Focus Group” has become the single most potent meme-generator from the show. Rabasa is a bottle-flipping maniac obsessed with a car whose steering wheel won’t come flying off your hand, a concept with its own sense of logic that slowly takes over everyone except “teacher’s pet” Paul, a man who actually admits that he loves his mother-in-law. It’s so simple and yet so, so rewatchable.