Celebrity Jeopardy! (Saturday Night Live)

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Celebrity Jeopardy!
Saturday Night Live sketch
Will Ferrell (as Alex Trebek) and Darrell Hammond (as Sean Connery).
Written by Norm Macdonald
Stars Will Ferrell
Darrell Hammond
Six episodes:
Jimmy Fallon
Five episodes:
Norm Macdonald
One episode each:
Drew Barrymore
David Duchovny
Dean Edwards
Ana Gasteyer
John Goodman
Tom Hanks
Lucy Liu
Tobey Maguire
Matthew Perry
Amy Poehler
Winona Ryder
Horatio Sanz
Molly Shannon
Martin Short
Ben Stiller
Kenan Thompson
Kristen Wiig
Reese Witherspoon
Total episodes: 14
Timeline: 1996–2009

Celebrity Jeopardy! are sketches that aired regularly on the television comedy/variety show Saturday Night Live between 1996 and 2002, the years when Will Ferrell was a cast member. It parodies the same-named special event on the television quiz show Jeopardy! which features competition between notable individuals with all winnings going towards charitable organizations, and significant reductions to the game's level of difficulty. Fourteen sketches aired between December 1996 and May 2009: two sketches per season from 1996 to 2002, when Ferrell was a regular on the show; and one each in 2005 and 2009, when Ferrell returned to the show as host. All fourteen sketches took place on reproductions of the 1996-2002 Jeopardy! set, even though the sets changed on real Jeopardy!

Ferrell appeared in all fourteen sketches, portraying host Alex Trebek. Darrell Hammond also appeared in each sketch, twelve times portraying Sean Connery, in an impersonation that "often questions Trebek's sexuality and sometimes implies that he has known Trebek's mother in a carnal sense."[1] Norm Macdonald appeared in five sketches, all as Burt Reynolds. Jimmy Fallon appeared six times, each time portraying a different character.

On several occasions, Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches have been referenced during actual episodes of Jeopardy![2][3][4][5]

The sketch[edit]

Under the guise of a celebrity game show wherein celebrity contestants appear and donate their winnings to charity, the sketches usually begin at the start of the second round of Jeopardy!, called Double Jeopardy! Trebek welcomes the audience, while sometimes apologizing for any inappropriate acts which the celebrities have performed in the game's first round (e.g. "Before we begin the Double Jeopardy! round, I'd like to ask our contestants, once again, please refrain from using ethnic slurs"), and introduces the celebrity contestants, along with their current scores, which are revealed to be either $0, a negative score, or a very low positive score.

The rules of Jeopardy!, similar to the original game show, require that a contestant select a category and a dollar value from the game board in order for the game to proceed. But many times, the celebrity contestants on the SNL sketches will refuse or fail to select a clue, grinding the game to a halt. Often, Trebek violates the rules by making the selection himself. The sketch originally used such reasonable categories as "Celebrities," "Movies," and "Popular Music," but as the celebrities' ineptitude grew more apparent the categories became more childish, even including categories whose titles suggest that the contestants will be able to infer the correct response without even reading the clues, such as "Colors that End in 'Urple'," "States that Begin with 'Californ'," "Famous 'Kareem Abdul-Jabbars'," "Black Comedians Named 'Whoopi'," and "Drummers Named 'Ringo'," and categories that do not require any responses whatsoever, such as "Don't Do Anything" (where all three contestants are required to remain motionless in order to receive money), "I Have a Chardonnay" (where the contestant automatically gets the points and Trebek would get to have a glass of wine), and "Automatic Points" (where a contestant is "automatically awarded the points" just for choosing a dollar value from the category). "Potent Potables", a recurring category on the actual Jeopardy! show, appears in every sketch but is never selected.

Categories are often misunderstood by the celebrities and transformed by one of the contestants (almost always Connery) into sexually suggestive phrases (i.e., misreading "Catch These Men," a category about people on the FBI's Most Wanted list, as "Catch the Semen;" "Horsemen" as "Whore Semen;" "A Petit Dejeuner," a category about French phrases, as "Ape Tit [...];" "The Pen Is Mightier," a category about quotes from famous authors, as "[...] Penis Mightier;", and "An Album Cover" as "Anal Bum Cover" etc.). Connery would also appear to change categories, such as crossing off letters in the category "I Have a Chardonnay" to make it read "I Have a hardon," and, on one occasion, covered up an entire category with a piece of paper with a new one on there (specifically, "Potpourri" was covered up by "Things Trebek Sucks").

Trebek eventually grows exasperated with his inability to conduct the show, and cuts it short by moving to the Final Jeopardy! Round. Sometimes, he discards the scripted category; when this happens, the scripted category is usually not revealed (although at times, if conducive to another contestant's character, they will, as in the category "Famous Mothers"). When Trebek discards a category, he moves in favor of a much easier task; for instance, he will ask the celebrity contestants to write their own clue and respond to it, or make any mark whatsoever to earn a correct response. Sometimes, a childishly simple category is announced, such as "First Grade Math" or "Horsies." Despite constructing scenarios wherein it appears impossible for the celebrities to fail, they invariably do. On rare occasions, contestants respond correctly to Final Jeopardy! clues, but such success is never accompanied by an appropriate wager, rendering the whole effort pointless. Connery occasionally provides the correct response, but uses his wager to transform the text into a rude phrase. For instance, when Trebek asks the contestants to write a number to earn a correct response, Connery writes "V" for his response, which Trebek acknowledges as correct since "V" is the Roman numeral for 5, but Connery reveals "SucK it, Trebek" for the wager (the "V" forming the top of the "K"). In some occasions, Connery appears to have sympathy for Trebek until the wager reveal, which happens to be a rude drawing at Trebek's expense. However, Connery wasn't the only contestant to perform this. In response to a Final Jeopardy! question from one of the earlier sketches, which has each of the contestants name their favorite food, John Travolta responds "miso," surprising Trebek who says that miso is indeed a soup; yet when he asks for the wager, Travolta reveals it to be "horny," which is read as "me so horny."

Trebek is the beleaguered straight man, and is generally the only person on stage who is interested in playing the game. The contestants, who often appear either unaware of what the game is or uninterested in playing it, will either ramble incoherently, deliver irrelevant monologues, or openly antagonize the host. Whenever a contestant takes the game seriously, he/she proves utterly incapable of supplying a correct response. In all fourteen sketches, no contestant ever buzzes in with a correct response; Phil Donahue in the second sketch came closest, answering "This December 25th holiday involves decorating a tree and opening presents." with a vivid description of a Christmas morning scene but going out of his way to never actually say the word "Christmas". Meanwhile, Trebek makes little to no effort to hide his contempt for the celebrities' stupidity, and in return, is bombarded with sophomoric insults from Sean Connery. Initially, Burt Reynolds had been the celebrity who appeared on each episode. When Reynolds appears for the last time on the sketch, he misreads categories in the same way as Connery, and insists that he be addressed as "Turd Ferguson" because, as he states, "it's a funny name."

At the end of almost every sketch (with one exception),[6] all three celebrities have scores in the negative thousands of dollars, and in most cases, a humorous, often sexual, Final Jeopardy! punchline is delivered by Hammond's Sean Connery character.

Trebek ends the show, many times by announcing that money will not be awarded to charity or by declaring his intention to resign or commit suicide.

Episodes[edit]

# Original airdate Episode Celebrities impersonated Notes
1 December 7, 1996 S22:E08 Sean Connery Burt Reynolds Jerry Lewis
2 May 10, 1997 S22:E19 Phil Donahue Marlon Brando
3 October 4, 1997 S23:E02 John Travolta Michael Keaton
4 May 9, 1998 S23:E22 Sean Connery Minnie Driver Jeff Goldblum
5 October 24, 1998 S24:E04 Tom Cruise Adam Sandler Sandler is the only SNL cast member to be parodied.
6 March 20, 1999 S24:E16 Nicolas Cage Calista Flockhart
7 October 23, 1999 S25:E03 Burt Reynolds French Stewart Only episode with the four people (Ferrell, Hammond, Fallon, Macdonald) who appeared more than once. Reynolds starts with the highest score on any of the sketches, $14.
8 April 15, 2000 S25:E17 Keanu Reeves Hilary Swank Ricky Martin (Chris Kattan) appears in the Video Daily Double. Swank was the only contestant to be played by a person of the opposite gender.
9 December 16, 2000 S26:E08 Robin Williams Catherine Zeta-Jones
10 February 8, 2001 S26:Special Ozzy Osbourne Martha Stewart SNL Prime-time Extra 2. Writing on the sketch originally began the week before it aired.[7]
11 September 29, 2001 S27:E01 Chris Tucker Anne Heche
12 May 18, 2002 S27:E20 Dave Matthews Björk Rock & Roll Edition; Connery had recorded an album of filthy limericks "just so I'd be eligible". The real Alex Trebek made a cameo appearance,[1] and last episode with Ferrell as a regular cast member
13 May 14, 2005 S30:E19 Bill Cosby Sharon Osbourne Ferrell, now hosting, reprising his role as Trebek
14 May 16, 2009 S34:E22 Kathie Lee Gifford Tom Hanks A fourth podium for Burt Reynolds appears for only one round, then he and his podium mysteriously vanish while no one is paying attention, only to re-appear at the end of the sketch. Tom Hanks appeared as himself. Darrell Hammond's last episode as a regular cast member.

Cast[edit]

SNL cast members[edit]

Will Ferrell played Alex Trebek in the skits.

A typical Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch featured three cast members (two as contestants and Ferrell as Trebek) plus that week’s host as a third contestant. The thirteenth edition of the sketch (Cosby, Sharon Osbourne, Connery) featured three members of the SNL cast as the three contestants and Ferrell, now hosting, reprising his role as Trebek. The episode with Connery, Ozzy Osbourne, and Martha Stewart featured cast members in all four roles.

SNL hosts[edit]

Thirteen of the fourteen sketches included the episode's host, usually as a contestant. The tenth sketch was the only one not to feature a host, as it was part of an SNL primetime special that did not feature a guest host. Both Ferrell and Macdonald were previous cast members who reprised their Celebrity Jeopardy! role upon their return.

Background[edit]

During the May 2007 special Saturday Night Live in the '90s: Pop Culture Nation, Norm Macdonald said he created the Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch purely as an excuse to do his Burt Reynolds impersonation. Macdonald also claims that Reynolds is a fan of the sketch and that there were talks to do a sketch where the real Reynolds would crash the game and punch out Macdonald. Reynolds would then play the remainder of the game, with his responses being even dumber than Macdonald's. However, Macdonald was fired from Saturday Night Live before that sketch could be written.[8]

Both the host and contestants are played as caricatures of their real life personalities. Hammond said that, while his initial Connery impression was as accurate as possible, it would eventually morph into a "bastardization" of the actor, which audiences—and Hammond himself—found far more entertaining.[9] Though Trebek shaved his trademark mustache in 2001, Ferrell retained it as long as he played the character, even in the twelfth sketch—Ferrell's last episode as a cast member—when a clean-shaven real Trebek made a cameo at the end.

Critical reactions[edit]

Critical responses to the sketches have been positive. In 2008, Ferrell's portrayal of Trebek was #3 in IGN's "Top 15 Will Ferrell characters".[1]

Impact[edit]

On several occasions, Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches have been referenced during actual Jeopardy! shows.

In the May 19, 1999 Celebrity Jeopardy! episode, the Jeopardy! round featured the category "'S' Words", and the Double Jeopardy! round featured "Swords" in the same column (Connery misread "'S' words" as "Swords").[10] During the September 5, 2001 episode, the Double Jeopardy! categories were "Sean Connery", "Surprise Me, Trebek!", "Therapists" (misread by Connery as "The Rapists"), "Things You Shouldn't Put in Your Mouth", "The Number After 2", and "Rhymes With 'Dog'".[3]

The June 27, 2006 show featured the category "Japan-U.S. Relations", which had been misread by Connery as "Jap Anus Relations".[11] In the 2006 Celebrity Jeopardy! tournament, categories included "Surprise Me, Trebek!" and "Months That Start With 'Feb'".[4][5] On the November 23, 2009 show, the categories in the Jeopardy! round were "SNL Celebrity Jeopardy!", "States That End In Hampshire", "What Color Is Green?", "Current Black Presidents", "Sounds That Kitties Make", and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Blank".[2]

Alex Trebek has mentioned his admiration for Will Ferrell's impression of him in interviews. Trebek also stated that during every taping of the show, he is asked by one of the audience members if he liked Ferrell's impression, and always replies that he does.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Phil Pirrello, Scott Collura (February 28, 2008). Top 15 Will Ferrell Characters. IGN.
  2. ^ a b "Show 5796 (Ben Davis vs. Cathy Sorge vs. Patrick Pence)". Jeopardy!. November 23, 2009. Syndicated.
  3. ^ a b "Show 3908 (Bernard Pena vs. Kim Taylor vs. Ramsey Campbell)". Jeopardy!. September 5, 2001. Syndicated.
  4. ^ a b "Show 5098 (Regis Philbin vs. Nancy Grace vs. Carson Kressley)". Jeopardy!. November 8, 2006. Syndicated.
  5. ^ a b "Show 5104 (Dana Delany vs. Brian Stokes Mitchell vs. Drew Lachey)". Jeopardy!. November 16, 2006. Syndicated.
  6. ^ On the second Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch, from the SNL episode aired on May 10, 1997, Trebek declared Burt Reynolds the winner and announced that a $10,000 check would be awarded to Reynolds' charity, the Palm Beach Golf & Tennis Resort. Please see this transcript
  7. ^ Levin, Gary (February 8, 2001). This week, 'SNL' will be twice as busy Writers could use some political help. USA Today. Accessed from June 1, 2013.
  8. ^ Layser, Anthony (May 4, 2007). How Saturday Night Live Hit a High in the '90s. TV Guide.
  9. ^ Tom Shales, James Andrew Miller. Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. 2002.
  10. ^ "Show 3398 (Michael McKean vs. Camryn Manheim vs. Richard Kind)". Jeopardy!. May 19, 1999. Syndicated.
  11. ^ "Show 5032 (Mark Edelson vs. Ryan McMillen vs. Priya Bhatia Yerasi)". Jeopardy!. June 27, 2006. Syndicated.
  12. ^ Zakarin, Jordan (May 21, 2012). "'Jeopardy!' Host Alex Trebek on Will Ferrell's 'SNL' Impression, Retirement and Another Dream Job". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 25, 2012.