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 and Steve Higgins
Stars Will Ferrell
Darrell Hammond
Six episodes:
Jimmy Fallon
Norm Macdonald
Two episodes:
Kenan Thompson
One episode each:
Alec Baldwin
Drew Barrymore
Jim Carrey
David Duchovny
Dean Edwards
Ana Gasteyer
John Goodman
Tom Hanks
Taran Killam
Lucy Liu
Tobey Maguire
Kate McKinnon
Chris Parnell
Matthew Perry
Amy Poehler
Winona Ryder
Reese Witherspoon
Horatio Sanz
Molly Shannon
Martin Short
Ben Stiller
Alex Trebek (Cameo)
Kristen Wiig
Total episodes: 15
Timeline: 1996–2015

Celebrity Jeopardy! is a series of 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! that features competition between notable individuals with all winnings going towards charitable organizations, and significant reductions to the game's level of difficulty. Fifteen sketches aired between December 1996 and February 2015: 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. The sketch was revived for the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special on February 15, 2015.

Ferrell portrays Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. Darrell Hammond also appeared in each sketch, usually 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 as Burt Reynolds in six sketches. Jimmy Fallon also 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]

Sketch[edit]

The sketch begins at the start of the Double Jeopardy! round. Trebek welcomes the audience, introduces the celebrity contestants, and reveals their scores, which are either $0, a negative score, or a very low positive score. Many times, the contestants refuse or fail to select an appropriate category and dollar value from the game board, grinding the game to a halt and often requiring Trebek to choose one himself. As the celebrities' growing ineptitude became apparent, the subject matter used for categories shifted from normal topics (such as "Movies" and "Popular Music") to more childish topics, categories with titles giving not-so-subtle hints as to the correct response without reading the clues (such as "Famous Kareem Abdul-Jabbars"), and those requiring no responses whatsoever. Recurring Jeopardy! category "Potent Potables" appears in every sketch but is never selected, and when it finally is chosen, it results in an inadvertently offensive pre-recorded Video Daily Double involving Bill Cosby.

Instead of buzzing in with the correct questions, contestants either give horribly incorrect responses or say things that have nothing to do with the game, frustrating Trebek, who does nothing to hide his contempt for the celebrities' performance. Trebek's mood is also exacerbated by Connery's pranks and antics, which include making sexual jokes at Trebek's expense, deliberately misreading or vandalizing the categories on the board to turn them into sexually suggestive phrases (such as "Catch These Men", a category about people on the FBI's Most Wanted list, which he misreads as "Catch the Semen"), and implying that he has had sexual relations with the host's mother.

Trebek eventually grows exasperated with his inability to conduct the show and cuts it short by moving to Final Jeopardy!. He either discards the scripted category in favor of a much easier task (such as having the celebrities write and respond to their own clue), or announces a childishly simple category. Even though it appears impossible for the celebrities to fail, they invariably do. Connery occasionally provides a correct response, yet uses his wager to transform the text into a rude phrase. Sometimes Connery appears to have sympathy for Trebek until the wager reveal, which happens to be a rude drawing at Trebek's expense; on an earlier sketch, this is also performed by John Travolta, who in response to a clue asking the celebrities to name their favorite food, responds with "miso", an actual soup, yet when Trebek asks for the wager, 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 interested in the game. The contestants, who are either unaware of what the game is or uninterested in playing, will ramble incoherently, deliver irrelevant monologues, or openly antagonize the host. Whenever a contestant takes the game seriously, he/she proves utterly incapable of supplying the correct question. No contestant ever offers a correct response; however, two come close: Phil Donahue and Tony Bennett, who in their respective sketches, offer descriptions for the holiday of Christmas and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. When Reynolds, who had initially been the celebrity who appeared on each episode, makes his return appearances, he misreads categories in the same manner as Connery and insists that he be addressed as "Turd Ferguson" because he finds that name funny.

At the end of almost every sketch, 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 Connery. In one of his sketches, Reynolds is declared an unquestioned winner, even though he wins simply because he has the least amount of negative money, rather than actually earning a victory.[6] When Trebek ends the show, he either states that money will not be awarded to charity or announces 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 Sean Connery Sandler is the first SNL cast member to be parodied.
6 March 20, 1999 S24:E16 Nicolas Cage Calista Flockhart
7 October 23, 1999 S25:E03 French Stewart Burt Reynolds Only episode with the four people (Ferrell, Fallon, Macdonald, Hammond) who appeared more than once. Reynolds starts with the highest score on any of the sketches, $14. Macdonald, now hosting, reprising his role as Reynolds.
8 April 15, 2000 S25:E17 Sean Connery Keanu Reeves Hilary Swank Ricky Martin (Chris Kattan) appears in the Video Daily Double while Chad Lowe (Chris Parnell) appears in the audience.
9 December 16, 2000 S26:E08 Robin Williams Catherine Zeta-Jones Sean Connery
10 February 8, 2001 S26:Special Ozzy Osbourne Martha Stewart SNL Thursday Night Live prime-time special. Writing on the sketch originally began the week before it aired.[7]
11 September 29, 2001 S27:E01 Chris Tucker Anne Heche The real Alex Trebek shaved off his mustache starting with Jeopardy! episodes airing the previous week, but Ferrell's version of Trebek maintained the mustache.
12 May 18, 2002 S27:E20 Dave Matthews Björk Rock & Roll Edition; Connery had recorded an album of filthy limericks in order to be eligible. The real Trebek made a cameo appearance.[1] The 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 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. Hanks appeared as himself. Hammond's last episode as a regular cast member.
15 February 15, 2015 40th Anniversary
Special
Sean Connery Justin Bieber Tony Bennett Reynolds (who arrives by "driving" his podium), Christoph Waltz (Taran Killam) and Matthew McConaughey (Jim Carrey) appear in the middle of the sketch, replacing Bieber and Bennett, respectively. Trebek quickly ends the game without advancing to Final Jeopardy! after a Video Daily Double under Potent Potables features footage of Bill Cosby (Kenan Thompson); in light of Cosby's sexual assault allegations, Trebek apologizes and clarifies that it was filmed in June.

Cast[edit]

SNL cast members[edit]

Will Ferrell plays 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 fifteen sketches included the episode's host, usually as a contestant. The tenth sketch was one of two not to feature a host, as it was part of an SNL primetime special that did not feature a guest host. The 40th anniversary special also did not have a 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 SNL before that sketch could be written.[8]

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]

Jeopardy! host 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.[10] On several occasions, Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches have been referenced during actual Jeopardy! episodes:

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 (in the first sketch, wherein "'S' Words" is a category, Connery misreads it as "Swords").[11] 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".[12] In the November 8 and 16, 2006 Celebrity Jeopardy! episodes, categories included "Surprise Me, Trebek!" and "Answers That Start With 'Feb'", respectively (the latter of which is a reference to the category "Months That Start With 'Feb'" from the sketch).[4][5] Notably, Martin Short competed on the November 17th episode of that year, becoming the only person to compete on both the real and SNL versions of Celebrity Jeopardy! 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 Word That Rhymes With Star".[2]

A May 15, 2015 Celebrity Jeopardy! featured "The Pen is Mightier", a category about famous authors and their books (which was misread in a Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch as "The Penis Mightier"[13] by Connery, who thought it was a penis enlargement product); and on September 16, 2015, a contestant who did not know the actual answer jokingly guessed "The Love Ballad of Turd Ferguson" during Final Jeopardy![14]

Saturday Night Live continues to include Jeopardy! parodies; a recurring such parody introduced in season 39 is Black Jeopardy!, which reimagines the show as one targeted toward African-Americans. The same Jeopardy! set is used.

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. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Show 3398 (Michael McKean vs. Camryn Manheim vs. Richard Kind)". Jeopardy!. May 19, 1999. Syndicated. 
  12. ^ "Show 5032 (Mark Edelson vs. Ryan McMillen vs. Priya Bhatia Yerasi)". Jeopardy!. June 27, 2006. Syndicated. 
  13. ^ "'Penis Mightier' makes a comeback, this time on the real 'Celebrity Jeopardy!'". Mashable. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  14. ^ France, Lisa Respers (2015-09-17). "'Turd Ferguson' makes it to real 'Jeopardy'". cnn.com. CNN. Retrieved 2015-09-17. 

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