Celebrity Jeopardy! was a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live. It parodies the Celebrity Jeopardy! edition of the television game show Jeopardy! where celebrities compete and the game's level of difficulty is significantly reduced. Thirteen sketches have been aired to date, two per season from 1996 to 2002, and one in 2005.
Will Ferrell appeared as host Alex Trebek in all thirteen sketches. Darrell Hammond also appeared in each sketch, eleven as Sean Connery. Norm Macdonald appeared in four sketches, all as Burt Reynolds. Jimmy Fallon appeared in six sketches and Dean Edwards appeared in two; neither playing the same character twice.
On the television special Saturday Night Live in the '90s: Pop Culture Nation
, Norm Macdonald
revealed that he created the sketch purely as an excuse to do his Burt Reynolds impersonation. Macdonald also stated 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 answers being even dumber than Macdonald's. However, Macdonald was fired from Saturday Night Live
before that sketch could be written.
Under the guise of a run-of-the-mill 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!. The host
, Alex Trebek, welcomes the audience and introduces the celebrity contestants, along with their current scores. These are usually deep in the negative, zero (because they've never buzzed in), or a very low positive score, such as $14. Both the host and contestants are played as caricatures
of their real-life personalities. Trebek, known to strictly enforce the rules, is the beleaguered straight man
. He is generally the only person on stage interested in engaging in a game of Jeopardy!
The contestants, who often appear either unaware of what the game is or uninterested in playing it, either ramble incoherently, deliver irrelevant monologues, or openly antagonize
the host. Whenever a contestant takes the game seriously, he or she proves utterly incapable of answering any of the questions correctly. In thirteen sketches, no contestant ever buzzes in and gives a correct response. Meanwhile, Trebek makes little or no effort to hide his contempt for the celebrities’ stupidity, and in return he is bombarded with sophomoric insults from Sean Connery.
In order for a game of Jeopardy! to progress, the contestants select clues, arranged in a grid by category and point value, so Trebek can give them. Many times, the celebrities refuse or fail to select a clue, grinding the pace of the game to a halt. Often, Trebek violates the rules and selects the category himself. At first, the show employed reasonable categories such as "Movies" and "Popular Music," but as the celebrities’ ineptitude grew more apparent, the categories became more and more childish. Many category names, such as "Colors that end in 'urple,'" suggest that the contestants could infer the correct responses before hearing the clues, and categories such as "Automatic Points" do not even require responses. Jeopardy! standby "Potent Potables," a category about alcoholic beverages, is always offered but never selected by Trebek or a contestant. Categories that do not fit this profile are often misunderstood by the celebrities and transformed by one of the contestants (almost always Connery) into sexually suggestive phrases. For example, he misreads "Therapists" as "The Rapists", "An Album Cover" as "Anal Bum Cover", "Japan US Relations" as "Jap Anus Relations" and "The Pen Is Mightier" as "The Penis Mightier". In addition, Sean Connery on three occasions modifies the board with a marker, changing "I have a Chardonnay" as " I Have a Hard On" and "Richard Nixon" to "Hard On", and once sticks a piece of paper reading "Things Trebek Sucks" over the actual category entitled "Potpourri".
Trebek eventually grows exasperated with his inability to conduct the show and cuts it short by moving to the Final Jeopardy! round. Often, he discards the scripted category and question in favor of something much easier, such as asking the contestants to write down their own question and answer it, or make any mark whatsoever to earn a correct answer. Sometimes, the show itself delivers a childishly simple category such as "First Grade Math" or "Horsies". Despite constructing scenarios wherein it appears impossible for the celebrities to fail, they invariably do. Almost every sketch features someone writing absolutely nothing for their answer, and sometimes their wager as well. On rare occasions, contestants answer Final Jeopardy! correctly, but such success is never accompanied by an appropriate wager, rendering the whole effort pointless. Connery occasionally provides a correct answer but uses his wager to transform the text into something rude. He wrote 'Below' on his paper, and wagered 'Me'; his paper read 'Below Me'. Also, when Trebek celebrated Connery’s answer of "indoors" to the question "Where are you right now?", the usual state of disappointment returned when Connery's wager revealed that his screen actually read "I ♥ BOOBS". Later on, Trebek became aware of this strategy and after Connery wrote "0+0-0=0" as his response to "Write a math problem a first grader would know", Trebek sought to ignore the wager in order to end the show with, at long last, a winner. Connery insisted otherwise, and Trebek again left dejected because Connery’s screen read "P+O-O=P". These instances and others indicate a shift in Connery’s character: first portrayed as stupid and clueless, Connery eventually demonstrated that he is aware of the nature of the show and capable of answering the questions, but prefers making rude jokes and frustrating Trebek to attempting to win the game.
Initially, Burt Reynolds had been the celebrity who appeared on each episode, and there are some indications that he was to develop an antagonistic relationship with the host as well. When Reynolds appears for the last time on the sketch, he misreads categories in the way Connery does and insists that he be addressed as "Turd Ferguson" because "it's a funny name."
End of the sketch
The sketch was initially retired on Will Ferrell’s departure from the SNL
cast in 2002, but it returned for another appearance on May 14
, when Ferrell hosted for the first time since leaving as a regular. The second-to-last sketch featured the real Alex Trebek in a cameo appearance.
Relationship with the real Jeopardy!
- On the September 5, 2001 episode of Jeopardy!, all the Double Jeopardy! categories were inspired by the sketch. They were “Sean Connery,” “Surprise Me, Trebek!”, “Therapists,” “Things You Shouldn’t Put in Your Mouth,” “The Number After 2,” and “Rhymes With ‘Dog’”.
- On the June 27, 2006 episode of Jeopardy!, the first category of the second round was “Japan-U.S. Relations,” one of the many categories misunderstood or misrepresented by the Connery character (he cited it as "Jap Anus Relations").
- In the 2006 Celebrity Jeopardy! tournament, categories included "Surprise Me, Trebek!" and "Answers That Start With 'Feb'", which both reference the sketch.
- On the September 24, 2008 edition, one of the categories in the Jeopardy round was "Starts with Feb, Trebek!", of which contestant Brian Levinson did his version of Sean Connery's voice in asking for the category, and Trebek said "You can keep doing it [in Connery's] voice." Four days later, another SNL inspired category - "Months That End in 'Ber', Trebek" - was one of the first round categories.
- While the real-life Alex Trebek shaved his mustache in 2001, Ferrell’s Trebek character retained it.
- The board on the Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches features seven categories of four answers each, different from the real Jeopardy! board of six categories with five answers each. Also, when the real Jeopardy! doubled its dollar amounts in 2001, the board in the sketches retained the original 1984-2000 cash setup.
(Original airdate, celebrity contestants portrayed)
- December 7, 1996 - Sean Connery, Burt Reynolds, Jerry Lewis
- May 10, 1997 - Phil Donahue, Burt Reynolds, Marlon Brando
- October 4, 1997 - John Travolta, Burt Reynolds, Michael Keaton
- May 9, 1998 - Sean Connery, Minnie Driver, Jeff Goldblum
- October 24, 1998 - Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler, Sean Connery
- March 20, 1999 - Nicolas Cage, Calista Flockhart, Sean Connery
- October 23, 1999 - French Stewart, Burt Reynolds/"Turd Ferguson", Sean Connery
- April 15, 2000 - Sean Connery, Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank
- December 16, 2000 - Robin Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sean Connery
- February 8, 2001 (SNL Prime-time extra II) - Ozzy Osbourne, Martha Stewart, Sean Connery
- September 29, 2001 - Chris Tucker, Anne Heche, Sean Connery
- May 18, 2002 - Dave Matthews, Björk, Sean Connery
- May 14, 2005 - Bill Cosby, Sharon Osbourne, Sean Connery
SNL cast members
A typical Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch featured three cast members, two as contestants and Will Ferrell as Trebek, and 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, Martha Stewart featured cast members in all four roles.
Twelve of the thirteen sketches included the episode’s host, usually as a contestant. Celebrity Jeopardy number 10 is the only one to not feature a host in it as it was part of an SNL primetime special that did not feature a guest host. Both Will Ferrell and Norm Macdonald were previous cast members that reprised their Celebrity Jeopardy! role upon their return.
- Chris Kattan played singer Ricky Martin, who gives a Video Daily Double Clue in the Connery/Swank/Reeves episode.
- In the same sketch, Chris Parnell played Hilary Swank’s then-husband Chad Lowe. He was seen crying in the audience while Swank gave an acceptance speech, a parody of her speech at the 72nd Academy Awards where she famously forgot to mention him.
- In the Connery/Matthews/Bjork episode, Dean Edwards played Boyd Tinsley, the violinist for Dave Matthews Band. He spontaneously appeared to accompany Matthews when he buzzed in and performed “Ants Marching” as his response to one of the show’s questions.
- Alex Trebek appeared as himself in that same episode. He came out at the conclusion of the sketch and gave the Trebek character a send-off on Ferrell’s last show as a cast member.