Solving the Mystery Behind SNL’s Celebrity Jeopardy
We’re practically geniuses when it comes to most SNL Celebrity Jeopardy categories. If it’s “Foods That End in Amburger,” we’ve got you covered. “Drummers Named Ringo”? No sweat. But in the category of “This Person Came Up With The Celebrity Jeopardy Sketch,” the answers aren’t so easy.
Give the answer to Jimmy Fallon sidekick and one-time SNL writer Steve Higgins -- “This Person Came Up With the Celebrity Jeopardy Sketch” -- and he’d likely answer “Who is my wife?”
“She said to me, ‘You should write a ‘Celebrity Jeopardy!’ sketch, because these celebrities don’t know that much,” Higgins told Variety in 2020. Because so many cast members did killer celeb impersonations, Higgins thought it was a great idea, so he took it to fellow writer Adam McKay and they were off to the races.
Or maybe it happened another way? Give Burt Reynolds impersonator Norm Macdonald the same answer -- “This Person Came Up With the Celebrity Jeopardy Sketch” -- and he would have answered, “Who is me?”
In Turd Ferguson’s … er, Norm’s version of the story, he based the sketch on an old SCTV parody called Half-Wits.
The similarities are pretty obvious -- both game shows are hosted by Canadian legend Alex Trebek (‘Alex Trebel’ in early SCTV versions, then later they said “What the heck, we’ll call him ‘Trebek’”). Both featured impossibly stupid game show contestants who tried Trebek’s patience with their idiocy. Norm loved Half Wits, but since it had been done, he didn’t feel right swiping the concept -- until SCTV (and Half Wits) performer Martin Short hosted SNL. Norm asked Short who wrote the original sketch -- the answer was Eugene Levy.
“So I phoned Eugene Levy,” says Norm. “I told him the whole sketch. I said how much I loved the first one. I asked for permission, and he was kind enough to give it.”
Eugene Levy, if you’re reading this, could you please settle this mystery once and for all?
What’s no mystery is that the real Alex Trebek, the man whose reputation was regularly sullied by Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery, was a fan.
“Trebek told Lorne that he loved the sketch,” says Higgins. “I was always very happy about that. That would have been terrible, if he’d thought it was anything but love. You really can’t parody something if you don’t love it, or else it’s just mean.”
But like Norm, Trebek held special fondness for his fellow Canadians at SCTV. “Eugene Levy to this day I maintain did the best Alex Trebek ever, better than Will Ferrell,” he said. “He looked more the part, too. He had the dark hair and he had the black mustache.”
The game-show host took pride in both impressions since they meant he’d arrived. “If you do a take-off of somebody, it is a sign that you believe your audience will immediately recognize who you’re poking fun at,” Trebek said. “And if that’s the case, that means there must be a lot of people who have watched your show over the years.”
We just hope Trebek’s mother never had to watch the Sean Connery bits.
For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:
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