Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

The Complete History of 'SNL's Celebrity Jeopardy

These days Norm Macdonald is all over the place — he has a Comedy Central special, a Twitter feud with Steve Martin, a profile in the New York Times, and a new show that premieres tonight. So what better time to revisit one of his most hilarious achievements ever: creating the original Saturday Night Live Celebrity Jeopardy sketch, which is one of the funniest and most enduring in the show’s history. Here they are from start to finish.

1. December 7, 1996

Norm Macdonald (Burt Reynolds)
Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond)
Jerry Lewis (Martin Short)

The first Celebrity Jeopardy sketch aired on December 7, 1996 with Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek, Norm Macdonald as Burt Reynolds, Darrell Hammond as Sean Connery, and host Martin Short as Jerry Lewis. The categories weren't as absurdly juvenile as the later sketches (“Potent Potables,” “Movies,” “U.S. History,” “Popular Music”) and Hammond's Sean Connery was cooperative and inoffensive. Norm Macdonald’s 70’s-era Burt Reynolds is the star here, and after all, Macdonald has admitted to creating the sketch simply to get his Reynolds impression on the show.

2. May 10, 1997

Burt Reynolds (Norm Macdonald)
Phil Donahue (Darrell Hammond)
Marlon Brando (John Goodman)

Unlike the first sketch, this one starts to integrate scoring and categories more into its humor. The contestants all start with negative scores, and even though the categories are still a bit dry (“Three Letter Words,” “Colors,” “U.S. States”), the contestants either ramble about unrelated topics or choose non-existent categories, so Trebek has to choose everything for them. This is also the only Celebrity Jeopardy sketch where the celebrities mention the charities they’re playing for — Reynolds plays for the Palm Beach Golf and Tennis Resort.

3. October 4, 1997

Burt Reynolds (Norm Macdonald)
John Travolta (Darrell Hammond)
Michael Keaton (Matthew Perry)

NBC executives fired Macdonald in early 1998 (see his hilarious post-firing Letterman interview here) and he was only in a few sketches for the remainder of the season, so the third Jeopardy sketch is the last time Macdonald plays Reynolds as an SNL cast member. Up until now, most of the categories have been pretty standard, but now they get notably stupider with “Words That Rhyme With Dog” and “Shapes,” and from this point forward the sketch brought us some great ones, like “Ponies,” “Foods That End In ‘Amburger,’” and “Black Comedians Named Whoopi.”

4. May 9, 1998

Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond)
Minnie Driver (Molly Shannon)
Jeff Goldblum (David Duchovny)

Now that Macdonald was no longer a cast member, Hammond reprised his role as Sean Connery and became the sketch’s staple character known for tormenting Trebek throughout each episode. In Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Hammond says when he first did Sean Connery, “I had a really accurate Sean Connery. Now what I do is really a bastardization of who he is, because it just seems funnier to me and it’s funnier to the writers and it gets more of an audience response. Sometimes they just don’t want to see accuracy, they just want it to be funny.”

5. October 24, 1998

Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond)
Tom Cruise (Ben Stiller)
Adam Sandler (Jimmy Fallon)

By now the sketch found a consistent format: open at the start of the Double Jeopardy round with most of the celebrities' scores low or in the negative. Already exhausted and annoyed, Trebek presents the categories to the celebrity contestants, which start with the standard "Potent Potables" then evolve into more childlike themes (“Colors That End In –Urple”). All questions clearly give away the answers (“This Number Comes Between Five and Seven,” “This Is The Sound A Doggy Makes”), but the contestants always fail to answer correctly and often fail to even choose a category. Connery turns at least one category into a sexual pun involving semen and/or having sex with Trebek’s mother, and eventually Trebek forces the game into the Final Jeopardy round. At least one of the contestants answers correctly but then makes an untranslatable wager, and Trebek ends the game with references to self-mutilation or suicide.

6. March 20, 1999

Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond)
Calista Flockhart (Drew Barrymore)
Nicolas Cage (Jimmy Fallon)

Jimmy Fallon impersonated a handful of stars in the Celebrity Jeopardy sketches including Adam Sandler, Hillary Swank, Robin Williams, and Nicolas Cage, and the sketch was the perfect opportunity for Fallon to show off his chameleon-like impersonation skills. He may have gotten flack on SNL for his corpsing (breaking character by laughing or making others laugh) habit, but Fallon thrives in sketches where he is allowed to either quickly change characters (like the radio DJ in his Z-105 sketches) or take one impersonation as far as possible (The Barry Gibb Show) — something that’s also served him well on Late Night.

7. October 23, 1999

Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond)
Burt Reynolds (Norm Macdonald)
French Stewart (Jimmy Fallon)

Only two years after he was fired, Macdonald was asked to return to SNL to host, so Burt Reynolds returned to Jeopardy with Connery and Jimmy Fallon as French Stewart. This is the sketch that gave birth to Turd Ferguson, one of comedy’s greatest names, and to see four strong SNL impressionists working together this well makes this one of the stand-out Jeopardy sketches.

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  • Mike Norquist@facebook

    Thanks for this article. I didn't realize that CJ had been on SNL as many times as this. It's great to have all of the videos in one place. These sketches always make me laugh til I cry.

  • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

    I used to love this sketch growing up. It was great they didn't drill it into the ground by doing it too frequently. There was consistently one Celebrity Jeopardy at the start of the season and one at the end, each year, which I think is perfect for a recurring sketch. That way I'm excited to see it, instead of groaning when I see a sketch that they do every three or four episodes.

  • http://www.shawncomedy.com Shawn Miller

    The Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches still hold up to this day. Such great concept and execution.

    Also, Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches are always my first rebuttal to anyone claiming that Jimmy Fallon ruined every scene he was in – he was always incredible in these.

  • robm

    You posted the Cruise/Sandler video twice (instead of the Flockhart/Cage sketch). Just so you know.

    • Megh Wright

      @robm Thanks for catching that! Should be fixed soon.

  • JoshUng

    I loved these sketches. While I'm sure there were better ones, for some reason, my favorite was always when Sean Connery/Hammond said "swords" instead of "s words."

  • HerooftheBeach

    The "Therapists" joke is a total classic, but it's interesting to see the delay in the audience's reaction. It takes them a minute to see the joke, until they get it and they go into an uproar. I think these sketches did a lot to push those kinds of boundaries.

  • Haiku Movie Reviews@twitter
    • Megh Wright
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Worcester/818292220 Ben Worcester

    Home run.

  • Kevin Loury@facebook

    Will Ferrell should play the straight-man more often. He's just as funny if not funnier than when he's bouncing off the walls.

  • Alberto Alvarez@facebook

    I was missing celebrity jeopardy for the longest time.

  • Ray K.

    I just stumbled on this site.  Did you watch SNL this past Saturday? (5/12/12)  Will Ferrell was the host, and there was NO CELEBRITY JEOPARDY!

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/K4NNZRP57WFZIXWVQUOGSCQNVY Klaus

       Probably  because there was no Darell Hammond.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/K4NNZRP57WFZIXWVQUOGSCQNVY Klaus

       Probably  because there was no Darell Hammond.

  • http://www.celebritiesdietplan.com/ Celebrity Diet

     celebrity jeopardy must be re launch with new addition.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.horvath Richard Torque Horvath

    A good idea ground into the ground

  • http://twitter.com/JBlueNote Josh B

    Just saw the "Michael Keaton" episode. I wonder what the SNL version of him back in teh day would have said about Christian Bale lol

  • Scott M

    They were funny. But they do owe a big debt to the "Halfwits" sketches from SCTV's 4th NBC cycle – which weren't available for viewing when the SNL writers reworked the SCTV material and presented it as new. This was neither the first nor last time that SCTV's brilliance was coopted. You can find "Halfwits" on youtube; check it out.

    • Bobdabuilder

      Similarity isn't copying.

      • Terry Cullen

        In Norm Macdonald's own words:

        "I came up with the idea of Celebrity Jeopardy years ago by stealing it, note for note, from an SCTV classic, Half-Wits."

        • Bobdabuilder

          Well, I'll be damned.

          • Dasby

            Gotta remember, Norm Macdonald is Canadian. haha. It was nice of him to admit to stealing the idea. It was especially nice that he actually asked the people who were involved in SCTV if he could use the idea on SNL instead of just stealing it.

        • Tony F

          He did ask for permission to steal. I think from Martin Short.

  • Ellie

    Love how in the most recent one Norm Macdonald's podium still says Turd Ferguson

  • http://theadonisgoldenratio.blogspot.com/ Tracy Reynolds

    There was consistently single Celebrity Jeopardy during the start of the season as well as one on end, each 12 months, which I think is ideal for a adonis golden ratio sketch. That way I'm excited to see this, as an alternative of groaning when I experience a sketch that they do every three or 4 episodes.

  • scumby

    Half-Wits SCTV been there, done that first,

  • http://milano.bbakeca.com/ BBakeca

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  • K1

    Your video for #7 is no longer able to be displayed. Can you please update it with an alternate link!

  • cruisesandler

    the tom cruise. adam sandler, one gets cut off.
    here is a whole one http://www.kewego.com/video/iLyROoaftd-1.html

  • cageflockhart

    the nick cage, clarista flockhart, one gets cut off.
    here is a whole one https://vk.com/video-37271784_162747526

  • guest

    how come sometimes they use the Jeopardy theme song and other times they don't?

  • lgeubank

    There's really some inspired humor in these sketches. I cracked up. But Will Ferrell impressed me most of all. He's just perfect, a;ways in character, almost imperturbable. That's some really good acting.

  • Andrew Lea

    update needed after the 40th anniversary show, and your mother's a whore.

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