The True Story Behind Celebrity Jeopardy On SNL, According To Norm Macdonald

snl celebrity jeopardy

One of the most consistently hilarious running sketches in SNL history has to be Celebrity Jeopardy. The bits would pit Will Ferrell's Alex Trebek against panels of infuriatingly clueless celebrities. Darrell Hammond's bizarrely belligerent Sean Connery was worth a laugh every time, and Norm Macdonald was always fabulous as 1970s Burt Reynolds. Macdonald - who also wrote the sketches - has now come out and revealed just how SNL's version of Celebrity Jeopardy was born.

They did a sketch on SCTV when I was a child called Half-Wits. Alex Trebek was in the sketch because he was a Canadian. It was just these kids... I always loved that show, and I said on Celebrity Jeopardy, they always ask such stupid questions because celebrities are so stupid, but unfortunately, they've already done it and I feel like I shouldn't steal a sketch. So, when Mr. Short came to do the show, who later became my friend, I said, 'Who wrote that sketch?' and he said, 'Eugene Levy.' I said maybe we could phone him. He said we could do a conference call. I said, 'I'll phone. I'm a man.' So I phoned Eugene Levy. I asked him. 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.

As it turns out, we have Martin Short, Eugene Levy, and young Norm Macdonald's love of Canadian sketch comedy to thank for SNL's Celebrity Jeopardy. It's a testament to Macdonald's integrity as a writer that he wanted to reach out to theSCTV comedy icons that inspired him to write Celebrity Jeopardy, and we should all count ourselves lucky that Short and Levy were so accommodating. Faux Sean Connery is as quotable in 2016 as he was back in the late 1990s.

Of course, anybody who has actually seen one of the SCTV sketches will know that Norm Macdonald didn't change much about Eugene Levy's original premise from the Half-Wits bit. All he really did for SNL was add the name Celebrity Jeopardy and make actual famous folks the frustrating contestants. Check out one of the Half-Wits sketches from SCTV to compare.

Norm Macdonald went on in his chat on The Howard Stern Show to admit that he was partially motivated to go to the lengths that he did for Celebrity Jeopardy just because he wanted to play 1970s Burt Reynolds. The character of Burt was always one of the most irritating for poor Alex. Burt may not have buzzed in every question to make sexual remarks about Alex's mother a la Sean Connery, but changing his podium name to Turd Ferguson and bringing out a giant foam sombrero definitely did not endear him to the host. Only Sean Connery could fluster Alex more than Burt Reynolds.

Unfortunately, Norm Macdonald has moved on from Saturday Night Live, as have Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond. Short of another big episode bringing SNL alums back for another round, we probably won't get any more Celebrity Jeopardy sketches, as it's hard to imagine that SNL would dare try to recreate Celebrity Jeopardy with different actors playing the lead parts. Check out our fall TV premiere schedule to see what you can catch on the small screen in the near future.

Watch the full Celebrity Jeopardy sketch from SNL's 40th Anniversary episode next...

Catch one of the classic Celebrity Jeopardy sketches next...

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).