Birthday boy Alex Trebek claims that when it comes to the impressions that various comedians have done of him over the years, Eugene Levy’s Alex Trebell on SCTV’s “Half Wits” was always his favorite. While it really wasn’t that good, it was probably better than Will Ferrell’s impression on Saturday Night Live’s ridiculous “Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketches, because that wasn’t really an impression at all. Truth be told, not many of the performances on that wonderful recurring bit actually qualified for so-called “good” impression status, because they were basically all cartoon characters.
Some of the impressions were pretty good, while others were really awful. The thing about the really awful ones, though, is that some ended up taking on lives of their own and becoming better than actual impressions, because they were so absurd that we couldn’t stop quoting them. That is, of course, how “Celebrity Jeopardy!” became such a huge hit, especially since Norm MacDonald was so wonderful as Burt Reynolds in the beginning.
I’ve met Burt, even shook his hand as he told me a story about how a woman once thanked him “for all of the orgasms,” and while MacDonald’s impression wasn’t spot-on, it wasn’t bad. The rest of these impressions, handpicked from the 14 sketches that I watched earlier today (FOR SCIENCE!), weren’t necessarily as good. In all, “Celebrity Jeopardy!” parodied 30 celebrities – 31 if you count Trebek, but I don’t – and like a lot of the show’s efforts, the cast and writers probably could have tried a little harder, despite the fact that people remember these clips with such fondness.
10) Darrell Hammond as Sean Connery
“My God, man! How can you say that Connery was one of the worst?!?! This is outrageous, I can’t believe that my eyes have read such blasphemy!” Look, we all love the cartoon character that Hammond’s Connery turned into, but it wasn’t a very good impression. Like his Bill Clinton and John Travolta, among others, Hammond took basic attributes of the characters and then gave them new life. That’s not saying he was bad, but Hammond even admitted in “Live from New York” that once Connery became the sketch’s main guy, he was aiming for the ridiculous. We’re lucky that was the case, because as you can see in the first sketch, “accurate” Connery would have gotten old.
9) Tom Hanks as Tom Hanks
Sure, we all love Hanks for who he really is, and if you don’t then you should just go back to your home in the communist country of Dicksylvania, but “Celebrity Jeopardy!” was supposed to be about making fun of other famous people. Celebrity self-awareness had no business being injected into this otherwise charming celebration of stars with their heads up their own asses.
8) Jimmy Fallon as Nic Cage
Fallon’s Nic Cage impression is perhaps better than Andy Samberg’s cartoonish parody, but I believe that no man has the ability to deliver a better caricature of Cage than Cage himself. He is the Alpha and Omega of the craziness that breeds within his own DNA.
7) Lucy Liu as Catherine Zeta-Jones
If I was writing out a report card for Liu’s performance, I guess she’d get a C for being average. But by the time that this sketch aired in Season 26 in 2000, the whole routine was about the animosity between Trebek and Connery, so between that and Fallon’s accurate Robin Williams impression, I don’t think anyone ever really remembered that Liu was in this one.