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.
6) Reese Witherspoon as Anne Heche
It was supposed to be funny because Anne Heche was (or maybe still is) batsh*t bananas, so she’d obviously start talking about aliens and whatnot. But Witherspoon’s plain and meaningless impression rivaled Liu’s Catherine Zeta-Jones and Drew Barrymore’s Calista Flockhart (refer to the Nic Cage video) in terms of the most “Oh, I see what she’s trying to do” reactions.
5) Matthew Perry as Michael Keaton
In Matthew Perry’s defense, this isn’t necessarily a bad impression, but Michael Keaton is so random. Also, I’m pretty sure that he had said more things than, “I’m Batman” by 1997. Also, with Friends in its fourth season by the time that this third “Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketch aired, Perry had reached full-blown Chandler Bing status, and he has still never recovered from that, no matter how charming Go On was.
4) Tobey Maguire as Keanu Reeves
This one has definitely grown on me over the years, but it’s so lazy and easy to do. If anything, we should blame this impression for somehow leading to the creation of The Californians. That’s how SNL works, right? They just look at old sketches and pick apart old jokes to reuse again years later. God knows that’s how Adam Sandler’s movies are written now. I’m also awarding bonus points for the awfulness of Chris Kattan’s obnoxious Ricky Martin impression.
3) Molly Shannon as Minnie Driver
Every time I’ve watched this particular sketch, I’ve wondered if the writers were like, “Okay, we’ve got Darrell as Connery and David Duchovny doing a pretty strong Jeff Goldblum, so who else do we have?” and Molly Shannon responded, “Well, I have brown hair and I’ve been toying with this British accent, so I can give Minnie Driver a whirl!” Because that’s the only way this otherwise pointless impression made it into the mix.
2) Kenan Thompson as Bill Cosby
Remember that Tosh.0 compilation of really hot girls trying to do Bill Cosby impressions and they all basically kept saying, “Jello pudding pops” as if that’s the only thing that Cosby ever said in his life? Throw a horrible sweater on that and you’ve got Thompson’s Cosby impression.
1) Horatio Sanz as Ozzy Osbourne
(If that video doesn’t work, click here.)
It was hard not to love Horatio Sanz when he performed a character because somebody needed to do it, but this one was also hard to watch. Again, some things were so bad that they eventually become good, and I like to think that is what happened here, because I can’t stop laughing at how dumb this is. Hey, maybe all this last season of SNL needs is 13 years to age before people will think that it was hilarious. I guess we’ll have to check back then.