Based on anecdotal evidence of me and my friends at lunch during high school, “Celebrity Jeopardy” is one of the most-quoted SNL sketches in the show’s history.
It aired 15 times between 1996, when Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond), Burt Reynolds (Norm Macdonald), and Jerry Lewis (Martin Short) were the special guests, and 2015, with Will Ferrell dusting off his Alex Trebek mustache for the 40th anniversary special. Following Trebek’s death from pancreatic cancer, SNL writer Steve Higgins shared the origin of the sketch and the time the Jeopardy! host reached out to Lorne Michaels.
“The idea for the sketch came from my wife. She said to me, ‘You should write a ‘Celebrity Jeopardy!’ sketch, because these celebrities don’t know that much.’ So I took it to Adam McKay,” he wrote for Variety. McKay was SNL‘s head writer before directing Anchorman, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers and winning an Oscar for The Big Short. “The fun of writing the sketch to me was the formula,” Higgins continued. “You go through the categories, and the category that has the dirty word hidden in it is always going to be a joke for Sean Connery. And then you have to figure out what the Final Jeopardy! is, and what the reveal is that people won’t get in advance. It’s third-grade humor, which is the best kind of humor. But also Will Ferrell, one of the greatest comics in the world, playing the perfect straight man in Trebek. I’m just lucky that I got to be a part of it. That’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Trebek was a fan of Ferrell’s impression. In fact, he “told Lorne that he loved the sketch. I was always very happy about that,” Higgins revealed. “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.” Don’t let the oversized hat (“it’s bigger than a normal hat”) distract you, there’s nothing but love between Trebek and Turd Ferguson.