One of the most iconic sketches on ‚ÄúSaturday Night Live‚ÄĚ owes its existence, in part, to Burt Reynolds.
The actor, who died Thursday at 82, was introduced to a whole new generation of fans through ‚ÄúCelebrity Jeopardy,‚ÄĚ and more specifically, through Norm Macdonald‚Äôs impersonation.
In one of the most memorable versions, Macdonald‚Äôs Reynolds smacks gum, dons an oversized cowboy hat and changes his name on the podium to Turd Ferguson.
‚ÄúYeah, that‚Äôs right, Turd Ferguson,‚ÄĚ the fake Reynolds says to Alex Trebek, who was always portrayed by Will Ferrell. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a funny name.‚ÄĚ Then when he names a category ‚ÄĒ¬†‚ÄúI‚Äôll take them condom thing for 8,000‚Ä≥ ‚ÄĒ Ferrell‚Äôs Trebek corrects him: ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs ‚ÄėCondiments.‚Äô For 400.‚ÄĚ
It was that take on Reynolds ‚ÄĒ as a guy who didn‚Äôt have a care in the world and treated the exasperated Jeopardy host with indifference ‚ÄĒ that drove Macdonald to want to write the sketch in the first place.
‚ÄúThe reason I really did it is I wanted to do Burt Reynolds,‚ÄĚ Macdonald told Howard Stern in 2016.
He got the idea for ‚ÄúCelebrity Jeopardy‚ÄĚ sketch from the Canadian comedy series ‚ÄúSecond City Television‚ÄĚ (SCTV), which had its own game-show sketch titled ‚ÄúHalf Wits.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI always loved that show, and ‚ÄėCelebrity Jeopardy,‚Äô they always asked such easy questions,‚ÄĚ Macdonald told Stern. ‚ÄúAnd celebrities are all so stupid. It would be great to do it. Unfortunately, [SCTV had] already done it, and I feel like I just shouldn‚Äôt steal a sketch.‚ÄĚ
The opportunity presented itself to Macdonald when Martin Short came on SNL. Short had been on SCTV and starred in ‚ÄúHalf Wits,‚ÄĚ so Macdonald asked him who had written it.¬†It was Eugene Levy.
‚ÄúMaybe we could phone him, to get permission‚ÄĚ Macdonald suggested. ‚ÄúSo I phoned Eugene Levy and I asked him. I told him the whole sketch. I said how much I loved the first one, and he was kind enough to give it to me.‚ÄĚ
Then came the Reynolds twist. The actor was one of Macdonald‚Äôs childhood heroes, and the chance to impersonate him was the motivating force to get to the sketch to air.
‚ÄúWhen it came time to do the sketch, I went down and saw my wardrobe and there was white beard and a bald white cap, and I said, ‚ÄėNo, no, I want to do Burt Reynolds from 1972,‚ÄĚ Macdonald told Stern. ‚ÄúAnd it‚Äôs funny to me, but no one ever mentioned it, that one guy on ‚ÄėCelebrity Jeopardy‚Äô is from 40 years ago.‚ÄĚ
Macdonald also played Reynolds in other sketches, including 1997‚Äôs ‚ÄúChristmas with Burt.‚ÄĚ
The comic ended up meeting Reynolds on the set of an Adam Sandler movie (probably 2005‚Äôs ‚ÄúThe Longest Yard‚ÄĚ). Reynolds ‚Äúwas real nice to me. He told me really funny stories,‚ÄĚ Macdonald said. ‚ÄúHe has a very good sense of humor.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCelebrity Jeopardy‚ÄĚ often featured not only the fake Reynolds but also Darrell¬†Hammond as Sean Connery. As Macdonald recalled in a long string of tweets in 2015, ‚Äúthe idea was for Connery to be abusive and Burt to be dismissive. Sometimes people ask me who the funnier character is, Connery or Burt.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe funniest character in Celebrity Jeopardy, by far, is Alex Trebek as played by Will,‚ÄĚ Macdonald tweeted. ‚ÄúWithout Will‚Äôs perfect take on Trebek, maddened by the outright hostility of Connery, the faraway uninterest of Burt, the sketch is nothing.‚ÄĚ
SNL‚Äôs first ‚ÄúCelebrity Jeopardy‚ÄĚ aired in 1996, and even outlasted Macdonald‚Äôs tenure on the show. But Macdonald ‚ÄĒ and fake Burt Reynolds ‚ÄĒ appeared one more time during the 40th anniversary of ‚ÄúSaturday Night Live.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWho is Andre the Giant?‚ÄĚ the fake Reynolds says.
‚ÄúIs that an answer to a question?‚ÄĚ says the fake Trebek.
‚ÄúNo,‚ÄĚ Macdonald‚Äôs Reynolds responds. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm just wondering who he is, Andre the Giant.‚ÄĚ
That SNL Reynolds is frozen in time, and the impression has followed Macdonald around, too. In the final chapter of his memoir, ‚ÄúBased On a True Story,‚ÄĚ Macdonald writes about how he may always be remembered for ‚Äúthe four years I spent at ‚ÄėSaturday Night Live‚Äô and, maybe even more than that, by the events surrounding my departure from that show. As long as SNL exists, then so do I.‚ÄĚ
He continues: ‚ÄúWhen people come to see me do stand-up, it is because somewhere in their memory I live on SNL, dressed as a young Burt Reynolds, insisting Alex Trebek refer to me as Turd Ferguson.‚ÄĚ