During his long career, Burt Reynolds — the mustachioed movie megastar and Oscar nominee who died Thursday at the age of 82 — gave us many memorable characters on the big and small screen. But his generosity as a performer extended beyond his own roles, because Burt Reynolds also made one of the funniest characters on Saturday Night Live possible: Norm Macdonald’s impression of Burt Reynolds. In a 2016 interview with Howard Stern, Macdonald said Reynolds was one of his “childhood heroes” and the reason he wrote the first of what would become a series of classic Celebrity Jeopardy sketches.
“The Celebrity Jeopardy sketch — the reason I really did it is because I wanted to do [my] Burt Reynolds [impression],” the comedian told Stern. But not just any Burt Reynolds — Macdonald specifically wanted to portray “Burt Reynolds from 1972.”
So with the help of a leather suit, a fake mustache, and a tacky bolo tie, Macdonald became Burt Reynolds for the first Celebrity Jeopardy sketch, which aired December 7, 1996. To call Macdonald’s performance an “impression” would be generous; instead, the comedian took the idea of Reynolds — a macho ’70s sex symbol — and transformed him into an aloof, gum-smacking wiseass. (Well, maybe not “wise”; in his inaugural Jeopardy outing, Reynolds can’t even guess the right answer to a clue about his own movie, Cannonball Run.) Though Macdonald’s version of Burt Reynolds bore little more than a physical resemblance to the real actor, the character was so hilarious (and obnoxious, dim-witted, and lewd) that somehow, it made us love the real Burt Reynolds even more.
Macdonald would go on to reprise his take on Reynolds eight times during his time on SNL (including a sketch revealing Reynolds’ “lost” screen test for the role of Darth Vader in Star Wars), but perhaps his greatest moment was the Celebrity Jeopardy installment that first aired on October 23, 1999. This was the day that brought us a true pop culture icon, Turd Ferguson. (Thanks to this sketch, we also learned that in Macdonalds’ mind, Burt Reynolds was a big fan of Scooby Doo.)
Though he left SNL in 1998, Macdonald returned to Studio 8H for the May 15, 2009 episode, where his Burt Reynolds popped up in the middle of a Celebrity Jeopardy round, like something out of Alex Trebek’s nightmares.
Listen to Macdonald tell Howard Stern about the time he met Burt Reynolds, and how the acting legend shared a story about a stunt gone very wrong on the set of Deliverance: