Alex Trebek, host of the game show Jeopardy! since 1984, turns 70 today. (Born the same year as Bugs Bunny and Bruce Lee, it turns out.)
We wish him the happiest possible birthday. He was 44 when he started hosting the show.
Alex Trebek is my favorite game show host, and not just because he
slipped me key answers presided over one of the more thrilling days of my life. But watching him work, up close, over the course of various appearances, I just came to enjoy his work. He’s truly a Great Old Pro.
One example I noticed then and still do: he is amazingly tuned-in and effective during that awful getting-to-know-the-contestants portion of the show. As a viewer I hate sitting through that part — doesn’t everyone? — while acknowledging that it’s an essential part of the emotional buy-in by the home audience. After 26 years of hosting that stuff, though, almost anyone would tune out, nod politely, smile, and say “now let’s get back to the game.”
But Alex is right there and working those conversations for full value. More than once I made wisecracks or curious answers — outbursts of nervous energy, no doubt — and he was there with a comeback or a follow-up. (I once joked that the best part of being on the show was “I get to wear makeup,” and instead of just giving me a crazy look, he had a nice little comeback about his wife telling HIM he wore more makeup than she did.)
When you realize he does that stuff five times a day, twice a week (all day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, at least back in my day), it’s pretty impressive that he stays so sharp. Even if it is, as everyone knows, Only A Game Show.
It’s also amazing, and amusing, that even today the first question most people ask me about Jeopardy! is, “What’s Alex Trebek really like?” He’s clearly supplanted Art Fleming as “Mr. Jeopardy,” and that pretty much says it all. He looks like he could keep doing the show for years to come.
Here’s a favorite clip of mine, for obvious reasons — but take a moment to enjoy how Alex milks the end of a Tournament of Champions for full dramatic value. The lowered voice, the pauses (“The president was……. a Republican”), and also the clarity of re-explaining the scores as he goes… well, he’s just darn good at his job.
Happy birthday, Mr. Alex Trebek!