What's your favorite palindrome?
Here's one I made up on Twitter a while back. It's a little poem.
Pee with gin. Night. I weep.
Do you still talk to Alex Trebek ever? Are you guys friends?
Contestants don't get to fraternize with Alex very much. This is partially due to federal laws that (still, 50+ years after the quiz show scandals) make it a felony to rig a game show. It's probably also due to the fact that Alex doesn't WANT to hang out with the contestants that much.
Still, I feel like we bonded. I remember he came back on stage and got a little teary-eyed after I lost my last game, which surprised me and then choked me up a bit. It was just like Brian's Song only we are both white and instead of getting cancer I just got kicked off a game show.
Follow-up: have you ever randomly encountered Watson in the streets or social function, and given him an icy stare?
It's so awkward. "Hello, Ken." "Oh...hello, Watson." Long pause, neither of us blinks. Room gets really quiet. Finally the nervous hostess takes my arm, leads me away from the buffet table telling me there are other people I simply MUST meet. Watson goes back to shoving bacon-wrapped shrimp in his stupid mouth because he's all old and stupid and fat now.
You're still the Jeopardy King in my eyes, Ken!!!
Are there any plans to get you back on the show at all?
I only got the call in 2011 because IBM had a computer that could play Jeopardy. So maybe if somebody ever teaches like a chimp or a dolphin to play? I would totally come back for that.
That's cool that Trebek grew the mustache back just for this special TV event.
What is one advantage you have over Watson?
Where did the Kennections quiz idea come from? I love it
Pretty much my only advantage over Watson is my Jimmy Stewart impression. Watson's is shit.
"Kennections" is a weekly quiz I do in Parade magazine, aka that awesome section in the middle of the Sunday paper where they have like fajita recipes and interviews with Kurt Russell. Parade proposed the HILARIOUSLY punny name, which I put up with because at least this way they can't fire me. Or if they do, they have to replace me with someone else named Ken. Ken Burns, maybe?
The concept comes from any number of game shows from my childhood where solving each round would give you one clue to some uber-puzzle, which is how Kennections works. There was even a 80s trivia board game with a similar gimmick, which you can still find at garage sales sometimes: Stage II.
I sincerely hope Ken Jennings upvoted this.
BEEP BOOP BEEP MERRY--CHRISTMAS--YOU--OLD--BUILDING--AND--LOAN
When you were on Jeopardy, what was the housing situation? Did they provide a hotel, or did you live in the area?
A lot of people are surprised to hear that Jeopardy doesn't normally pick up contestants' travel costs. You fly out, get a hotel, rent a car, all on your own dime.
In my case, I always stayed in this DISGUSTING little motel right by the 405 in Culver City. At first I chose it because (a) it was right next to the studio and (b) the marquee out front still said "COLOR TV! PHONES!" like I'm sure it had in 1965. This place was a craphole, but I kept on staying there with the hookers and whatnot during my entire 75-game streak. Didn't want to mess with my routine.
Astro or Deano's probably
One of you is correct but I don't want to get too specific. (I left all my cash winnings in an AV duct there just like Josh Brolin does in No Country for Old Men.)
I did Kids Jeopardy back in '02 and they paid for a roundtrip flight to LA for me and my family, 4 nights in the Beverly Hilton, and $600 in spending money for the trip. Guess the adults get a raw deal.
Yup. Tournaments are all-expenses paid. The regular joes get bupkis.
YOU ARE THE 1%!!!
I have to say, the inscription you put in my copy of Braniac is far and away my favorite ever, so thanks for that.
I guess that's not a question so... how'd you get so awesome and stuff?
You're welcome! I'm not sure that Rush Holt joke has aged all that well.
If I'm awesome at all it's only because I was bitten by a radioactive game show contestant as a child. (It was that weirdo with the beard who figured out how to cheat at Press Your Luck.)
If you could play any two historical figures in Jeopardy, who would they be and why?
What was the must surprising myth you debunked in "Because I Said So!"
Have you read "Under the Banner of Heaven," and if so, what was your reaction to Krakauer's portrayal of the Mormon faith?
Warren G. Harding and Caligula, because I hear they were dumb as posts and I'M THERE TO WIN BABY.
I guess there are over a dozen good studies now showing no link between sugar and hyperactivity in children. Weird, right? Parents are so invested in this "sugar rush" idea because no one wants to believe "Ugh, my kids are being a terror at this birthday party." They want to say, "Hey, that's what you get for filling my kid up on soda and cake."
I have read it. Pretty simplistic view of how Mormonism's (occasionally) violent past affects the community today. I'm Mormon and virtually nothing in it felt familiar to me.
Have you seen "Book of Mormon", and if so, your reaction?
Saw it on Broadway last year! Paid through the nose and it was worth every penny. I laughed until all my sphincters gave out. There's your blurb for Playbill.
Obviously it's in terrible taste, but it's in SUCH terrible taste that it seems almost beside the point to complain about that.
In regards to the question on Under the Banner of Heaven: You are a pretty skeptical, wry person. I find it hard to believe that you can accept Joseph Smith's version of events and prophecies. How do you reconcile your innate rational mindset with the fact that your religion, like many belief systems, may be founded on the words and ideas of a charlatan?
Thanks for the AMA. You're the man.
Yeah, it's always weird when Mormons and not-Mormons talk about Joseph Smith. BY DEFINITION, Mormons will think Smith had some kind of connection to the divine. BY DEFINITION, anyone else will assume he was a con man. Hard to bridge that gap.
His story is weird, sure, what with the angels and the plates and all. No question. I don't think it's fundamentally any weirder than the founding myth of any other religion, though. But more to the point, I like that it seems mysterious and weird. It's very compelling to me, this idea of a 19th-century farm boy seeing God and then spending the rest of his life trying to build "Zion," a holy city, where his people can live and worship together and help one another. The whitewashed Mormon idea of a saintly, no-warts Joseph Smith is bogus, of course, but so is the assumption that he was just a creepy Jim Jones type.
Do you ever watch Jeopardy and scream at your TV. HOW DID YOU NOT KNOW THAT!?
Ha, my son is 10 and he wants to watch Jeopardy EVERY NIGHT NOW. I always beg him to turn it off. It's my favorite show but nowadays when I hear the music and the smooth Canadian tones of Alex Trebek I find myself getting all nervous and keyed-up. Like I'm back in 'Nam all of the sudden.
You are open about your Mormon faith as well as pretty openly and visibly progressive in your viewpoints. At least in terms of how the Mormon church is portrayed in the media, this comes off as unusual. I'm wondering if you can talk at all about that. I know you've been vocally critical of a lot of media depictions of your religion, and I'm wondering if this is a part of it. Is there a larger current of progressive Mormonism that just gets ignored?
By the numbers, there are certainly more conservative than progressive Mormons in the US, but plenty of Mormons are lefties like me. Famously, Harry Reid, one of the most powerful Democrats in the country, is Mormon.
The easy link between Mormons and conservative politics is really intensified by the fact that Mormons in mountain west states like Utah really ARE the nuttiest nuts on the nut tree. That's where you get the little towns mandating gun ownership or banning U.N. helicopters over their airspace or whatever. But I feel like that has more to do with frontier isolationist thinking in general than anything specific about Mormon belief. Over half of LDS church members live outside the US now, for example, and my experience is that Mormons in places like Europe and South America are social progressives by and large.
Any chance of you taking over as the host of Jeopardy if/when Alex Trebek retires. Any discussions to that effect happening?
We need to get that rumor started. I'd say there's virtually no chance, since they would probably interview people WITH ACTUAL TV HOSTING EXPERIENCE.
But that said, what a dream job. I would take it in a heartbeat. Trebek works on-set like 4-5 days a month, and I'm sure a big Sony truck full of cash backs up to his house once or twice a week. I just need to work on my French pronunciation and my transparently false sympathy at wrong answers.
You're obviously a very intelligent man, why does religion still hold resonance in your life?
No idea, but "resonance" is definitely the right word. I can't rationally defend believing in God, but the idea has some essential rightness to me that I can't imagine living without. Atheists are free to read that as "Aha, he needs the comforting crutch!" but that's sort of reductive. It's not how it FEELS to believe. The miracles of my own consciousness and the existence of the universe seem to naturally imply the existence of God to me in exactly the same obvious way it precludes it for others.
I always think about the mathematician and writer Martin Gardner, who was one of the most famous skeptics of his time, always hanging out with James Randi and those guys. And yet, to his dying breath, he held on to some weird kind of deism from his youth. He at least HOPED, he said, that there could be another, better world beyond this one. That's how I feel, I guess.
Anything cool behind the contestant podium that I should know about?
Some boxes of raisins in case you get hungry and a catheter thing if you have a nervous bladder. A lot of times when it looks like somebody is pondering an answer or a wager, he's just peeing.
No, not really. They're mostly hollow, each one has some kind of PC under it running the buzzer and touch-screen. One time the side case panel fell off my opponents' computer with a loud CLANG! They had to stop tape and the producer came running onstage shouting "The wheels are coming off the wagon!" in mock horror.
I told this story on-line one time and got an email from a disappointed Jeopardy publicist saying I "didn't have to tell EVERYTHING." So now I'm nervously waiting for my phone to ring.
Fuck, marry, kill. Alex Trebek, Rob Delaney, Watson. Go.
Uh, I'm here to talk about Rampart.
Care to speak about the "hoe" incident? How much did Alex Trebeck bust your balls about that afterwards?
Here's the clip.
The only thing I remember happening during the next break is that "Al" guy on the end saying he was glad I beat him to the buzzer. He was also going to say "What is a ho?" and he was some kind of Lutheran pastor from Minnesota, he thought his congregation would never let him live it down.
I also wanted to ask the Jeopardy writers if that was a set-up, like that question was specifically phrased to get someone to say "What is a ho?" I suspect so.
So did you actually know the right answer and just want to say 'ho' on national television?
CORRECT YOU HAVE CONTROL OF THE BOARD
Will you name my new cat?
"Callipygian." It means "possessing beautiful buttocks."
Is this how English linguists flirt?
With each other's pets. :(
What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
Marshmallow Mateys. Nautically-themed Lucky Charms clone that poor people and college students buy in the big plastic bags at Grocery Outlet. So, so good.
Once at Mall of America, i remember seeing a cereal that was entirely the marshmallows from Marshmallow Mateys.
Yeah but think of the sad inner-city kids who have to eat the all-oat-piece leftovers. :(
How did the Howard Stern appearance come about? That was a great segment, loved it.
Congrats on beating Fred!
I guess somebody at Sirius saw the book and thought it would be a fun twist on "Win Fred's Money." I was pretty nervous...I've heard that segment a bunch of times and Fred NEVER loses.
Beating Fred, $5,000. Meeting George Takei, PRICELESS.
Enjoyed you on Stern this week.
btw, good on you not to push the 'silicon' and 'silicone' difference.
Ha, yeah. Trivia people are my people, but "BUT BUT BUT YOU'RE WRONG" is about my least favorite of their personality traits.
Opinions on Star Wars VII, go
Retell Phantom Menace from the POV of those guys with the terrible, offensive Asian accents. I bet they have a story to tell!
Why don't you go on Wheel of Fortune?
I'm blackballed from game shows now, like the card-counters who get kicked out of casinos. I'd need an awesome disguise to go on Wheel, like maybe a big handlebar mustache and a Texas accent.
I was going to ask this at Bumbershoot, but totally forgot D:
What's the oddest thing a fan of yours has done?
Somebody wanted me to sign their baby with Sharpie once. OMG WE'RE NEVER WASHING THIS BABY AGAIN!!!
Hi Ken. Favorite Twilight Zone episode?
The famous, popular ones are famous and popular for a reason. But I also like "The Midnight Sun," the one with the heat wave. I saw it as a kid and had nightmares for years.
Serious question: During your first run on the show, did you lose on purpose because you were tired of the game, made enough money, were homesick, etc?
People always ask if I took a dive. Ugh. Look, I had a summer job where I was making like $35K PER HALF HOUR. No way was I quitting. I just got a question I didn't know.
A while ago I looked at the old episodes and I found at least 12 during my run where if just one question goes the other way, I lose. So it was really stretching the laws of probability for me to be on that long. The odds are on even a really good player losing MUCH sooner, what with the Daily Doubles and random categories and all.
what is a subject you would fail miserably at if it were a jeopardy category?
VIDEO GAMES POST-1995
What is Halo?
I don't know why you say goodbye, I say Halo.
I loved the Book of Lists as a kid, do they still make that? do you remember those? what other trivia books are awesome? why is every sentence of mine a question? and are you reading it like my voice is rising annoyingly at the end of each one?
Ha, I loved The Book of Lists! I'm writing a series of "amazing facts for kids" books now and a childhood friend said, "Make sure you get all the facts right!" Because we both remembered facts from trivia books we read as kids that turned out to be not to be true but then we believed them for decades anyway.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be on JEOPARDY?
When it comes to Jeopardy, these are the three demandments of Hulkamania:
Also, don't wear a sweater, you will look like a douche. Make sure your story doesn't mention your cats.
What is the least intelligent thing you've ever done?
I'm totally absent-minded. Always losing my keys and stuff. A couple months ago I flew to the Midwest and back and managed to leave one of my carry-ons in the overhead BOTH OUT AND BACK. Had to go running back to the gate both times. So I have Alzheimer's at 38 basically.
What does Trebek smell like?
He smells like Canada. Pine needles and maple syrup and a thick, beaver-y musk.
Having a twitter account with nearly 100,000 followers, how do you deal with the no doubt thousands of insufferable idiots you must have tweeting bile at you? Any memorable trolls?
Personally I think you're one of the greatest at the twitter game, long may you continue :)
There's a Darwinist process that's gotten rid of most of the trolls or the easily offended, either me blocking or (more likely) them unfollowing.
I still get stern lectures sometimes about how THAT'S NOT FUNNY BECAUSE... but that's just part of Twitter. Somehow it always seems so just and deserved when you get the ego-boost of the stars and retweets, but such a terrible, Rwanda-level injustice when someone DOESN'T like a joke and is a dick.
Initially I had a hard time believing your twitter account was you and not an imposter because the humor wasn't very PG (not that I have a problem with that), that said: you're damn funny! Ever thought about doing stand up? Or is writing the only way you want to approach humor?
I don't really think I'm a good fit for stand-up. Those guys are legitimately FUNNY funny. Twitter mostly rewards clever, not funny. As the great Simpsons writer George Meyer once said, "Clever is the eunuch version of funny." Truer words were never spoken.
Plus all the travel, the heckling, the flop-sweats when you do a bad set, plus can you imagine being the guy who tries to go from being a Jeopardy contestant to doing stand-up? "HA HA CAN YOU DO FIVE MINUTES IN THE FORM OF A QUESTION?" "I'LL TAKE YOU'RE NOT FUNNY FOR $400 ALEX LOL!!!"
Maybe someday I'll write a book about funniness and have to try it out in George Plimpton "Paper Lion" fashion. But don't hold your breath for the Comedy Central special.
What was your first purchase after receiving all of your Jeopardy! moneys?
I think we got our first widescreen TV (we were sort of poor before that) and that fall my wife and I took a trip to France and Spain. Those were sort of the big blow-outs. Pretty boring, sorry. If you want to picture me in a rap video with a jacuzzi full of Cristal, feel free.
Any words of wisdom for a high school trivia team? We admire you.
edit: SURPRISE! i am female.
If you get the chance, talk to a girl sometime so you can tell your teammates what it was like.
Will you be a reference on my next job application? It's competitive as fuck out there.
Sure. "I first met ologies wasting time during the middle of the work day on Reddit, a practice I'm sure he'd continue at your company..."
If you were to write the perfect Jeopardy question, what would it be?
It would be one of those circular-logic ones that Captain Kirk uses to make computers freak out and explode. Suck on THAT, Watson.
What is your favorite Simpsons quote?
It's not the biggest laugh, but the one I find myself saying most is probably "as was the style at the time!" which Grandpa Simpson appends to crazy wrong facts about the past. When you think about it, it's pretty useful in conversation, especially when people are telling boring stories.
Ken what's your favourite kind of ice cream? I like all flavours pretty much.
Cool story bro.
Have people you go to church with ever been offended by your tweets?
I don't think anyone at church reads my Twitter PLEASE DON'T TELL THEM ABOUT IT
Do you prefer Trebek with or without his mustache?
His "FREE MUSTACHE RIDES" shirt is way less funny now.
What advice do you have for young Mormon people?
The same advice I have for any young people: STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM ME YOUR YOUTH AND VITALITY JUST REMIND ME OF MY OWN EVER-APPROACHING DEATH.
Also, I know you can't smell it but some of you should take a shower.
What subjects do you feel are under-represented on Jeopardy?
Proportional to their importance in the grand scheme of the universe: science, especially physics, engineering, and math.
Proportional to my interest and expertise in them: Marvel Comics of the mid-1980s
This term for a long-handled gardening tool can also mean an immoral pleasure seeker.
What is your mom! WOOH RAISES HAND FOR HIGH-FIVE
(oops forgot to mention that for the purposes of this joke your mom's name is "Mrs. Shovel" or "Mrs. Weedwhacker" or something)
Ken, a lot of people see you as very smart. What is one thing that you've done in your life that wasn't that smart? Possible something in your teenage years?
I majored in computer science even though I really loved English literature. I thought CS seemed more practical/lucrative than writing or teaching.
Fast-forward ten years and I'm a crappy programmer and, through the weirdest of longshots, Jeopardy gives me a chance to quit my job and become a writer like I always wanted to.
Bottom line: the thing you like/are good at IS A SACRED THING. Don't screw around with it. Don't sell out too young. Not everybody gets Trebek-delivered redemption from that dreary office job like I did.
Since there was no Slate news quiz today, will you refund my Slate subscription money? I believe I paid...uh...let's say $299.00.
Yeah, sorry. I write a news quiz for Slate.com every Friday, what I hope is a fun multiple-choice affair along the lines of Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me! But the problem is the news just keeps happening 24/7, so I have to right the quiz at the very last minute every week. And this week I had the book launch so it didn't happen.
I listened to you on Doug Loves Movies and you were very funny. Any chance you'll do more in comedy/podcasting?
DLM was so fun! I want people to invite me on podcasts. But only the big, prestigious ones. Not your little sleazy one. Sorry.
Have you ever hung out with John Hodgman? Do you two just have trivia-offs? You with actual trivia and he with fake trivia?
I've met Hodgman a couple times. What a nice guy. We definitely talked about he's the fake-trivia version of me. Like I can name 900 REAL hoboes off the top of my head right now.
He's actually my real-trivia hero too because he's been on QI, the British quiz show with Stephen Fry, and I never have.
You're quite hilarious on twitter. What was your take on the whole Chris Brown/Jenny Johnson debacle?
Team JennyJohnsonHi5. She and I used to play Draw Something back when that was a thing.
Look: I don't want you to get offended, and I mean this in the most platonic, non-inflammatory manner possible, but may I make sweet, obscene monkey love with your brain? I'll be very respectful.
Okay but Pretty Woman rules. No kissing the brain.
how many blunts do you smoke per day neff?
um no offense to /r/trees but there's a reason why you never saw Snoop on Jeopardy 75 times in a row
If you could have any superpowers what would they be?*
who is your favorite musician?
The answer to both is "Flaming Lips."
How much do you hate the guys from Symantec? This was supposed to be their moment, man.
Those guys know what they did.
If you considered your own book to be total dreck, what OTHER new book would you recommend purchasing this holiday season for your significant other?
Just read, on the advice of a friend, Ben Fountain's first novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. It's like Catch-22 updated for the post 9/11 era, but set on the homefront. (Specifically, at Cowboys Stadium!) What a great book.
Aha! In on the ground floor; looks like following you on twitter is finally paying off! Which was your favourite book to write so far and why?
I hate it when bands say "the new record" but the new book, with all the parenting myths, was a joy start to finish. I'm sort of a worry-wart as a parent, and now I feel a lot more confident about letting the kids run around without hovering and obsessing over every little thing.
Plus I now know exactly how many times I got lied to as a kid. (A lot.)