‘Jeopardy!’: Actress Ruta Lee Says Alex Trebek ‘Could Have Been a Stand Up Comic’

by Josh Lanier
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Anyone who watched Jeopardy! when Alex Trebek hosted, knows he had a great sense of humor. Ruta Lee, who was a close friend and neighbor of the late game show icon, said he was much funnier in person than he was on TV. And he was very funny on TV.

“He was one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever known,” she told Fox News. “You wouldn’t know it just seeing him. But he easily could have been a standup comic. His delivery was remarkable.

“He didn’t just tell jokes,” Lee continued. “He would throw in a punchline that somehow went into the middle of anything serious he was saying. You couldn’t help but just roar into laughter. Everybody that knew him just adored him. And I did too.”

And there are countless examples of Trebek’s quick wit and charisma during his 37 years as host of Jeopardy!. There are dozens of compilations on YouTube.

Lee also worked with Trebek on the show High Rollers that ran from 1974-1988. She was the “dice girl.”

Lee said Trebek’s charms extended far beyond his television persona. No one disliked the man, not even his ex-wife.

“They are my dearest friends,” she said. “And we see each other together, which I think it’s pretty friggin sophisticated. You know you’ve done a good job when you can get together with the wives. But that’s just the kind of man Alex was. …

“Let’s just put it this way, and I wrote about it in the book. Alex and his first wife Elaine remained very good friends. In fact, Alex is the one who walked Elaine up the aisle to her new husband Peter Kares. He was just a sophisticated, wonderful man.”

Trebek died in November of pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old. The show hasn’t picked a permanent replacement. But instead, producers are using guest hosts for the remainder of the season.

Trebek Called Contestants’ Bluff, Hosted in the Buff

During the 2005 Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions, which featured Ken Jennings, Jerome Vered, and Brad Rutter, Alex Trebek heard them making a wager of sorts behind the scenes. They said that the stakes and pressure of the show were so high that it might ease tensions if they came out onto the stage without wearing pants.

But when the show started, all three legendary contestants were fully dressed. Alex Trebek, however, walked onto the stage without his trousers but gained the respect of nearly every viewer. That’s a commitment to a bit that many comics don’t have.

“Thank you, Johnny Gilbert,” Trebek said. “Ladies and gentlemen welcome to our show. I was informed backstage a few minutes ago that our three contestants, Ken, Brad, and Jerome, wanted to relieve some of the tension, and they said we must do the program without trousers.”

“Now,” Trebek said wryly. “Can we get a camera behind [them] to make sure that they have done the same as I?”

They hadn’t, of course.

After shaming the contestants, Trebek walked back off stage to don some pants and start the show. But they were right. That small gesture eased everyone’s tensions and made the game fun.

You can see the video of Trebek sans slacks here.

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