America's Hardest Working Know-It-All
February 15, 2013 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Parlaying TV ubiquity into a stable career is hard enough. The fact that Jeopardy legend Ken Jennings has done this merely by being the smartest guy in your living room seems like nothing less than a minor miracle.
posted by Chrysostom (26 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
In rhetorical newspaper-headline style: Am I the only one who is still startled to read that Ken Jennings' shows happened in 2004? I remember them like last month.
posted by fireoyster at 12:58 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think that's what makes it so impressive-he's kept the "being Ken Jennings" gig going for almost a decade.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:59 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


He's pretty funny on Twitter.
posted by COBRA! at 1:02 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


His book Brainiac is quite good. I read it before I was a Jeopardy contestant in 2011, and everything he says about the experience is accurate, including the fact that Trebek makes weird jokes about cocaine. I didn't believe that part until I experienced it.
posted by Tesseractive at 1:06 PM on February 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


I saw him once at baggage claim at Seatac. We were the only people there, and we stood there waiting for our bags for probably a good 15 minutes together, and the whole time I thought, "Wow, this guy looks JUST like Ken Jennings!" Then a day or two later I realized he lives in a northern suburb of Seattle and regretted not saying hi. He seems really nice and is always amusing whenever he shows up on the radio or TV.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:07 PM on February 15, 2013


I like him a lot, I think most people do, not only is he pretty smart, he is incredibly witty and personable. I think his success is partially attributable to his interactions with the public, particularly through reddit (/user/WatsonsBitch) and twitter. He was kinda a landmark AMA (It brought out his old roommate Brandon Sanderson). Then he Mined Reddit for his most recent book. I don't think his career trajectory would have been possible pre-internet. He really has made the most out of social media, this is not a knock, this is why social media is so valuable, to give people like Ken a platform
posted by Ad hominem at 1:07 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm with fireoyster about the timing thing. It's astounding as a kid whose primary activity in the summers was watching MTV, I was shocked to see that Laguna Beach's premiere was during Jennings' run. Wild. Great article!
posted by papayaninja at 1:08 PM on February 15, 2013


Kottke posted something on his blog way back when about the day Jennings would lose on Jeopardy. I happened to visit Kottke.org within minutes of him posting that, so I mentioned it on my blog too. 9 years later and nothing I've ever written on my blog has come close to the traffic as that stupid one liner about the day Ken Jennings would lose.
posted by COD at 1:09 PM on February 15, 2013


I don't think his career trajectory would have been possible pre-internet. He really has made the most out of social media, this is not a knock, this is why social media is so valuable, to give people like Ken a platform

I completely agree with this; however, unlike most people who have become more famous through the Internet (including, I'll admit, a lot of people I'd consider myself a fan of) , Ken Jennings seems like someone who has used social media as a successful platform while still being somebody I'd still actually like to be friends with in real life.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:14 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ken Jennings is probably the most famous person I've ever had the chance to hang out with, after keeping score while he was reading questions during a quiz bowl tournament. He is really as nice and funny in real life as his persona.
posted by Tsuga at 1:15 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read Maphead, about his lifelong fascination with maps, a couple of months ago. I knew who he was, of course, through cultural osmosis but have never seen his Jeopardy appearances. He is a better-than-I-expected prose stylist. The book is quite readable.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:18 PM on February 15, 2013


I found this part really pleasing:
Jennings, who owes his capacity for knowledge, at least in part, to some degree of insularity and isolation, questions the point of an organization like Mensa. "This is probably going to get me in trouble — these are my people I'm talking about — but I've always found the idea of Mensa to be so repellent." ... "Average people are so dumb that you have to go to a special club to determine how smart you are? First of all, that's a terrible way to look at your fellow human beings; second of all, it seems a little bit self-congratulatory. What do they do? It's not like they're out building low-income housing or anything."
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 1:29 PM on February 15, 2013 [17 favorites]


Jennings writes an occasional piece at Woot.com, of all places, and they're consistently fun reading.

Also, how's this for roundabout serendipity: Following the link to the AMA led me to read the responses to Sanderson, which led to me discovering that his book "Warbreaker" is free under Creative Commons, which is awfully convenient since I lost my copy a few weeks ago! Funny old thing, life.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:52 PM on February 15, 2013


I have a mad internet crush on Ken Jennings, and this article really sums up why. He's charming and funny and self-aware and acknowledges his tremendous good fortune without being falsely self-deprecating. You can simultaneously want to meet him in a fangirl way while also feeling like if you lived next door to him, you could and would totally be friends.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:04 PM on February 15, 2013


. . . this is not a knock, this is why social media is so valuable, to give people like Ken a platform.

I just finished a biography of Peter Ivers - he was a gifted composer, musician, and showman (now mainly remembered for scoring Eraserhead) but never found an audience via the major labels / networks. That was my takeaway: if he'd been born twenty years later, he'd have thousands of Twitter followers, a YouTube channel, and crowdfunding for whatever the hell he wanted to do.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:22 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: People had no nerd outlet
posted by spock at 2:43 PM on February 15, 2013


Ken Jennings is also responsible for one of my favorite tweets of all time.
posted by eugenen at 2:46 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


My writing partner was one of the people Jennings beat on his path to success. (His episode aired July 20, 2004, Jennings' 35th game.) He holds no animosity towards him. He has nothing but respect for him, because, after all, if you're not going to win Jeopardy, at least you can say you were beat by Ken Jennings.

At this point none of Jennings' episodes had aired yet, and they were going crazy checking for cheating. They took forever to play the game, stopping all the time examining buzzers, testing electronics, etc.

Jennings also played a good mental game, too. He came up to my writing partner and told him, matter-of-factly, that he was going to win. The world now knows what Jennings meant, he had perfected the timing of buzzing in, but nobody knew that then. My writing partner read that as some kind of trash talk. So he decided to take him down.

But you can't beat him if you can't buzz in.

In case you were worried, later on, my writing partner did just fine on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
posted by CarlRossi at 3:05 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


My writing partner was one of the people Jennings beat on his path to success. (His episode aired July 20, 2004, Jennings' 35th game.) He holds no animosity towards him. He has nothing but respect for him, because, after all, if you're not going to win Jeopardy, at least you can say you were beat by Ken Jennings.

That got me thinking: Jeopardy! Should totally mark the tenth anniversary of his run by having a tournament consisting solely of people he steamrolled. And possibly have him do a video category every round.

You're welcome, Merv Griffin & Sony.

Did they already do this?
posted by graphnerd at 5:13 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


In addition to his own personal site and the aforementioned activities at Reddit and Woot!, Ken also does regular quizzes, columns and/or blogstuff at Parade (that cheezy magazine that falls out of Sunday papers - insert rumors about him and Marilyn Vos Savant), Slate and Conde Nast Traveler, plus you can subscribe to an e-mail-delivered weekly trivia quiz he curates here (left column), and has been for over 340 weeks so far, bringing a new meaning to "Question 7" (the un-google-able question based on what multiple things have in common. Example: "What unusual distinction is shared by these TV series--and no others that I can find? The Dukes of Hazzard, Law & Order, The Love Boat, The Pioneers, Saturday Night Live, The Sonny and Cher Show, The Troubleshooters." Answer: "Each show had a cast member who also served in the U.S. Congress. Did I miss any?")
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:30 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, count me in his fan club. I bit the bullet and perused his oft-cited Reddit AMA and completely fell in love with him. This exchange slays me:
b0tfly: Many educated people do not believe their holy books to the letter, so you being a devout Mormon throws off my stereotype. Can you elaborate on how much of the book you believe is factually based?

WatsonsBitch: Luckily, Mormons are not biblical literalists. So you can choose to keep all the crazy stuff you like (Moses just turned his rod into a snake! badass!) and choose to ignore the crazy stuff you don't like (wait, God just sent bears to kill those kids because they made fun of Elisha's male pattern baldness?)
I'm not saying no Mormons are young-earthers...but let's just say you're not likely to see those ones on Jeopardy.

frothewin: Actually, it was Aaron that had his rod turned into a snake, not Moses. I just corrected Ken Jennings. My life is complete.

WatsonsBitch: Being corrected by you has turned my rod into a snake.
posted by churl at 7:19 PM on February 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


Actually both Moses and Aaron had their rods turned into snakes. Exodus 4:3 and Exodus 7:10-12.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:13 AM on February 16, 2013


MoonOrb: "Then a day or two later I realized he lives in a northern suburb of Seattle and regretted not saying hi. "

It's good for celebrities to not have their celebrity acknowledged in public. Everyone should avoid it.
posted by clarknova at 12:18 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's exactly my problem, clarknova. I'm a Jeopardy champ myself, and various family members have met him at book signings and brought me back a photo of him holding a sign saying, "You would have kicked my..." (which is very kind of him, since my skills erode more each day).

But what would *I* say to him? I'd love to meet him and maybe hang out, and I'm a huge fan of his site and books. I just... conversation? Talk stuff? Words?

It's hard out there for a geek.
posted by Madamina at 12:47 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


In an era sadly suffering for a lack of Generalists, a shining beacon.

For, as Heinlein observed, specialization is for ants.

To which might be added, "... and computers with hair-trigger fingers".
posted by Twang at 2:54 PM on February 16, 2013


The computer does both Jeopardy and oncology, so maybe just the ants.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:57 PM on February 16, 2013


« Older In accordance with tradition--dating back all the ...  |  "In the 1950s, a DJ named Jean... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments