The Case for Pat Sajak, the Most Underrated Funnyman on Television
Wheel of Fortune is A&W Root Beer. A Werther's Original. As long as it stays on the air (which should be forever, considering how it consistently ranks among the highest-rated syndicated television), Wheel will be a quaint comfort object that never alters its formula, save a few label adjustments. Its emcee, Pat Sajak, has not been so consistent since he took Wheel's helm from Chuck Woolery in 1983. He was awkward to start, but as the show progressed, Sajak eased into a snappy, sunny routine undercut by some of the drollest, bizarre one-liners in recent TV. Could the funniest (and sourest) man on TV be the face of parent-approved daytime programming?
As Sajak begins his 26th season, let's bring a magnifying glass to his unusually speedy wit. Call his style the result of misery or boredom, but Sajak turns out punchy, trenchant comedy between the usual contestant spins and solves. He has acknowledged in interviews that his favorite television experience was his short-lived The Pat Sajak Show, in which he conducted sit-down interviews in a Tonight Show format. But that venture called for too much intimacy from Sajak, whose aloof commentary is best delivered with irony in a Merv Griffin-anointed stage spectacle. It should be noted, however, that as a Midwest-hailing onetime weatherman, his start in showbiz mirrors the career and style of David Letterman, not Bob Barker or Monty Hall.
In this clip from Wheel's 5,000th show, Sajak reminisces on a peculiar comic moment from 1989. Strange and nearly gross? Sure. But hilarious? Certainly.
Sajak has used his darkest humor for the segues between announcer Charlie O'Donnell's introductions to different prizes. Here, he pretends to chug a bottle of wine before the Jackpot round.
April Fools' Day episodes of Wheel allow Sajak to exercise shtick. Here he reveals his long-rumored "baldness" to Vanna White, who, in turn, exhibits some Goddess of Love-style acting chops.
In this legendary episode, Sajak suffers contestant Andy as he tries to understand the concept of "Before and After." Click to 1:30 to see Sajak's full headmaster snark from beginning to end.
Lastly, while this speech attacking a Rosie O'Donnell statement evinces Sajak's longtime conservative leanings, some of his points are cruelly, universally funny. It's sort of refreshing, in an era of overly scrubbed Seacrests, that a host like Sajak can gleefully tell a colleague where to stick it.