Jewish actor Ike Barinholtz wins on ‘Jeopardy!’ after answering clue about Ancient Rome


((JR)) — Jewish day school graduate and actor Ike Barinholtz successfully answered a question about the ancient Roman poet Ovid to win on “Jeopardy!” Monday night, in a rare success for a celebrity during the quiz show’s regular competition.

In the program’s Tournament of Champions, Barinholtz defeated two previous winners on the show, an artist from Canada and Melissa Klapper, a Jewish studies professor from the Philadelphia area who last year won $60,000 despite missing a question about Yom Kippur.

The Chicago native, who has starred in TV and movie comedies such as “The Mindy Project” and Mel Brooks’ “History of the World Part II,” was in second place going into the show’s final round, having successfully fielded trivia questions on topics as wide-ranging as the band R.E.M., the disgraced entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried and the French ex-president Francois Mitterand.

The “Final Jeopardy!” topic was Roman poets, and the contestants were supplied the clue, “Far from Rome, this first century poet wrote, ‘The leader’s anger done, grant me the right to die in my native country.’”

After the first contestant successfully answered, host Ken Jennings explained, “Yes, the great Roman poet who died in exile, for writing erotic poetry that was a little too erotic — the best reason to be exiled, I think.” (Ovid’s advice to young Romans looking for love includes encouraging them to visit synagogues on Shabbat, where historians think Roman women were drawn by music and leisure.)

Then Jennings turned to Barinholtz, who made expressions of apparent befuddlement throughout the round and betrayed no sign that he, too, had answered correctly. “Was he thinking about Ovid? As we know, celebrities often do,” Jennings joked.

The answer was yes. With a bid of $13,801, Barinholtz vaulted into the lead and remained there after Klapper answered incorrectly. (Both successful contestants were men, who according to a recent TikTok trend think often about the Roman Empire; Jewish tradition also demands the empire’s frequent consideration.) The win means that the actor is headed into the semifinals of the tournament and will appear on another episode later this week.

As the game concluded, the camera panned to Barinholtz’s guests: his parents, Alan and Peggy Barinholtz, whom he has previously characterized as “liberal people with great senses of humor.” Alan Barinholtz is an attorney who played the judge on the improv comedy “Jury Duty” last year.

The Barinholtzes sent Ike and his brother Jon, also an actor, to Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, the Jewish school associated with a Conservative synagogue in Chicago, until eighth grade. Barinholtz then graduated from the Latin School of Chicago, which offers but does not require courses in Ovid’s native language, before embarking on a comedy career after dropping out of Boston University.

Barinholtz has injected his Jewish identity into his career at multiple junctures, including in on-air jokes and on social media, where he has posted pictures of himself making latkes and blowing a shofar. In “History of the World Part II,” which ran last year, he played 10 roles, including Leon Trotsky, the Jewish Russian revolutionary; Ulysses S Grant, the U.S. president who won the Civil War and also briefly expelled Jews from a portion of the war zone; and, in a coda to Brooks’ famous “Jews in Space” sketch, a soldier named Borowitz whose weapons consist of bagels and lox.