If you know "You Don't Know Jack," then you are hip to one of the most clever CD-ROMs, the irreverent computer game show that has won countless awards since its introduction in 1995.
If you know "You Don't Know Jack Volume 2," then you know that celebrities now are equally hip to the game. The new sequel boasts guest appearances by 17 stars, ranging from Tim Allen to Erik Estrada.
"CD-ROMs are the wave of the future," says Estrada, the former "CHiPs" star. "It's in good fun."
At Jellyvision and Berkeley Systems Inc., where the caustic game was developed, fun is what matters. Though no celebrities appeared on the first game, Jellyvision President Harry Gottlieb says the company wanted to attract "a weird eclectic group" of celebs for the sequel.
"Having Phyllis Diller and Dennis Miller on the same CD-ROM was cool," he said. "Listen, these guys are revered around here. Here at Jellyvision, Florence Henderson is the queen."
Indeed both versions of "Jack" are packed with "Brady Bunch" references, not to mention Samuel Beckett and biophysics, all complete with pungent commentary.
Sample: "Check your ego at the door and wipe that smile off your face, because as far as we can tell, YOU still DON'T KNOW JACK."
The pop-culture-tinged game offers 800 twisted and witty questions, such as "If sitcoms were single-celled organisms, the process of creating a spinoff would be called what?" (Answer: mitosis.)
The "Celebrity Collect Call" questions begin with the game's wiseacre host, Buzz, calling the stars collect and asking them to come up with a question.
Dana Carvey offers up one on Satan in his Church Lady best. Carl Reiner delivers a "Dick Van Dyke Show" query. Kevin Bacon goes cannibalistic with a question dealing with his 1984 film, "Footloose." Ed McMahon asks one about his pre-"Tonight Show" career.
"The idea of 'You Don't Know Jack' appealed to me," says McMahon. "I knew they had games on CD-ROMs. I am not at all computer-literate. My 11-year-old daughter is trying to help me out."
Other participants are Milton Berle, Lauren Tewes, Mick Fleetwood, Nell Carter, Griffin Dunne, Ted Lange, Charles Nelson Reilly and Vanessa Williams.
But don't expect to encounter a celebrity with every game. "You Don't Know Jack, Vol. 2" features 7- and 21-question games. The "Celebrity Collect Call" is only available on the 21-question game, and not always. "You can go through a bunch of games [to get a celebrity]," Gottlieb says. "You've got to pick the right topic. There's no way of knowing."
Though the celebs were paid for their stint, Gottlieb says: "These are busy people and I don't think any of them were doing it for the money. I think they were doing it because it was fun." No one would say what they were paid, but the minimum base rate for work on a CD-ROM is $522, according to the Screen Actors Guild.
Michelle Gorchow, who produced the celebrity bits, says she would work with the performers on their questions and their banter with the game's heard-but-not-seen host (actor Peter S. Spector, who has mostly worked in TV commercials).
"We had a primary conversation and we asked them what they were interested in," Gorchow says. "Lauren Tewes lives in the Pacific Northwest and she's an expert on oysters. Charles Nelson Reilly was terrific. He gave us a bio and we took it from there because he didn't want to talk about 'The Match Game.' "
Estrada, who asks a "CHiPs"-themed question, says he and Gorchow "wanted to make it player-friendly. We worked a bit on it and we came up with this idea and some others."
"They laid out the question," McMahon says. "I said I will add some stuff on my one, which I did." So McMahon has fun with Buzz, chiding the host for calling him "Ed" and insisting he address him as "Mr. McMahon."'
Though Tim Allen is a huge fan of the first "Jack" game, Gorchow says not many of the participants even owned a computer before appearing in the game.
"Dana Carvey was getting a computer the next day," Gorchow says. "We sent everyone a game."
Now McMahon is hooked. "I didn't want to stop playing," he confesses.
For Gorchow, it was a dream come true to chat with the stars.
"Dana Carvey definitely stood out because he was so interesting," she says. "He went off and did just every character. We had a really nice rapport.
"Phyllis Diller was great. She had props that she had gathered together for the call--she had a little bell with her. Everyone was, like, if you need more audio just call back. It was an easy gig for them. It took 15 minutes. They just stayed in their house and did this."