William Shatner Once Did Stand-Up Comedy in Character as Captain Kirk
Pop culture legend/toupee thief William Shatner turns 92-years-shat today, and looking back at his long career, there’s really nothing that the Star Trek icon hasn’t accomplished. He’s traveled to outer space, appeared in roughly 5,000 Priceline commercials and recorded several albums of varying listenability.
He’s also no stranger to the world of stand-up comedy — and we’re not just talking about the time he hosted An Evening at the Improv and literally read out the phone book while wearing Groucho glasses and an amusing hat.
There was also the time when Shatner performed stand-up comedy in character as Captain James T. Kirk, which went about as smoothly as a Klingon mating ritual. As Shatner recalled during a talk at this year’s South by Southwest, he was once asked to do a set at a “famous comedy theater in Los Angeles” and said yes, due in part to his belief that “stand-up comedy is the essence of art.”
Shatner came up with an audacious idea for the show: He would perform, not as himself, but as Kirk, theorizing it would be “really funny” if the Starfleet Captain “wants to be a stand-up comic, but he doesn’t know how to do it.” This meant delivering purposefully hacky material, or as Shatner later described, telling “the worst jokes possible. ‘Take my wife, please’ kind of humor.”
While it could be argued that Shatner’s approach was a pioneering attempt at anti-comedy, his audience was having none of it. Shatner even wrote about the traumatic incident in one of his many books, recounting how the crowd stared at him “with their mouths open in awe,” realizing that they were “in the middle of a complete disaster.” Nobody laughed because they were too busy being “stunned” at this “colossally bad idea.” According to Shatner, “It was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Which is a bold statement coming from the guy who made Star Trek V. Happy Birthday, Bill.
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