Okay, let me come clean right from the jump: I love Star Trek. As teenagers, my best friend Gregg and I went to Star Trek conventions, watched and endlessly debated the show’s larger sociological implications. (Why, for instance, did the crew of the Enterprise manage to violate the Prime Directive pretty much every week? Can green women be considered hot? Was Kirk doing Yeoman Rand? Oh, the list is endless.) I also loved Shatner, and really wanted to be, if not Kirk himself, at least somewhat Kirk-like in my own geeky teenage life. Get the girl. Whip some butt. Talk three dramatic words at a time. So even as Shatner made questionable post-Trek career moves and ensconced himself in the Cheeseball Hall of Fame with T.J. Hooker, my affection for him never faded. The Comedy Central Roast of the 75-year-old actor, now having a career renaissance with his hilarious role on Boston Legal, was both a tribute to Bill’s 50-year career and also a go-for-the-jugular send-up of his foibles. To his great credit, Shatner seemed to genuinely enjoy every minute, even the jokes that made the audience both laugh and cringe uncomfortably. Interestingly, others seemed to be laughing through gritted teeth when the barbs came their way, but hey, if you’re gonna dish it out…
An accomplished equestrian rider among many other things, Shatner made his entrance on a horse to the strains of the 60’s hit “Ride, Captain, Ride.” He then perched his ever-expanding butt in the command chair from the bridge of the Enterprise. Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame acted as Roastmaster, and the comics assembled for the evening wasted no time in taking it right to Shatner and the celebrity guests, who included George Takei, Farrah Fawcett and Betty White. A few choice zingers:
Comedian Patton Oswalt held up a paper bag and asked Shatner if he could act his way out of it.
Upon noting that Shatner is Jewish, Alexander quipped, “Shove that photon torpedo up your ass, Mel Gibson.”
Dressed as Mr. Spock, ears and all, the terminally weird Andy Dick announced, “I am the love child of Kirk and Spock…call me Kock.”
Comic Jeff Ross: “Bea Arthur was supposed to be here tonight, but she’s having a testicle removed,” and, referring to Shatner’s weight, “When did you go from Captain Kirk to Captain Crunch?”
The final insult was hurled by the seemingly mild-mannered and affable George Takei, who played Sulu on Star Trek: “Bill, I’ve been waiting over 40 years to say this: F———–ck You!!” And do you know what? He wasn’t joking. I would bet the farm he has waited 40 years to tell Bill Shatner off. Perhaps that is what audiences find truly entertaining: the slashes of truth that the quips and jokes do not succeed in masking. It is part and parcel of our culture’s seemingly insatiable appetite to watch our fellow human beings suffer degradation and humiliation, whether eating bugs on Fear Factor or watching famous actors endure the barbs and insults of their show business cronies (or, as some might otherwise observe, their lessers.) There is truth in the insults, we all know it, and to end a vicious tirade with, “But seriously folks, I love this guy…” is disingenuous b.s. But the comics brought the funny big-time, so all is forgiven. Or is it?
Big Bill took it like a man, and again, enjoyed the hell out of being the evening’s primary punch line. William Shatner is an actor, director, sci-fi novelist, chef, horseman, canny businessperson (Priceline, etc.) and one rich dude. Is he a great actor? That’s a matter of opinion, I suppose, but Bill Shatner has given millions of people countless hours of enjoyment, and there are precious few aspirants in this world who can lay claim to that achievement. The Roast was fun; but it was not nearly as much fun as the episode where Kirk splits into the good Kirk and evil Kirk or the one where he fights the Gorn to the death or the one where he sneaks onto the Klingon warship to steal the cloaking device or…