PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner (Uncensored)

Jeremy Estes

The show has comic moments (commenting on Shatner's weight gain, Ross says, "You have let yourself boldly go"), but the roast isn't so much funny as it is forced.

Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner (Uncensored)

Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Jason Alexander, Andy Dick, Farrah Fawcett, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Lampanelli, Nichelle Nichols, Patton Oswalt, Kevin Pollak, William Shatner, George Takei
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: Comedy Central
US Release Date: 2007-03-20

Before his career renaissance as Boston Legal's Denny Crane, William Shatner's legacy was pretty well wrapped up. His performance as Captain James T. Kirk, with his clipped, exaggerated acting style, is as embedded in American culture as Bugs Bunny. Recently, after years of resisting the role that made him famous, Shatner has come to terms with his Trek past, becoming a self-aware, meta-comical presence on television, not just as an Alzheimer's-afflicted lawyer, but also as a spokesman for Priceline.com and Direct TV. William Shatner is no longer Captain Kirk. Captain Kirk is SHATNER.

And so, a Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner sounds like a good idea: the man once performed dramatic interpretations of "Rocket Man" and "Mr. Tambourine Man," starred in T.J. Hooker, and inspired legions of bad impressions. Shatner's career is as infamous as it is legendary, and looks like a joke-rich vein. Unfortunately, this roast is anything but rich.

Host Jason Alexander -- apparently selected, he says, because he was "inspired to act" by Shatner -- puts it best when he calls the assembled roasters "a veritable "'Who's that?' of comedy." Jeffrey Ross, Greg Giraldo, and Lisa Lampanelli are primarily known for their appearances on previous roasts. Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols and George Takei also grace the stage, but their inclusion only serves to demean their own careers, which make Shatner seem like Olivier by comparison.

The format is much the same as other Comedy Central roasts. After Shatner enters the theater on a horse and takes his place onstage in the original captain's chair from Star Trek, Alexander throws a few zingers, then hands over duties to the comedians. The show has comic moments (commenting on Shatner's weight gain, Ross says, "You have let yourself boldly go"), but the roast isn't so much funny as it is forced. It's essentially a bunch of comedians trying to outdo one another with crass jokes (Giraldo: "William Shatner has been in more turds than Andy Dick's penis"), borderline racist jokes (Patton Oswalt: "Lisa Lampanelli's fucked more black guys than the Tuskeegee experiments"), and homophobic jokes (again, Giraldo).

In the case of Betty White, what's shocking is who's telling the joke. Shatner's costar on Boston Legal, White is a veteran of many Friars' Club roasts from back when Nichols, who is black, "wouldn't have been allowed in." She claims to have had sex with Shatner just before the show and that she caught "plump little troll" Oswalt "going up" on Farrah Fawcett, whose train wreck of a performance is like a peek into an alternate future where Anna Nicole Smith lived.

Missing from all the filth and fake fury is spontaneity. Many roasters saunter up to the podium to do their bits with sheets of crumpled paper, their rehearsed readings devolving into mere drunken recitations. The worst of these is the night's final performer, Lampanelli, whose shtick includes black jokes, Jew jokes, Japanese jokes... you get the picture. Her 21st-century vaudeville one-liners ("Jeff Ross is so unlikable that on MySpace, even Tom won't be his friend") owe less to Henny Youngman and more to a men's room wall. Her halting, stilted act is humorless and insulting not to Shatner, but also viewers.

Viewing this roast once, in its original, edited version, I laughed, at times very hard. Re-watching this uncensored DVD, however, was an exercise in patience. Bonus features include throwaway red carpet interviews by a clearly drunk Jesse Klein (of VH1 fame) and a minute and a half of Shatner discussing the show with the producers. Though my jaw dropped when I heard a former Golden Girl working blue and Sulu telling Kirk, "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on," after the shock wears off, these jokes don't stand on their own.

Good stand-up -- Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Bill Cosby -- feels crafted, like a compelling novel or classic album. These brief walk-ons sound as if they were scrawled on cocktail napkins in the green room before the show. The comedians' nearly complete disconnection from the guest of honor speaks to Shatner's cultural status: anyone off the street can make fun of the guy.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Nudges Out Conscience in Our Time of Crises

Avatar shows us that to fight for only the people we know, for simply the things that affect us personally, is neither brave nor heroic, nor particularly useful.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.