Last month marked almost three decades since actor William Shatner appeared in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which he parodied himself talking to a gaggle of “Star Trek” fans about his character, Capt. James T. Kirk.
He shocked the geeky assemblage with an exasperated, “Get a life!”
That saying went on to become a punchline for the hugely popular actor, and when he appears at this weekend’s Wizard World New Orleans Comic Con, the 84-year-old will prove that he has, indeed, gotten a life — but not at the expense of his fans.
He explored that curious relationship in his book “Get a Life!” which was adapted into a TV documentary four years ago. And he understands why fan culture has evolved into a more mainstream phenomenon during the 50 years since “Star Trek” first aired.
“I’m imbued with that thought,” he said in a phone interview. “That ‘Star Trek’ in particular and other science-fiction works in general are part of a mythological culture that is trying to explain the inexplicable, in the same way religion tries to do.”
It’s a typically busy year for Shatner, who in 2009 was nominated for an Emmy for his work on “Boston Legal.” (He won two Emmys and a 2005 Golden Globe for the show.)
He’s currently promoting “Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage,” a multimedia show that mixes film and music by a 35-piece symphony orchestra and spans all of the show’s film and TV iterations. It hits the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts on Jan. 27.
“There will be this large screen that will be projecting key moments of ‘Star Trek’ that had great music to it while the scenes were taking place,” he said. “In celebration of the 50th anniversary, that alone is a phenomenon.”
It also gives audiences a chance to better appreciate the way music became its own character in several “Star Trek” works, including the original 1960s series that featured one of the most recognizable theme songs in TV history.
“Music is a critical and essential element in making movies,” Shatner said. “I’ve been to silent-movie screenings with an 85-piece orchestra. The interesting question is, when writing music for a movie, whether to have the music anticipate the action in a scene or follow through after the action. In the movie ‘Jaws,’ do you have the shark music happen before the jaws, or see the jaws and then the music?
“Those are the questions answered by the director and the composer all the time.”
This is Shatner in conversation — constantly speaking off the cuff but invariably willing to go a little deeper.
That’s what Comic Con fans have come to expect from his appearances: often unprepared remarks but plenty to chew on.
He employed that style to great effect when making joint appearances with his friend and former “Star Trek” co-star Leonard Nimoy.
YouTube clips from appearances such as one at the 2009 Dragon Con in Atlanta show the old Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock antagonizing each other but reaffirming why they had such great on-screen chemistry.
Nimoy died Feb. 27 at age 83, leaving Shatner without his best comic foil. He’ll remember that relationship in a book, “Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man,” due out Feb. 16.
“Some of the best times I spent with him, and I think him with me, were onstage like that,” Shatner said. “We were required to riff each other because we were required to entertain (the audience) but also because it forced us to exercise our sense of humor and our fondness for each other. When I started to write the book, I would weep at these lost memories.
“What people don’t mention about someone who dies ... and what you soon find out, is that person is no longer there to validate those memories,” he continued. “There was something so beautiful about two grown men laughing at each other and making the audience laugh. That glow continued long after that moment.”
It’s all about maintaining a relationship with an audience that has served him well for more than five decades.
While Shatner loves to engage with his nearly 2.3 million Twitter followers — a rarity for an octogenarian, even a famous one — it’s the live appearances that cement the bond.
“The reason I go to these conventions for that hour in which, yes, I’m pushing the book and ‘The Ultimate Voyage’ and that kind of thing, but I’m also going there for the connection with the audience. I have a good time talking about my career and riffing on the questions,” he said. “That connection with the audience is part of what keeps me alive.” --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
“Boldly Going with William Shatner” panel
WHEN: Saturday, 3 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.
WHERE: New Orleans Theatre room, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
INFO: William Shatner also will be at Comic Con for autographs, photo ops and a VIP experience on Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.