William Shatner: How Time Flies At the Centre in Vancouver on Wednesday
From beneath the oddly sentimental, slightly rambling, sometimes funny, often embarrassing three hours that William Shatner delivered on the opening date of his six-city tour, the occasional glimpse of his character bubbled up.
One came very early on, when an audience member had the audacity to yell out a response to one of the star's many rhetorical gambits.
"You've paid too much money for you to talk," Shatner shot back, a tad too frostily.
Another came much, much later, when he finally gave in and quenched his fans' thirst for talk of Star Trek, only to express just how deeply he despised people shouting "Beam me up, Scotty" in his direction.
At 80, Shatner may still crave the limelight, but he's going to occupy it his way. How Time Flies is a staged memoir, a cataloguing of an actor's life, from his childhood in Montreal, through stage and screen, and now onto documentary, album and book (the recent projects) – all plugged shamelessly, of course.
It is also a curious mix of performance and confessional, ribald jokes rubbing up uncomfortably with revelations about the sex, love and death in his life.
Shatner and radio veteran Alan Cross sit opposite each other in large leather armchairs, above them, clips and photos are shown on a large screen. Cross's job is to keep the star on track, steering him – not always successfully – back to the proper order of business on those occasions that Shatner veers off script. The segues between Shatner's third wife's death related to alcoholism to his finding love with his fourth wife and then to a strangely intimate encounter with a gorilla illustrate the enormity of Cross's job.
Shatner has a weakness for a punchline – he really wants to hear us laugh. Trouble is, not all of his anecdotes deserve a big payoff, but his constant pitching of them as hilarious leaves fans laughing just because they think they should. The snorts and giggles through a tale of his favourite horse's death made for one of the more uncomfortable moments of the night.
Death was something of a preoccupation: His horse, his father, his wife, Captain Kirk. "I'm an old man. I'm going to die soon," he shrugged.
He's certainly showing his age. Desperate to be remembered as a serious actor as well as a comic, he flips between lengthy anecdotes about Tyrone Guthrie and how his affinity with Alexander the Great informed his portrayal of Kirk, to dusty one-liners that surely haven't played well for half a century.
Perhaps we shouldn't tell those so close to the grave to hurry up, but some judicious editing would've helped (90 minutes in, we were still in Stratford during Shatner's twenties). Here's a tip, Bill: The Pakistan suicide bomber joke would be a good place to start cutting.
The long-awaited Star Trek segment – much like the original series – was over in a flash, as we rampaged through Boston Legal, the Olympics closing ceremony and the baffling ascendancy of Shatner's singing career. Time didn't exactly fly in the second half, but mercifully it did move along at a better clip.
We were never going to get out of there without Shatner singing something, though The Hockey Song he trotted out was fairly painless.
A showman to the end, Shatner is clearly in no rush to retire. He is an icon, you know, and he's not about to let us forget it.
A selection of Shatner's dusty one-liners
Shatner on women:
They did a study into why Jewish women love Chinese food so much and discovered that wonton spelled backwards is "not now."
Women are having sex with their husbands again – they can't afford the batteries.
On Charlie Sheen:
Would it kill you to open the door for her before you lock her in the closet?
On filming Judgment at Nuremberg:
There were all these incredible stars: Judy Garland was drunk, Montgomery Clift was drunk.
I yearn to be able to really sing, but I really can't.
William Shatner tours to Conexus Arts Centre in Regina on Friday, Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton on Sunday, the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg Oct. 25, Massey Hall in Toronto Nov. 3 and Place des Arts in Montreal Nov. 4.