William Shatner talks the joy of the uncompromised moment ahead of his one-man show at Yardley Hall Saturday

At this point in his career, actor William Shatner needs no introduction. But one can nevertheless take pleasure in recapping: We are talking about the original Captain James T. Kirk, of the USS Enterprise, and we are talking about the cop T.J. Hooker and the lawyer Denny Crane. He is the Priceline Negotiator. He is the auteur of several albums full of unique takes on popular songs.

And, at 86, he’s nothing if not an honest-to-God living legend. Also a moving legend: In 2012, Shatner appeared in a one-man show called Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It. Then he took it on the road, with a production now set to dock at Johnson County Community College’s Yardley Hall on Saturday, October 28.

I spoke with the man himself by phone recently. Needless to say, the topic was … Shatner.

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The Pitch: What’s the story behind the performance you’re doing at Johnson County Community College?

William Shatner: This is the Broadway show that I had awhile ago. I opened it, and it got great notices, and I toured it. I’m bringing this show to your town. It is exactly like the Broadway show. As I say, it got great notices: it is a very entertaining show, filled with laughter, filled with emotion, filled with some wisdom, perhaps.

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The big appeal to this show is that there’s not just the standard one-man-show format of telling stories. While there are those aspects to it, there are also musical performances.

Well, I love music. I can’t sing, unfortunately, although I have tried. I do have a good feeling for poetry and the words. I love words. I just laid down six tracks to a Christmas album that’ll be out in ’18. I was asked to do a Christmas album, and I said I’d do it but that I’d do it quite differently. I’ll take standard Christmas songs and put a different take to them.

So, I laid down six tracks yesterday, and they’re all quite different. There’s an original rock-and-roll song, “Run, Run Rudolph”; “Blue Christmas,” a country song; “Jingle Bells” — all different. Uptempo, downtempo, setting a scene — all different. If that’s my take, if that’s my style, maybe that’s what it is: looking at things from a slightly skewed point of view.

When I was reading those notices from your show’s original Broadway run, it was lauded for its mixture of seriousness and humor, which seems to be a good portion of your career. How does one bounce between comedy and drama?

That’s an interesting question, Nick. I don’t think there’s any difference. As an actor, there’s a comic spirit — it’s a thought rather than anything overt that you do — but it’s almost as though you’re bursting with a good joke, but you’re keeping a straight face. You’re wanting to tell this joke to your friends, but you’ve also got some sad news. Which one are you going to tell first? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about: Rather than bouncing between, it’s rather like swaying.

Swaying’s an interesting word to use, because it seems like you’ve become noted in recent years as an actor who’s willing to not take himself so seriously and is willing to poke fun at his own image. How do you learn to take that tongue-in-cheek approach?

Well, I’m not sure it’s tongue-in-cheek. [chuckles] It’s more coming to the realization that life itself is the ultimate joke: You’re born and you think you’re going to live forever, but then, all of a sudden, you die. Surprise! You’re not going to live forever. Even at my age, I think I’m never gonna die.

Yet, it haunts me. So, you — like, this year, a number of people that I knew died, and I remember thinking about it, watching the Emmys and seeing all of the people that I knew who had died, and thinking, “All the turmoil, and tragedy, and pathos that went on in their life, and they’re dead.”

It’s like, “So what?” and maybe that’s a better attitude to assume while living living: not to take it too seriously. Although you can go to far with that. There’s an ecclesiastical joke there somewhere.

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Given the fact that you’re willing to not take life seriously, is there a particular take on your style that you’ve appreciated over the years — an impersonation that you’ve found particularly entertaining?

No. Flummoxing. Bewildering. Every so often I nudge my wife and say, “Are they doing me?” I have no idea what they’re talking about. On occasion, in Star Trek, trying to remember the words, I might hesitate a moment to think, “What the hell do I say next?” and it may have come over as a style, but it was, in fact, sheer necessity — but I don’t see that happening in my everyday life or latter-day performances.

I know that you get asked about Star Trek all of the time: Is there an aspect of your time on the show that you don’t get to talk about as much as you’d like?

Not really, but the time I spent on Star Trek — and the celebrity and notoriety I accrued from that — is instrumental in you and I talking this afternoon, and my coming to town with the one-man show. All of it stemmed from the popularity of Star Trek, so I’m not loath to talk about Star Trek or my experiences with it. It has been the most wonderful gift, and I look at it this way. I am very proud of the phenomena that is Star Trek. There has never been anything like it in show business.

All of your fans seem to have a favorite performance – be it Star Trek, T.J. Hooker, Boston Legal or even Rescue 911. Is there a past performance in which you take particular joy?

My joy in writing or acting and directing comes from moments rather than the overall. If I can hit a moment, if I can get a descriptive paragraph out that captures the nuances of what I wish to convey, or if, as an actor, I can convey the truthful moment, or if I’ve got the shot I really want as a director — that, to me, is the success of that moment. Because you have to compromise so much in everything, if you can hit every so often an uncompromised moment: That is a victory to enjoy.

Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It is at Johnson County Community College’s Yardley Hall on Saturday, October 28. Details on that show here.

Categories: Stage, Theater