The Ultimate Rat Pack Interview
Did you know there are Star Trek Rat Pack groupies? There are. Really. And why not? The dapper gents, sporting their tuxedos, downing their alcoholic beverages, mercilessly poking fun at each other, telling some off-color jokes and trying to sing (OK, a few of them actually can croon), are entertaining as hell. As such, they’ve become perennial favorites at Star Trek Las Vegas, closing out the event in style. This year’s formation of the Star Trek Rat Pack will feature Max Grodenchik, the mastermind behind all the fun, as well as Casey Biggs, Jeffrey Combs, Vaughn Armstrong and Ethan Phillips. StarTrek.com caught up with the whole gang for the following very entertaining chat…
Max: Let me start with this… How long have we done this gig?
Casey: Since 1962. At least it feels like that. But seriously… have we ever done it before?
Ethan: I’ve been involved for the last four, years when I first stepped in for Armin. The guys have been doing this quite a while. In fact, when I first joined, Cap’n Crunch was just a private!
Max: Our very first performance was on the top floor of the Stratosphere Hotel way back in August 2010, so this is our ninth year in Las Vegas. In between Vegas gigs we have been to a bunch of other U.S. cities, even Honolulu, Hawaii. We've played to audiences in Canada, England, and Germany, and last January we performed on a Star Trek cruise over the Caribbean.
Vaughn: Was it only 2010? It seems like forever. No wonder we're still reading it.
Max: I'm not sure, but I think I stand corrected -- and standing corrected is not my favorite position -- but my latest records indicate that we've been doing this show since 2009, not 2010. So, maybe we should be off-book now.
Jeffrey: Vaughn is right. We've been doing it long enough that we should be off-book and yet we never are. Raise a glass to senility!
Vaughn: Why do we torture ourselves doing this every year?
Casey: We love pain. No, we really do.
Ethan: I just don’t know. You tell me.
Max: It's a real hoot for me to be on stage with those guys. I think we really enjoy performing with each other. And don't forget, we get two free drinks apiece for each performance. I don't want to jinx it but there has always been a camaraderie between us on stage -- I'm not even sure what "camaraderie" means, but I think it's the feeling I feel when I'm on stage with the other guys. Also, let's face it, these are extraordinarily talented and entertaining actors I get to work with, and I am being entertained just as much as the audience, except that being on stage I have the best seat in the house.
Vaughn: As you say in one of the songs, Max, "We've got nothing else to do." And it is a blast playing with these guys.
Jeffrey: Torture? Singing silly songs with old pals with a stiff drink in my hand ain't exactly water-boarding.
Jeffrey: How amazing is it that so many fans stay to the very end of the convention specifically because they want to see us?
Max: I never ever, ever imagined us performing to an audience in a foreign country whose mother tongue is not English. To get a reaction from the German audience, in particular, was something I could not believe. I know that on the cruises we did, audience members came to see BOTH our shows, and there were some who booked TWO cruises and saw our show FOUR TIMES. They put us on stage kind of late, and the cruisers had early morning shore excursions, so that really blew me away. That people make plans around our Sunday night closing Vegas show is quite humbling -- I hope we can keep that same quality and freshness of the show so that fans continue to want to see us.
Vaughn: Max, why are talking about a mother’s tongue? Just kidding. I keep telling you that this corn is a hoot in any language. In fact, I'm not sure we even have to talk. We should try one without words sometime. In fact, there are times I think that might be better.
Casey: Star Trek fans can never get too much of a good thing!
Jeffrey: Seriously, that is the highest compliment of all. We know the fans have had five long days of all things Trek. They're in tatters and yet they stick around to catch our act. We love them.
Casey: OK, so what do we tell people is new and different for this year’s STLV performance?
Vaughn: I'm wearing a new and different pair of socks.
Jeffrey: I have a new bow tie. Oh, and a couple new songs. And I’m hoping the LSD kicks in right when I do my solo.
Max: The Rat Pack actors live all over the place: Ethan's in New York, Casey's in Northern California, and I'm in Austria, so it gets harder and harder to rehearse stuff. When we began, we were pretty much all in Los Angeles. That means it's tougher to put in new stuff. There are new ideas on the table, but we won't know if they'll fly until we rehearse them, and we'll only get two rehearsals, the night before and the morning of the day we perform. Some ideas get put into the show in the dressing room, when we're gettin' ready to go on stage!
Casey: Some new songs and always new jokes... and this year we’ll get the harmonies right. And we’ve got Ethan Phillips stepping in for Armin again this year…
Jeffrey: Correction… Ethan Phillips is stepping ON Armin this year.
Ethan: What’s new about this performance is we’ll be doing it for the first time in Latvian! Also, for the first time ever, I’ll sing some of the songs in tune.
Max: We've done the show with Armin, we've done the show with Ethan, we've even done the show with James Darren. We are ALL Rat Packers, and each different configuration gives each show its own special flavor -- different actors help to ensure that we never do the same show twice, that each is unique. On the Star Trek cruises, we had Armin AND Ethan, for the first time ever -- and likely never again. So, we had six Rat Packers in the show. Indeed, fans will notice a slightly different flavor to the show with Ethan than with Armin -- these guys are towering talents, but unique talents, and the different lineups help to keep us on our toes.
Casey: Ethan tells better jokes.
Ethan: Seriously, we are blessed to have some musical virtuosos up there and to have Max’s brilliant and funny lyrics. I love doing it and am happy Armin’s working elsewhere, so that I can do it.
Vaughn: I think we should do one with every guest at the convention. I'd love to see Shatner's imitation of Shatner.
Ethan: Regarding replacing Armin again, people don’t even notice as we’re both so bald that the glare from our scalps blinds the audience anyway.
Ethan: Do you think we'll be sober this time?
Casey: God, I hope not!
Vaughn: They do it without the booze and we're lost. Did you ever see Dean Martin without a drink? There must be a reason for that. What would that be? Mmmm, a search for the meaning of life.
Jeffrey: Like every year, we will be drunk on Trek love.
Max: Like I said, we do it for the free liquor. And we very much encourage the audience members to have a little alcohol in their system as well. We find they laugh louder and longer!
The Star Trek Rat Pack will close out Star Trek Las Vegas with a performance at 9pm on Sunday, August 5, on the main stage in the Gene Roddenberry Theatre. It’s free, so go. Oh, and all of the guys will be available during the weekend for autographs and photo ops (some in costume); check the Creation site for the actors' individual schedules.