Published Oct 2, 2019
Infinite Jests in Infinite Combinations: Looking Back at Star Trek Parodies
We all know about SNL and "USS Callister," but did you know about the less famous 'Trek' parodies criss-cross the quadrant as well?
By Warren Frey
Star Trek parodies are almost as old as Trek itself and in all of its many iterations, the show has made easy fodder for standups and sketch shows. Spoofs like the Saturday Night Live sketches with John Belushi as Captain Kirk and William Shatner himself insisting fans “get a life!” are part of the cultural firmament, and new takes like Black Mirror’s “USS Callister” give the tropes a 21st century spin.
But the well of Trek parody goes far deeper than those better-known examples, and as you’ll see below there are obscure, awkward and just plain weird takes on the U.S.S. Enterprise stretching across the decades.
In Living Color - “The Wrath of Farrakhan”
From the 1970s to the 90s a Star Trek parody was de rigeur for a sketch show, and In Living Color is no exception. “The Wrath of Farrakhan” was one of the first sketches made for the show, and the show's adept take on race is shown with Jim Carrey’s portrayal of a hapless Captain Kirk who doesn’t know what to do with himself once he gets knocked off his captain’s chair by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. It hasn’t aged perfectly (Sulu’s sexual desperation is tin-eared in 2019, and Louis Farrakahn is a complicated figure) but the sketch is worth it just to see Uhura go off on Kirk and Spock point out that, despite being the most qualified person on the bridge, somehow Spock is only second in command.
Duckman - “Where No Duckman Has Gone Before”
The irreverent animated seiries Duckman was great when it first aired in the early 1990s. Jason Alexander has an effortless charm as the acerbic title character, Greggory Berger is perfect as Duckman’s deadpan foil Cornfed Pig, and the show’s view of modern society as a baffling fail-train still rings true decades later. Duckman’s empty swagger works perfectly for an ersatz, fourth-wall-breaking Kirk, Cornfed is a great Spock, and the choice of Gilbert Gottfried as a loudly unhinged not-McCoy is inspired. Plus there’s Fluffy and Uranus as redshirts, Tim Curry as Khan Chicken, a Marina Sirtis voice cameo and the immortal line “of all the soles I’ve tasted, his had the most..cumin.” It even ends with a live-action Leonard Nimoy cameo! Which leads us to...
The Carol Burnett Show - Mr. Spock’s Surprise Visit
Everything leading up to the reveal of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock serves to remind us what a gift Carol Burnett was to comedy, hamming it up with an invisible baby and selling it for every second of the sketch. It was, perhaps, one of the best sendups of the name-sharing Mr. Spock and contemporaneous baby expert Dr. Spock we've seen to this day.
North America didn’t have a monopoly on Trek parodies. In the 1980s Spitting Image skewered British politicians and celebrities, including a peek into the neuroses of “Leo-Nard Neemoy,” as they call him in the clip.
Like most good ideas on UK television, there was soon a short-lived American version. The American version of Spitting Image produced a spoof called “The 1987 American Movie Awards” where an ersatz Oscars show hosted by David Frost is hijacked by Leonard Nimoy and a passel of also-ran actors indignant they weren’t included in the festivities. Despite its age, it’s still quite funny, though considerably less biting than its British predecessor. “Nimoy” also looks great sporting a Starfleet regulation smoking jacket.
The Care Bears - Various Episodes
No-one should be surprised the Care Bears spoofed Star Trek; by this point Trek was a known pop culture phenomenon and was low-hanging fruit for TV writers on every rung of the career ladder. But what is surprising is that they milked the concept in almost a dozen saccharine-filled toyetic segments without getting sued. If you can get through this playlist, you’re a better person than I, or at least have a higher pain tolerance.
SCTV - “Check Please”
It’s only a commercial for a non-existent sitcom starring Spock and McCoy running a diner called “Check Please,” but in the space of about a minute Dave Thomas delivers a credible imitation of Dr. McCoy and Harold Ramis nearly convinces audiences that Spock would make a decent waiter!
The Muppet Show - "Pigs In Space"
Ok, this is a bit of a stretch, but there’s no way Pigs In Space would exist without Star Trek. Besides, the parallels between Link Hogthrob and Kirk are obvious, as are those between McCoy and Dr. Julius Strangepork. The ship is even called the Swine Trek!
The Firm - "Star Trekkin’"
UK band The Firm released this novelty hit in 1987 and it forever became the anthem of dank Star Trek clubs shortly thereafter. In the time before the infinite choices of the internet, this tune simultaneously increased one’s nerd shame while validating dedication to all things Trek. The British public seemed to enjoy the song as it spent two weeks at the top of the charts. The creators of the song decided not to appear on Top of the Pops (a TRL-esque British show) and instead commissioned a charmingly cheap music video. The stop motion and DIY puppetry made for a potent mix paired with one of the nerdiest earworms made up to that time. Looked at from a 2019 perspective, one could call "Star Trekkin’" one of the original memes.
Warren Frey (he/him) is a journalist, video editor and Star Trek fan in Vancouver, BC. He’s also one of the co-hosts of Doctor Who: Radio Free Skaro. Find him on Twitter @freyburg.