William Shatner showed his range at Phoenix Fan Fusion 2023 | Phoenix New Times

Film & TV

William Shatner showed his range at Phoenix Fan Fusion 2023

The iconic actor, singer, host and comedian gave the crowd the full razzle-dazzle.
"Star Trek" actor William Shatner.
"Star Trek" actor William Shatner. Benjamin Leatherman
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Let's say William Shatner's been famous since his iconic "Twilight Zone" episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," aired in October 1963. (Or maybe it was his 1966 Esperanto-language horror flick?) That means the 92-year-old has been a big deal for 60 years.

How’s he managed to accomplish such a feat? Our cultural obsession with "Star Trek"? A love of spoken word? That Priceline campaign from the 2000s? Shatner remains an icon because, as he demonstrated during his panel on the final day of Phoenix Fan Fusion 2023 on June 4, he can truly do it all — and often before noon on a Sunday.

The best MC

Shatner hosts his annual Hollywood Charity Horseshow, raising money to support kids and veterans. This year saw him pull a marathon of sorts, leaving the convention early Saturday to fly out to Burbank, Calif., to host before returning early Sunday morning for his 10:30 a.m. panel. It'd be a feat for anyone, but Shatner also managed to turn it into a minor bit.

"My airplane leaves at 2 p.m. and I get a message at noon it's delayed two hours," Shatner said. "I got a message 20 minutes later it's back on. So you know what I mean when I say 'Southwest Airlines!', right?"

Set phasers to fun

Speaking of standup, Shatner's panel often felt like he was trying out a tight 15 minutes. Like when a fan asked about working on "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

"Why in God's name is that your favorite?" Shatner asked? "We can float a balloon at the height right now!"

Or, the fan who kept kneeling in front of him for some reason.

"If you have pearls and diamonds in my weight, bring them to me. But don’t kneel in front of me," he quipped. "If you're worried about blocking someone, don't worry about that."

To which Shatner then revealed his perfect comedic timing with, "OK, maybe you should kneel, you're blocking someone."

Even the fan dressed as a "Steampunk Weiner," which allowed Shatner to get a little blue.

"Does your father dress up as a pair of giant buns to contain the big weiner?" he asked.

Suffering for his art

Shatner's comedy chops aren't exactly new, but he continually demonstrated his overall sharpness.

Case in point: he spent time in Coober Pedy, Australia, to film "Stars on Mars." The show, which debuted earlier this week, sees celebrities simulating life during a future colonization mission.

"Phoenix is in the middle of a desert, did you know that?" Shatner asked. "That's child's play compared to Coober Pedy. They have flies there that when you open your mouth, they [gag]. I went through torture to make this show, so you better watch it."

Captain's courageous

"Stars on Mars" isn't just another project; it also gave Shatner a chance to talk about how he takes roles.

"I read a part that someone wants me to play," he said. "I take it if, one, it's a good part, two, it’s not in Coober Pedy, and, three, it pays a lot. If I want to do it, I’m fully involved. I give myself completely to it. I’m [even] totally involved in giving you an answer. Watch Monday night, and you’ll find out."

A champion for science

Shatner doesn't just play a Starfleet captain — he's very much involved in promoting scientific development. In addition to touching on his work with ecology (more on that later), Shatner also told a story about hosting a science show and interviewing Dr. Stephen Hawking.

"He was one of the great minds of the 20th century," Shatner said. "When he agreed to the interview, Hawking's people said he wanted to ask me one question in return. So we get done and I say, 'Don't you want to ask me the one question?' I'm thinking he'll want to ask me about the history of time, or did I have a vision of the limitlessness of the universe. He goes, 'What's your favorite "Star Trek" episode?'"

An intergalactic hero

Aside from sacrificing himself to flies in the outback, Shatner recently checked off another big bucket list item: going to actual space. He was one of a few guests on a recent flight of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin project.

And, sure, he had plenty to crack wise about — the use of hydrogen ("Have you seen the Hindenburg documentary?!"); being strapped in ("The most important strap was the crotch strap — you understand that, giant weiner?"); and even how he couldn't back out ("They said, 'Anyone who wants out, get off now.' I can't, I'm Captain Kirk.")

But the thing that Shatner actually took away was not the grand adventure waiting in the stars, but rather the work ahead on this tiny rock, efforts he's more than committed to however he can best help.

"I thought of the fury and frenzy of space," Shatner said. "But it was black as black can be. And to me, that’s death. The Texas desert below me, with the brown and the beige and the white of the clouds, that's life. We’re nothing — why are we here?! We’re here to pay attention to the mystery of life. How desperately we need to save the Earth."
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