Get a Life! (skit)

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Commentary
Title: Get a Life!
Commentator: William Shatner and Saturday Night Live
Date(s): December 20, 1986
Medium: live-action television
Fandom: Star Trek
External Links:
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Get a Life! was a skit performed on Saturday Night Live by William Shatner.

In it, Star Trek fans are portrayed as immature, nerdish, without social skills, focused on fandom minutia, and objects of disdain. One of Shatner's lines, sick of Star Trek fans asking him what he felt to be inane questions, is to tell them to "Get a life!"

It has become phrase that is now used as a insult to fans, suggesting that fandom is a waste of time and that fans are losers.

Referenced in Textual Poachers

When Star Trek star William Shatner... appeared as a guest host of Saturday Night Live, the program chose this opportunity to satirize the fans of his 1960s television series. The "Trekkies" were depicted as nerdy guys with glasses and rubber Vulcan ears, "I Grok Spock" T-shirts stretched over their bulging stomachs. One man laughs maliciously about a young fan he has just met who doesn't know Yeoman Rand's cabin number, while his friend mumbles about the great buy he got on a DeForest Kelly album. When Shatner arrives, he is bombarded with questions from fans who want to know about minor characters in individual episodes (which they cite by both title and sequence number), who seem to know more about his private life than he does and who demand such trivial information as the combination to Kirk's safe. Finally, in incredulity and frustration, Shatner turns on the crowd: "Get a life, will you people? I mean, I mean, for crying out loud, it's just a TV show!" Shatner urges the fans to move out of their parent's basements and to proceed with adult experiences ("you ever kissed a girl?"), to put their fannish interests behind them. The fans look confused at first, then progressively more hurt and embarrassed. Finally, one desperate fan asks, "Are you saying we should pay more attention to the movies?" Enraged, Shatner storms of the stage, only to be confronted by an equally angry convention organizer. After a shoving match and a forced rereading of his contract, an embarrassed Shatner takes the stage again and tells the much-relieved fans that they have just watched a "recreation of the evil Captain Kirk from episode 27, 'The Enemy Within.' [1]

From a Blurb About the Book of the Same Name

From William Shatner's 1999 book:

When William Shatner appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1986 and told Jon Lovitz and a convention hall full of absurdly nerdy Star Trek fans to "get a life," it was all in good fun. After all, anyone who’s been to a Trek convention has seen one or two people who bear a resemblance to Dana Carvey’s Spock-okker, but we all knew Bill was just teasing. Wasn’t he? 'That now-infamous sketch,' Shatner reveals, 'was for me, at that time, equal parts comedy and catharsis…. I bought into the Trekkie stereotypes. In a nutshell, I was a dope.' [2]

A Modern Retelling of Sorts

In May 2009, Star Trek XI stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy appeared on Saturday Night Live and preformed a 3 min 24 sec skit, one that focused on the reception with which diehard Trek fans greeted Star Trek (2009). It was reminiscent of the 1986 skit, Get a Life!. [3]

Fan Response

Some fans found the skit funny, some did not.

1987

[1987]: The... sketch on Star Trek convention attendees was somewhat less hilarious, not because of his talent but because of the script, which was a uneasy mix of hyperbole, inside jokes, some genuine humor, and cruelty. [4]
[1987]: I disagree with your critique in I#112 of the convention sketch. I have been addicted to conventions since I discovered them in Atlanta while I was attending college (c. 1982). I thought the characterizations of the convention members were right on mark. There is always at least one question from the audience regarding some obscure beaming coordinates, or a safe combination, or some other minute detail of some episode. The script captured the stereotypical convention and fans, and I laughed until my sides ached. [5]
[1987]: I thought Bill Shatner's skit on SNL was mildly amusing and I was not insulted by it (SNL treats all subjects that way, and Bill is a consummate actor—he'll play ANY role). I just want to say, I HAVE a life, and Star Trek has enriched it tremendously! [6]

1988

[1988]: One thing I've learned from my exposure to a number of fans is that the infamous "get a life" skit from Saturday Night Live haunts us. At the first convention I went to, James Doohan expressed his disapproval of the skit and a large number of the audience loudly agreed. This surprised me because I had thought it was rather funny. Later in the summer, at another con, I gained more insight into the situation. Diane Carey, the author, was quite seriously exhorting her audience to become involved, to adopt a cause (any one would do), in short, to get a life. I have realized that the stereotypical fan is wrapped up in Star Trek to the exclusion of the real world. I resent having such assumptions made about me. I have "got a life." I have a husband and children. I do volunteer work and have opinions on a wide variety of matters, both political and religious. I do shopping, vote in elections, and change diapers. I do live in the real world, with all its tension and stress That is the reason I am a Trekker. A hobby is necessary for mental health. Star Trek helps me to keep from burning out in all the "important" things I do. It helps me relax. It helps me retain my perspective. It is fun. It is not my religion. I already have a perfectly good religion. (Well, I'm Catholic.) And I suspect that the majority of fans are more like me than the stereotype. [7]

Thanks a lot, Bill!

You may remember William Shatner's appearance on "Saturday Night Live". He took some pretty hard shots at Trek fans in a skit that parodied conventions. Some of his arrows aimed true—dealers offering overpriced merchandise to folks who snapped it up, and fans knowing more about the details of the stars' lives than they do. But what struck me the hardest was his line about the 30-year-old fan who lived in his parents' basement and had never kissed a girl. According to Shatner, apparently fans are pretty dependent, immature, messed-up people who try to live their lives vicariously through Star Trek. Anyone who thinks that way about fandom has a remarkable lack of compassion, and has missed the most important things about fandom.

True it is that many Trek fans have problems—physical, emotional, social, or financial. So do most people, if they tell the truth about themselves. (Even Spock never found a perfect human.) Trek draws many people who, at some time in their lives, have felt deeply dissatisfied, needy, or even hopeless—about themselves, their families and associates, their work, or the way they see their world going. So we immerse ourselves in Trek. Maybe it starts out as escapist fantasy, but it doesn't end there. Trek shows us an imaginary future, where our crew cares more about each other than themselves, where people are valued for what they are and what they can accomplish, and where humans have left behind the ridiculous barriers of race, sex, geography, and other accidents of birth that currently divide us from each other. It is surely a universe in which there is much to value, and much joy.

Having seen ourselves in the mirror of Trek, some of us see fandom as a way-station. Some of us, basically isolated, find that we can form solid and enduring friendships. Through fandom, some of us discover or develop talents or abilities that we might have ignored otherwise, such as writing, photography, drawing or painting, computer skills, or even a sense of humor. Some of us feel accepted and embraced for the first time in our lives by the "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" ethic that is the best of fandom. ( don't mean to minimize the downside of fandom. If you've been in it for a while, you know the ugliness too. But that is not what Bill Shatner was talking about.)

But according to Shatner, some (or most?) fans get stuck in the fantasy, and never find their way out, never take that fantasy inside and make it a part of their growing lives. Well, I don't know whether there really are fans like that; after all, most of us haven't finished living yet. I do know a few fans who, at least for now, seem to fit the description that appealed to our hero. Do they deserve such contempt?

I think not. Not everyone has the same ability, inner resources, and luck, and not everyone can change themselves or the circumstances of their lives. Some people can do all that, but they take a lot longer than others might. Even our hypothetical thirty-year old, living in his parents' basement without benefit of girlfriend, is better off with Trek than without it. With Trek, he has friends, and a shared vision of what life could be at its best. Without Trek, he's just a lonely fellow stuck in the cellar. [8]

1989

[1989]: I do believe that ST fans get an unfair amount of criticism from outside their ranks and I believe some of these know-it-alls could learn a few things from us in how we try to raise honest criticisms about each other through gentle-hearted kidding and by showing some real warmth towards the person of the other point of view in our ranks (or at least some of us do). But. yes, I DO find that too many professional media/celebrity cons fit that SNL parody. And though I believe Shatner's heart was in the right place, I also believe that he should've had his head examined for appearing in it. Instead of getting people to view the phenomenon in a more positive light —and by allowing himself to be a part of the skit—Shatner actually reinforced the negative stereotypes outsiders have about us. You see, either people view ST and ST fandom with open minds or they don't. Yes, we should be able to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves (or the things we're into) TOO seriously, but I don't think that we have to put up with EVERY put-down or EVERY cheap shot at our expense. The convention parody was a cheap shot at our expense in order to get some cheap laughs, and in spite of the 'with it' attitudes of the SNL cast, I'm afraid that the show's writers are coming across like pompous snobs these days. Still, I separate what they were up to with what Shatner was sincerely trying, to say, though he said it in the wrong way. [9]
[1989]: I'm relieved to hear that others found the "get a life" skit from Saturday Night Live somewhat offensive. Everyone I talked to seemed to be regarding it with good-humored tolerance, which is all very nice, but guys, we do not need SNL and William Shatner, of all people, reinforcing the stereotype that some people have of Star Trek fans. Yes, we all have met people like the ones in that skit, but they are vastly outnumbered by the fans in every conceivable type of job, profession, vocation and avocation. Some of it was funny though, I have to admit. [10]

1993

[1993]: So who invented the word Trekkie'? Surely not a fan. I can quite easily imagine a group of hunters prowling around video stores and book shops, calling out "Here Trekkie Trekkie", blowing into a communicator whistle. I once read somewhere that "we" prefer to be called 'Trekkers'. Despite being infinitely more dignified, it still sounds daft - a hike, anyone? So next time you go to say "I'm a Trekker" or "I'm a Trekkie", instead say "I'm a Star Trek fan and I'm proud of it" and see what the response is. My mind takes me back to the Saturday Night Live sketch set at a Trek convention. All of the people there were the stereotypical fan, as described in my first paragraph. Although sometimes we need to laugh at ourselves (some of that sketch was genuinely funny; some sadly true) it was quite unnecessary for William Shatner to appear and make the comments he did. "Get a life", he said. As fans it's us who gave him a life - a damn good one at that. Surely we deserve some respect from him? At least most of the other stars take the time to talk to their fans at conventions - strange we may be, but we pay their bills and they know it. [11]

2012

[2012]: There was backlash, he backpedalled pretty quickly, but now it still gets lobbed by sub-factions of the fandom at one another. I think it might have hurt fandom's perception in the eyes of the general public a bit. They were always a wacky group, but they were kinda just dismissed with a roll of the eyes. Having one of the stars go off so publicly kinda gave the haters a bit of ammunition to go after any type of fan. It might have also strengthened as a bit as we took the criticism at face value and maybe admitted some of us were a little goofy, but we still remain dedicated to our hobby. [12]

External Sources

References

  1. from Textual Poachers
  2. from a 1999 review of the book Get a Life!
  3. Star Trek Prop, Costume & Auction Authority, posted May 10, 2009 (this includes a link to both the 2009 skit, as well as the 1986 skit)
  4. from Anne B in Interstat #112 (February 1987)
  5. from Marcia G. W in Interstat #113 (March 1987)
  6. from Shirley J. F in Interstat #116 (June 1987)
  7. from Jayne K in Interstat #134 (December 1988)
  8. comments by Harriet Cooper in the essay "Thanks a lot, Bill!" printed in Almost Anything Goes #3
  9. from Charles T. Jr in Interstat #145 (November 1989)
  10. from Interstat #135
  11. Martin Eade in Constellation #144
  12. Reddit, permalink, comment by pinkiepieismycopilot