Carol Burnett has some cosmic and comic Star Trek connections

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 02: Carol Burnett arrives at NBC's "Carol Burnett: 90 Years Of Laughter + Love" Birthday Special at Avalon Hollywood & Bardot on March 02, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 02: Carol Burnett arrives at NBC's "Carol Burnett: 90 Years Of Laughter + Love" Birthday Special at Avalon Hollywood & Bardot on March 02, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) /

Carol Burnett has had some fun with Star Trek in her career.

TV viewers around the world know Carol Burnett, who turned 90 last month, as one of America’s funniest, most significant, and best-loved comedians. She was the first woman to host her own variety TV show, which ran for 11 seasons (1967-1978), winning 25 Emmy Awards (and 42 more nominations). It also won millions of fans, not only during its original run but also in years of syndicated reruns, which continue to this day—a phenomenon not unfamiliar to Star Trek fans, correct?

What Star Trek fans may not realize are Carol Burnett’s connections to our favorite franchise. No, she has not, yet, appeared as a guest star in Star Trek. (She’s still working, and Paramount is still producing Star Trek, so we can only hope!) But, for starters, Burnett was close friends with Lucille Ball. The two worked together numerous times. Ball was, of course, not only the trailblazing star of I Love Lucy but also co-founder and co-owner, with husband Desi Arnaz, of Desilu Studios, which took a chance on Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi drama.

But there’s an even closer connection. On December 4, 1967, the twelfth episode of The Carol Burnett Show included a quick sketch entitled “Mrs. Invisible Man.” Carol Burnett’s character in the sketch is married to, you guessed it, the Invisible Man. Her hard-to-see hubby goes offstage to drink a formula that will make him visible again. When he comes back, he is revealed as none other than Leonard Nimoy, in full costume as Mr. Spock.

MeTV called the moment “the most absurd we ever saw Spock.” I can only agree. But isn’t the bigger question: Is it canon?

In 1970, Nimoy appeared again on The Carol Burnett Show. This time, however, as Therese at Trekker Scrapbook notes, he appeared in a send-up of his other Desilu show, Mission: Impossible.

But Carol Burnett’s connections to Star Trek don’t stop with Mr. Spock.

Carol Burnett starred in two Star Trek parody sketches

In only the second episode of The Carol Burnett Show (September 18, 1967), Carol and the cast spoofed Star Trek—then only a year old—with an “episode” of a series called Star Trip. The sketch is titled “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Robot?”

In it, Harvey Korman plays Captain Quirk of the spaceship Intrepid (a storied Starfleet moniker, here four months before “The Immunity Syndrome” introduced it), which voiceover actor Lyle Waggoner says is “boldly trekking the vast regions of outer space in search of a higher TV rating.”

But the real stars of the sketch are guest star, comedy legend Sid Caesar as Lieutenant Commander Spook—whose hugely oversized, pointed ears give him super-sensitive hearing—and Carol Burnett as the robot of the title, who turns out to be a walking, talking bomb sent by enemies to destroy the ship. Burnett and Caesar play out a comedic take on a premise Star Trek first explored in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and would revisit many times later: the possibility or impossibility of love between a flesh-and-blood person and a robot.

When Spook asks Virginia Robot to say she loves him, she says, “I am not programmed to say that.” How can Star Trek fans help but hear echoes of the androids in “I, Mudd,” which would first air a few weeks later (November 3)? And when Virginia Robot sacrifices herself to save the Intrepid, she quotes A Tale of Two Cities, which Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would evoke in a similar situation.

Star Trip is amusing enough, but it doesn’t approach the laugh-out-loud heights of the greatest bits on The Carol Burnett Show. As David Sheward noted in his blog The David Desk, it “reduc[es] sci-fi themes to pedestrian dating jokes.”

Twenty-four years later, on December 6, 1991, Carol Burnett starred in another Star Trek parody, during a short-lived revival of her series (first titled Carol and Company, then restored to The Carol Burnett Show). In this sketch, the Enterprise’s passage through the “Estrogena VII anomaly” turns all the men aboard into women, and vice versa.

The 1991 skit has higher production values than the 1967 one. It reflects Star Trek’s more prominent place in pop culture by using the actual names of the Enterprise and her crew, making the sets and costumes look more like those of the original series, and mocking some of its familiar tropes, such as Chekov’s accent and the “bridge lurch” when the ship is under attack. It also gets points for identifying the Klingon played by Richard Kind as Commander Koloth. (Now I want to see Richard Kind playing Trelane, as well!)

But on the whole, the skit’s a surprisingly sexist affair. Kirk and Spock play with each other’s breasts. Scotty talks about putting up paisley wallpaper in engineering. And Uhura (Rick Aviles) is the target of what plays, today, like a dismissal of Black women’s beauty and even humanity.

Star Trek; Deep Space Nine fans may note with interest that Andrea Martin, who would play Moogie in that series, plays Spock in this sketch. But the piece doesn’t have much else to recommend it.

Neither of Carol Burnett’s Star Trek parodies is comedy gold. But they do show Burnett recognized Star Trek was worth parodying.

And neither detracts from the decades of laughter and joy this great entertainer has given. Thanks for the memories, Carol!

Next. Paramount was once desperate to get rid of Star Trek. dark