Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bill Shatner's amazing Houdini toupee trick.

Another great find from "RM" - a 2004 interview with Bill Shatner in which the subject of a rather hastily-drawn self-portrait (and the hair) comes up. We're still trying to figure out what exactly Bill Shatner was doing with this picture, but the interview conducted by David Keeps for begins with a mention of the sketch and an apparent comment by talkshow host Jay Leno:

Keeps: Jay Leno just walked by and said that your self-portrait “looks like someone with bad hair implants, singing into a potato.”

Shatner: What is he talking about? I’m a rock & roll singer on my knees, can’t he tell? And that’s a microphone.

Again, another very skillful sleight-of-hand non-denial denial from Bill Shatner (see here for another classic example of this). This, despite the fact that a representation of someone could be so poorly drawn as to make them look like they had bad hair implants in the picture even though in real life they did not. Thus, Bill Shatner could simply have said "Yes, it does!" without confirming anything. Yet, somewhat tellingly, Bill Shatner instead embarks on a strategy of cleverly avoiding the hair issue completely.

Incidentally, the fact that Shats could inadvertently draw a picture that highlighted his hair transplant is a little mind-bending (Sigmund Freud would have a field day).

More properly, what Bill Shatner actually employs in his response to Keeps is the magicians' trick of misdirection. Imagine a magician pointing to what's in his or her left hand - a coin perhaps - you focus on that hand and don't notice the magician then putting their right hand in their pocket for a mere split second to get rid of the coin. This is a very common trick in magic.

Keeps noted "Jay Leno just walked by and said that your self-portrait 'looks like someone with bad hair implants, singing into a potato.'"

Let's look at Bill Shatner's response closely.

"What is he talking about?" This is an archetypal non-denial denial, the act of appearing to deny but not actually denying (the issue of hair transplants or baldness in general) or even addressing anything. Now, for the next part of the reaction:

"I’m a rock & roll singer on my knees, can’t he tell?"

This sentence is the first part of the misdirection trick. Bill Shatner is very cleverly shifting focus away from specifics (hair) and misdirecting (through being selective over what he chooses to respond to) the attention of the interviewer towards the general - in this case the overall image, despite the fact that this wasn't really what he was asked about. You could or could not be a rock & roll singer and still look like you had bad hair implants. Thus, Bill Shatner's answer avoids the question by misdirecting away from it. And now the final crucial part:

"And that’s a microphone." [emphasis ours]

The final sentence underscores the genius of misdirection. Bill Shatner was asked (meaning this was the dominant point of Keeps' comment to which Bill Shatner could react) about this (the hair):

But through misdirection (selectively focusing on the potato/microphone analogy rather than the hair-transplant part), Bill Shatner has shifted attention to this (the microphone):

Harry Houdini would be proud!


  1. Sort of. But if he has had plugs all he needs to do, just once, is get Leno or Conan or Dave to pull on his hair. The British actor John Nettles once had an interview do so and killed the rumors instantly.

  2. Shatner actually hosted a Houdini special during the 1980's. It's available online and is funny and entertaining at times. Shat's training in live TV that he received in the 1950's is very evident.

  3. This drawing looks like a balding alien

  4. I think maybe The Shat was making a small step out of the toup closet with the drawing only to be pushed right back in by Leno's comments. Shat was obviously testing the toup waters to see what the reaction would be. Bad Jay!