The first time Bob Picardo and I met, I interviewed him about his interest in fan productions. This time, I had the good fortune of moderating Bob at last month’s Fan Expos Toronto Comic-Con and the experience was even more fun than our first encounter.
In front of an audience, Bob demonstrated his urbanely funny wit and his fearlessness in poking fun at himself. It was an hour of reflection into the personal history of a talented performer who has entertained his legions of fans, and I was having a great time asking the questions, touching on the various aspects of his past that manifested in Picardo’s role as The Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager.
His origin story: Bob studied pre-med at Yale University. His hobby was performing on stage, but then he was in a production that got a lot of attention and forced him to make a decision about his future. A young conductor at the time – John Mauceri – received the first non-professional rights to one of Leonard Bernstein’s shows “The Mass.”
It was at Yale where Bernstein titled Bob with the honorific, “The Great Picardo” and asked him about his performing future. Picardo replied that he was going to be a doctor, to Bernstein’s surprise.
He told me that I had such great natural energy on stage and I said to him: ‘would you tell my mother?’ And at the opening night party, Leonard Bernstein told my mother that he thought that I should be in show business!
And that’s what sprung me out of pre-med, folks!
Picardo’s musical predilections have been hinted at on Voyager, as any loyal fan can attest, but he’s also created a number of albums and even performed an old-style variety show on this year’s Star Trek: The Cruise that included patter and musical numbers that was well-received by the fans on board.
I have an old friend who performs on cruises. I think we open the act with singing the lyrics to the original ‘Star Trek’ theme.
Not many people know that Gene Roddenberry actually wrote lyrics to the theme – which is good, because they stink! (laughter) So we wrote a show and it went over so well that they booked us for the next two cruises!
Picardo has a talent for dry comedy. His delivery is very smooth and his transitions about events from his past easily blend into the next. This wasn’t a panel; this was an intimate conversation shared by almost four hundred people. I asked Bob to bring us back to his audition for The Doctor.
I was in tech week for a play I was in. My agent had sent me a script to read for Voyager and asked me to do the audition. I told him that I couldn’t do the pilot because I was in the middle of performance and he said ‘don’t tell them that!’
Agents – they’re really great for teaching you how to lie. I went and auditioned, and I read the script and it said: a computer program of a doctor – a hologram, colourless and humourless. Didn’t that just sound like a bucketful of fun?
I actually wanted to read Neelix instead! However, then I found out about the three and a half hours of make-up and I didn’t know that my competition was my dear old friend, Ethan Phillips!
Picardo went on to describe the audition.
So after I read Neelix, they called my agent and said that they wanted me back to try the for the part they originally wanted me to read- the Doctor. I knew they wanted someone funny, but I couldn’t see how this character could be funny.
So I did something you never do for a Star Trek audition – I ad-libbed. I scanned the casting director with a medical tricorder and said ‘your injuries are not serious; you can return to Casting.’ I broke the fourth wall and everyone cracked up.
Then, the last line in the script was preceded by the direction that everyone had left Sickbay and failed to terminate my program. So I turned to all the people – there are about eighteen people in the room – and with a deadpan look said ‘I’m a doctor, not a night-light.’
When I met De Kelley I told him that I didn’t know I was paying homage to his character. He replied to me: ‘Ah, you mean you steal from me!’
I asked Bob what Star Trek had brought him.
It’s brought me this – it’s given me loyal ‘Star Trek’ fans who love to watch me perform in other things; a legacy of fans who are happy to see me wherever I show up. I love to travel and I get to go to all sorts of places and meet great people.
But it’s brought me a signature role, which is something that every actor wants to have. I have reached a global audience and I don’t think I could have had that without ‘Star Trek.’ It’s an honour and I’ll forever be grateful.
We turned our attention to new areas Bob was exploring, namely The Planetary Society. It was strangely appropriate that Bob should find himself involved in promoting a scientific organization after leaving the study of science at Yale. His acting had brought him full circle. We talked a little about The Planetary Society.
What I didn’t expect from ‘Star Trek’ is the opportunity it has allowed me to meet real people in science fields that are doing all the things we pretend to do on ‘Star Trek’: science, technology, exploration.
I’ve sat on stage with five people who actually walked on the moon; I sat in the control center of the Mars Rovers – I hang out with these guys – Mohawk Guy (Bobak Ferdowsi). I was a biology major – I love science.
I can’t honestly say I was a space enthusiast, but now we have all this possible evidence of microbial life on Mars, or what’s going on Europa, or the four planets that are in the ideal conditions for life.
I’m proud that I’ve been associated with the world’s leading non-profit space advocacy organization started by Carl Sagan – The Planetary Society for twenty years.
Led by Bill Nye and featured prominent scientists like Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, The Planetary Society aims to bring news of staggering space and other relevant scientific discoveries to the forefront of the public eye.
I’m the least credentialed person at that table and I’m just impressed that I’m there! My mission is to inform sci-fi fans like you guys about this organization, to bring you into the real science fold.
In fact, I put out a monthly video post called The Planetary Post, which you can subscribe to for free. My guest star this month is a guy called Tim Russ.
Tim is an avid astronomer and he goes to the Griffith Observatory once a month to take part in the astronomy gathering there called ‘Star Party Nights’. We do a bit of a comedy bit there for the video. I hope that you guys are willing to support science because it needs your help right now!
We were approaching the end of the panel and talked about Bob’s latest stage performance, co-starring Doctor Who alumnus Sylvester McCoy.
Yes – along with Richard Oliver, Sylvester and I will be performing in a play called A Joke at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival in Scotland. The whole town is taken over by actors! Every minute of the day!
It’s a new play about an Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman and believe it or not, I’m the Scotsman! It’s a real treat and if you follow me on Twitter – and I KNOW YOU DO – you’ll be able to see cartoons of the play and see some of the humour there.
As loyal Star Trek fans, we all know the Doctor. But this particular evening at Toronto’s Comic-Con was a chance to meet Bob Picardo and get to know him better. The audience peppered him with more questions on space, his relationship with other film professionals and previous roles.
While the Doctor may have conquered space — the final frontier — it was good to see the other frontiers, like music, comedy and space advocacy that Bob Picardo now currently explores and that he invites you to explore with him.
Just make sure that you keep his program running.