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Celebrities Who Starred As Themselves In TV Shows

Most of us realize that when we see an actor on the bridge of a futuristic spaceship or trading quips on our favorite sitcom, the character we're enjoying isn't the same as the real person. But when you get to know an actor inhibiting the same character episode after episode, it can be jarring to see them in interviews acting differently from what we're used to. Sure, we know Sir Patrick Stewart isn't really Captain Picard, for example, but after watching hundreds of hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation, how do you not see Stewart without expecting to hear a "make it so" or "engage," whether he's on the deck of the Enterprise or shopping for groceries?

That's why it can be so great when an actor plays a fictionalized version of themselves. The usual game of pretend we play when we watch a TV show somehow gets simpler and more complicated at the same time. If Stewart shows up on a TV show calling himself "Sir Patrick Stewart" rather than Captain Picard or Professor X, for example, we find ourselves in a different game of make-believe where it's impossible to not wonder how accurate a portrayal we're getting.

Whether their depictions are as far from real life as they could possibly be or closer to the truth than the actors might want us to know, here are some great examples of celebrities starring as themselves on TV shows. 

Wil Wheaton frustrated Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory

Revenge can be a powerful motivator. The hunger for sweet vengeance fuels the brave Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride, the relentless Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and of course, Sheldon Cooper of the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory (and we should note we're fairly sure Sheldon has seen both of the other movies and can recite their plots with flawless recall). 

Starting with the season 3 episode "The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary," Cooper and Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation wage a long war. Sheldon, we learn, endured a grueling ten-hour bus drive to see Wheaton at a 1995 Star Trek convention, only to find out the star had bailed. The disappointment led to Sheldon vowing revenge on Wheaton, and the former TNG star makes 17 appearances over the course of the series as himself, giving us many wonderful chances to see every battle of the Cooper-Wheaton War, though eventually the two become friends. 

Cleveland.com spoke to Wheaton in 2019 after his final episode — "The D&D Vortex" — aired. Wheaton called his time on The Big Bang Theory "the most amazing ten years" of his acting career. He told the website, "I felt so much joy on this show and feel so much sorrow about it coming to an end."

Patrick Stewart freaked out everyone on Extras

The BBC comedy Extras follows professional film extra Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) in his work in the lower tiers of the film industry and his efforts to make it big. The series is no stranger to celebrities portraying themselves. In fact, every episode includes an appearance by at least one actor playing a usually quite bizarre version of themselves. Andy gets into an argument with Ben Stiller in the series premiere, inspires David Bowie to write a song mocking him in season 2, and an episode later, he gets in a fistfight with Warwick Davis

But without a doubt, one of the most hilarious examples of a celebrity starring as themselves on Extras comes with the season 1 finale. Andy and his friend, Maggie (Ashley Jensen), are hired as extras for an adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Sir Patrick Stewart is playing the leading role of Prospero. Andy visits Stewart's trailer and finds the star utterly approachable, though things get uncomfortable fast. When Andy tells Stewart about the script he wrote and that he wants Stewart's help getting it made, the star tells him about his own scriptwriting project. Stewart's idea seems less like a story and more like a teenage fantasy ... with his lead character using his godlike powers to do little more than cause women's clothing to disappear. 

Matt LeBlanc created a reflection of himself on Episodes

When the Showtime comedy Episodes begins, British TV producers Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) move to the States to create an American version of their British hit sitcom, Lyman's Boys. One of the many decisions about the new series the producers disagree with is the casting of Friends star Matt LeBlanc in the leading role. LeBlanc plays himself in the acclaimed series for five seasons, or at least he plays an arrogant version of himself who's a neglectful father, has the attention span of a fruit fly, and can't maintain a long-term romance. 

LeBlanc told Variety initially he wasn't comfortable with the idea of playing himself, but — fittingly, considering the name of the show that made him famous — it was an old friend who turned him around. Episode's co-creator David Crane was an executive producer on both Friends and the LeBlanc-led spin-off Joey, and that history helped the actor say yes. "I don't know that I would have played that part with someone that I had a new relationship with," LeBlanc said. "It was because of the trust that I said okay. I felt safe in their hands." 

Ed Helms reveals his 'real' name on Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun

The absurdist comedy group Aunty Donna has been making Australian audiences laugh since 2011. They reached beyond their home shores with hilarious YouTube series like 1999 and Glennridge Secondary College. The trio of comic actors then went on to make a big splash in America in November 2020 with their Netflix original sketch show Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun

Interestingly, the Aussie comics have gotten some help from American colleagues. In particular, The Office and The Hangover star Ed Helms is an executive producer for their show, and for its second episode, Helms appears as himself. Helms buys the trio lunch and expresses his appreciation for them. When they try to reciprocate with their own kind words, Helms stops them when they call him "Ed." He explains that his first name is actually "Egg." When the guys show him his own IMDb page, on which he's listed as "Ed", the actor has a meltdown. The guys sit him down, promising to get him a milkshake, but then run away as fast as they can.

However, Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun isn't always able to get celebrities to play themselves. At least, not judging by the first episode, which has Jerry Seinfeld arrive to congratulate the guys on the name of their WiFi network. To play Seinfeld, Aunty Donna makes the surprising casting choice of Karan Soni — aka Wade Wilson's favorite taxi driver, Dopinder, in the Deadpool films. 

In Bored to Death, Kevin Bacon is interested in playing Super Ray

If you play "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," do you get extra points if he plays himself? If so, make sure to catch the season 2 episode "Forty-Two Down!" of the HBO comedy series Bored to Death

Zach Galifianakis plays Ray Hueston, a struggling cartoonist who's just struck gold with his indie comic book Super Ray. His comic book has been optioned for a big-screen adaptation, and in this particular episode, Hueston meets Kevin Bacon in a Brooklyn bar to discuss the possibility of the actor playing Super Ray. Bacon displays stereotypical Hollywood arrogance and cluelessness, warning Hueston he may not be able to grow the character's beard because he's "highly evolved" and later announcing to the bar he's leaving a "really, really big tip." In turn, Hueston lets Bacon know the actor can move in with him to research the part if he wants, but that doesn't mean Hueston's going to start using deodorant. 

Bacon's played fictional versions of himself a few times over the years. He cheats on his wife in an episode of the comedy SMILF, and he appeared twice on the popular sitcom Will & GraceIn a 2020 interview with The Independent, Bacon said he wants to do more comedy, but the genre is "hard to break into." Interviewer Adam White also pointed out that "when [Bacon] is allowed to be funny, it's when he's playing Kevin Bacon in something."

On Star Trek: The Next Generation, Stephen Hawking played cards with Data

In June 1993, Star Trek: The Next Generation made franchise history with its season 6 finale, "Descent". The episode opens with the computerized voice of world-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. And as it turns out, the android Data (Brent Spiner) is using Enterprise's holodeck to enjoy a game of poker with Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton. Now, this isn't the only time historical figures have shown up in Trek. Captain Kirk and Spock hang out with Abraham Lincoln, the Voyager crew meets Amelia Earhart, and Captain Janeway creates a holodeck version of Leonardo da Vinci (played by John Rhys-Davies) to act as her mentor. However, when Hawking appears in "Descent," it marks the only time in all of Star Trek's TV series and films that a celebrity has made an appearance as himself. 

In March 2018, the same month Hawking passed away, The Wrap spoke to Ronald D. Moore, who co-wrote "Descent." Moore said that while he rarely visited the set as scenes were being filmed, he made an exception for Hawking's appearance. The writer recalled everyone on the set being excited, including Spiner, who was reportedly having a more difficult time getting into character because of how nervous he was around Hawking. 

LeVar Burton leaves Troy speechless in Community

Before and even after he's killed off the sitcom Community, Chevy Chase's Pierce Hawthorne messes with his study group colleagues in merciless ways, including in season 2's "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking." Pierce uses his wealth to get Troy Barnes' (Donald Glover) favorite actor, LeVar Burton, to pay him a visit. While this may seem like kindness, it's pure cruelty in disguise. Troy is shocked into silence by Burton. No matter what the actor does, Troy can only stare at him wordlessly and unblinkingly.

When we cut to Troy freaking out in a break room, we learn he repeatedly told Pierce he never wanted to meet Burton — he just wanted a picture because "you can't disappoint a picture!" At one point, Troy retreats to the men's room where he sits on the floor and sings the theme to Reading Rainbow until he bursts into tears and yells, "Set phasers to love me!"

It isn't Burton's last time on Community. He shows up to join Troy on his sea voyage at the end of season 5's "Geothermal Escapism" — Donald Glover's final episode. Thankfully, Troy's gotten over his catatonic nervousness around the star, and this time, the mid-credits scene shows Troy firing off Star Trek questions to the actor, including, "Why don't they call it Planet Trek? You never go to a star. Not one episode."

On Friends, Isabella Rosellini gets a famous proposition

Best known for her turn as night club singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Isabella Rossellini shows up for the last few minutes of the Friends seasons 3 episode "The One with Frank Jr." to become a part of one of the series' most famous jokes. 

A subplot in the episode deals with the so-called "freebie list." Chandler explains to his friends that he and his girlfriend, Janice (Maggie Wheeler), each have a list of five celebrities. Should the opportunity to sleep with one of these celebrities arise, they're allowed to do so, and their partner is supposed to be okay with it. This leads to Ross taking most of the episode to come up with a list of his own, as opposed to Rachel who takes all of five seconds. He's characteristically tickled to show off the finalized list to his friends, being particularly proud that he's chosen to laminate it to really make it official.

The end of the episode sees Isabella Rossellini showing up, as herself, in the gang's hangout of Central Perk. Ross' awkward attempt to woo the actress is made that much funnier when he shows her his final, laminated freebie list, which actually doesn't include Rossellini. This forces Ross to explain she was an early choice, but that he was talked into replacing her with Winona Ryder because Rossellini was "too international." Suffice to say, the episode ends without any "freebies" being had.

Adam West led the city on Family Guy

Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and Adam West first worked together on the Cartoon Network series Johnny Bravo. In one of his last interviews before his passing in 2017, West said the two of them hit it off on the earlier series, leading MacFarlane to go to West when it was time to find the mayor of Family Guy's fictional setting of Quahog, Rhode Island. West half-jokingly explained, "[Seth MacFarlane] thought I could play myself in a goofy enough way and make lines that no other actor in the world could possibly read — I could make it work."  

And he did make it work. While West will almost definitely be mostly associated with the campy '60s Batman series that made him famous, West's 17-year turn as Quahog's Mayor Adam West is hilarious enough to almost replace Bruce Wayne as his signature role. For well over a decade, Mayor Adam West danced in dry cleaners' shops, sang his own name like it was a love ballad, and tried to stab the ocean with a knife. He attacked delivery men with cat-launching crossbows, tried and failed to distract Quahog's populace by jingling keys, and proved he's 95% helium and stole carnival prizes at the same time.

When West passed, Family Guy decided the actor was too iconic to let anyone else step in. Instead, it was revealed Mayor West died off-screen in the 2019 episode "Adam West High." 

Carl Weathers is a hungry acting coach on Arrested Development

You may know him best as Dillon in Predator, Apollo Creed in the Rocky films, or Greef Karga in The Mandalorian. But to Arrested Development fans, Carl Weathers will never be anyone but Carl Weathers — acting teacher to David Cross' hopeless Tobias Fünke. He first shows up in season 1's "Public Relations" when Fünke recognizes Weathers on an airport shuttle and is quickly convinced to hand over the only money he has left for acting lessons. 

One of the defining qualities of the fictional Carl Weathers is how cheap the actor is. He convinces Tobias to confront his wife at a restaurant mainly in hopes of scoring some free chow, and one of the first acting "lessons" he teaches his student is to buy his cars at police auctions.

In a 2012 interview, Weathers said he had a ball playing a "ridiculous and exaggerated" version of himself on the show. He also said his character's extraordinary cheapness was his idea. "I wanted him to be the cheapest guy in the world," Weathers said. "A guy who would come to your home and would actually want to borrow some vegetables from you." 

Warwick Davis plays a jerk version of himself on Life's Too Short

You may know him better as the actor who's brought multiple Star Wars and Harry Potter characters to life, but Warwick Davis is also the star of the hilarious comedy series Life's Too Short. The show gives us a self-involved, inappropriate, and not particularly intelligent version of Warwick Davis, who runs a talent agency specifically for little people. However, he hogs the best roles for himself. When he does land a gig that will pay well, Davis inevitably makes a mess of things. A perfect example is when he's hired to show up at a wedding for Star Wars super fans. Davis interrupts the best man's toast to deliver a series of off-color jokes about the newlyweds' sex life.

Two of the show's creators — Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant — also appear in every episode as themselves as Davis is constantly badgering them for work. Gervais first collaborated with Davis on an episode of Extras, and he has nothing but love for the Life's Too Short lead. In an interview about the series, Gervais said of Davis "I've never had so much fun directing anyone. A-listers, Hollywood, it doesn't matter." He went so far as to compare Davis' physical comedy to that of Charlie Chaplin.

Larry David parodied himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm

It would feel criminal to talk about celebrities playing themselves without mentioning HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, the acclaimed comedy series that finds Seinfeld creator Larry David often acting even more like a jerk than the characters from his hit sitcom. David pulls elements from his real life — like his friendship with comedian Richard Lewis — along with adding plenty of fiction. 

According to a 2011 interview with Rolling Stone, the Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm is an "idealized" version of the genuine article. David goes so far as to call him "my version of Superman." If you're familiar with the show, that might seem like a strange way to describe a guy who develops new feuds every few weeks or gets all of Los Angeles angry with him when he trips Shaquille O'Neal during a Lakers game. David explained, "We're always doing things we don't want to do, we never say what we really feel, and so this is an idealized version of how I want to be." 

To some of us, being Superman means saving lives, helping people, and trying to be the best people we can be. For Larry David, apparently it means shushing Michael J. Fox and hiring musicians to play Wagner on the lawns of people who hate Wagner. Hey, to each his own.