the vulture transcript

Leather Pants, Lord of the Dance, and Spitting on a Baby: A 3rd Rock From the Sun Reunion

Getting the Solomons together for the first time in 20 years.

Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vulture
Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vulture
Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vulture

You’ve heard it a million times: There’s no reason a show like 3rd Rock From the Sun — which chronicles the hijinks of four aliens masquerading as humans on planet Earth — should’ve survived beyond a discarded pilot. And yet, when you get John Lithgow (Dick Solomon), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tommy), Kristen Johnson (Sally), and French Stewart (Harry) in the same room, the chemistry speaks for itself.

It was on display at this year’s Vulture Festival, where the foursome, along with surprise guests Wayne Knight (Officer Don Orville), Jane Curtin (Dr. Mary Albright) on Zoom, and Will Forte (a writer on the show) via prerecorded message, reunited for the first time since the NBC sitcom wrapped in 2001. Watch or read their conversation with our critic Kathryn VanArendonk to discover the joys of table reads with Lithgow, “hostile” April Fools’ pranks with William Shatner, and Gordon-Levitt’s very special interview with Tiger Beat.

The panel was also released as an episode of Vulture’s comedy podcast Good One. Download the episode from Apple PodcastsSpotify, StitcherOvercast, or wherever you get your podcasts.


Watch the full panel:


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Kathryn VanArendonk: When was the last time you all saw each other?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: All four at once?

Kristen Johnson: When we shot the final episode.

John Lithgow: It’s been that long.

John, you were offered the part of Frasier Crane and did not take it because you did not want to do episodic television. But then they pitched you this, and you said yes. What was it about this that Frasier did not get for you?
JL: This whole Frasier thing, I actually didn’t even remember it being offered to me. I was never going to do a sitcom. I was sort of ambushed by Bonnie and Terry Turner and Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner and Caryn Mandabach at this historic breakfast. I thought I was just having a chummy breakfast with Bonnie and Terry, my old friends from their SNL writing days. I sat down and saw the whole power structure of Carsey-Werner and I suddenly realized, “I’m being pitched.” I just thought, How am I going to say no and get out of this as gracefully as I can?

It fell to Terry to pitch this thing to me, and he said “Well, it’s about these four aliens” — and my heart just sank. Oh my God, how did I get into this? And then five minutes later, he persuaded me to do this. It was such an incredible premise, and they had completely tailored it for my particular lunacy. They’d gotten a little glimpse of it when I’d hosted SNL and were on the writing staff. They changed my entire life in five minutes. That was the beginning of the process of putting together the four of us.

French, your character defines the outer boundaries of how weird these people are going to be. How much of that was in the character that was originally pitched to you, and how much was you driving it farther into weirdness?
French Stewart: It was a mix, because it was weird on the page, and I’m weird. The great thing about it was they gave us a lot of latitude. If you came up with an idea, they were open to it — and it’s not always like that. You could pitch them something and they’d either say yay or nay. Gradually, they figured out how to write for you. I felt like, “Just go for it.” He was sort of going to be a perverted Urkel. And then I went and did like, ten years in TV jail afterward. “No doctor parts for me!”

JL: I was there when French went in to audition for this, and we’d already seen about 20 people for the role of Harry. He walked in, and we suddenly understood what was funny about Harry. It was completely his creation, and the writers, many of whom I believe are here tonight — raise your hands, writers! — they just knew so brilliantly how to write for him. And I will tell you, the exact same thing happened with him [points to Joseph] and with her [points to Kristen]. They walked in and everybody else just dropped off the page.

Joseph, you were so young and basically grew up on this show that is about the weirdness of being a person. I was trying to imagine what that must have been like as an adolescent. It seems like it would either be incredibly awkward all the time or kind of perfect because adolescence is about this weirdness of being a person.
JGL: It’s the latter. It’s exactly perfect, because being an adolescent, you feel like an alien. You feel out of place all the time, and then the punch line is that feeling never stops. I never stopped feeling like an alien, out of place all the time, but I’d gotten used to it and figured out what was funny and joyful about that. It set me up on a good path for life.

When I watched the show, I was seeing it in reruns. I was in middle and high school, and I remember watching jokes where I was like, “I’m probably too young to get this.” I’m curious if there were jokes where you were like, “I don’t know if I quite understand what’s happening.”
JGL: Yeah, I’m sure there were. But this speaks to what you were asking about before, about how much French brought to it, and I think how much everybody brought to it. The writing was incredible, but — and I don’t mean to say “but” after that clause — the rehearsal process on 3rd Rock taught me so much about what you could do as an actor, because you’re not just showing up and shooting that day. You rehearse for four days and try to make each other laugh, and try different things and riff off each other. They knew all about doing that.

I had grown up working on shows and movies where you go and learn your lines and then come in and do your thing. I feel like that kind of collaborative brainstorming and creativity was such an explosion for me, and I attribute so much of what I now consider my sense of humor and sense of being an artist to what I learned coming to work every day with them.

Kristen, one of the other things — again, I was in middle school and high school watching the show–
KJ: Keep saying it.

Sorry! [Laughs.]
KJ: You were really young! We get it!

I remember looking at Sally and saying, she looks like other characters I’d seen in other sitcoms — beautiful, always made up fashionably — but you play her in a way that undermines all the gender norms I was seeing on other shows. I remember looking at it like, “Oh, that’s a possibility?” How did you feel about the gender play and pointing out the stereotypes?
KJ: Well I basically am a drag queen anyway, so that’s kind of how I played her. It was really a collaborative effort. Obviously the writers — Bonnie especially, and Christine Zander — really loved writing for her. I think they all did. They loved writing for all of us, but I think there was something about writing this particular woman. Melina Root, the costume designer, and Johnny Foam — we all worked together to get the look right. I said, “I want her to kind of look like a hot lesbian.” It was this collaboration that kind of came together.

Honestly, I’d never read a script like that. I was just like, “No one else can play this. I have to do it.” And I had to go back like, eight times to keep telling them, “I seriously have to play this, or I’ll fucking kill you for real.” So that was how that worked out. But only later did I understand how feminine-stereotypically bendy she was — if that’s even a phrase.

John Lithgow
Clockwise from top left: John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and French Stewart. Photo: Bobby Doherty.
Clockwise from top left: John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and French Stewart. Photo: Bobby Doherty.

You also spend a lot of time with the incredible Wayne Knight, who plays Don. I wonder, is there a scene that you can think of that’s a perfect Sally–Don scene?
KJ: Probably our first one! But every scene we did together ended up turning, because of us, into a film noir scene. I don’t know how it happened. It just happened! Playing the Donny and Sally scenes were just heaven. He’s so fun to act with.

Wayne Knight: [From offstage, mic’d up.] Hello, Sally!

[Wayne Knight enters. Hugs all around.]

Wayne Knight, everyone! I am so pleased we kept the surprise. Wayne, do you remember the process of auditioning for Don? Had you seen the show?
WK: It wasn’t really like that, in a weird way. I was doing Seinfeld–

KJ: What’s that?

WK: We’re on the CBS Radford lot, and I’m walking — this is a long story. Terry Turner and I went to college together at the University of Georgia. I was an undergraduate student; he was a graduate student. We did a play together called Jimmy Shine. He was so full of life at that time. I ran into Bonnie and Terry in New York, walking down the street, doing the standard actor thing like, “Oh, you’re doing SNL? That’s great.” [Laughs.] And I didn’t think anything of it.

Then I’m on the lot at Radford, 3rd Rock has started, and I run into Bonnie and Terry. They say, “You know, we’d really love to write a show for you.” I’m like, “Hello?” They said, “But we’ve got too much to do — I’ve got something with Whoopi Goldberg and this other thing and that thing. We can’t really do it. Would you like to come over to 3rd Rock and be on it for a while, while we figure it out?” I said “yes.” And then I sold the idea that I was going to be doing two shows at the same time to Seinfeld. I said, “They’re putting me on the front of the bus you fucking …” And that’s how.

KJ: They kept trying to find a boyfriend for Sally the first year, and it was all these hot guys, and it just wasn’t working.

WK: Aw!

KJ: I didn’t mean it that way! Like, young modely guys!

WK: I know how you meant it!

KJ: You know how I meant it! So he comes on as Officer Don and right away it was chemistry! You can’t bottle it.

WK: It’s strange, in that first scene, just like [growling sound]. What we figured out is that it’s like pheromones. You could get into a room and just sense that she was in the room.

KJ: We didn’t even have to see each other.

John, you were on Conan last year and mentioned that one of your favorite scenes was this incredible choreographed “Lord of the Dance” scene. How long did it take you to learn this dance?
JL: Like 17 minutes. Everything on 3rd Rock happened fast, and we had this fantastic choreographer. Somebody, say her name.

FS: Marguerite Pomerhn-Derricks.

JL: She whipped this thing together so fast. She’d done her research, she knew all about exactly how they stood and how they moved their feet. It started with me, so ecstatic.

I have to tell you, among all of us, we couldn’t wait to get that guy, the dancer Michael Flatley. We just thought he was such an asshole, so they wrote this episode where we basically got him. Instead of the Lord of the Dance, it was the King of the Jig. I went off to see him with Doctor Albright and came out so incredibly excited, all by myself. I just started dancing, and then Jane started dancing, and then Wayne started dancing, and then Eileen Goetz, God rest her soul, she started dancing. And then the whole crowd was swirling with Irish dance, and Flatley was somewhere cursing us!

KJ: That was one of those scenes where I was so happy I wasn’t in it during rehearsal, and then after I saw it I was like, “Dammit!” It was just great.

JL: You got to do the dustbin stomp. Remember that? When we strapped garbage can lids to our feet?

KJ: Oh yes!

JL: Marguerite did that one too.

I’m curious if there were guest roles you were excited about.
WK: Declan McManus! Elvis Costello.

JL: Billy Connolly!

WK: John Cleese.

JL: Christine Baranski.

FS: William Shatner was on the show. That was always a wild card because he’s just great, but we’d be like, “Hey, how’s it going? Have you worked with the Shat?” “No, my scene has not been Shat upon yet. Have you worked with the Shat?” But he was really fun. One day I come in and they’re rehearsing, and it’s John and William Shatner, and they’re working out the scene, but they have kind of a disagreement about how it’s going.

WK: Oh my God, I remember this!

FS: I’m like, “Oh, okay,” and I sit down. Then, it starts getting a little more heated, and I’d never seen this from John. He’s such a nice man — it never happens. And then it’s getting really heated. And then finally Shatner looks at me and says, “Well what about you? How do you think the scene should be done?” And I know I’m going to see John every day, and Shatner will be gone on Monday. So I go, “Well, I think John’s way is the best way.” And then they both just start laughing at me — and I realize it’s April Fools’ Day!

Oh my gosh!
FS: The worst part of it is, I have to spend the rest of the week doing scenes with Shatner with him full on knowing that I threw his ass under the bus!

WK: And they didn’t mention a damn thing about him being the big giant head when he went into space! Did you notice that?

You did April Fools’ pranks a lot, I heard.
JL: Yes, it’s disgraceful, because in the course of those six years it dawned on me that April Fools’ jokes are essentially hostile acts.

WK: But it dawned on you after the sixth year!

JL: I got them every year to the point where I really had to work hard. The Shatner argument was the great one because it was like a brushfire that burst into flames at three on Friday afternoon, which was the network run-through. And we roared at each other. Bill considered it his greatest performance. We stormed off to our dressing rooms, and I screamed, “I will not come back until that man apologizes!” And everybody was just — their faces were white, because we’d already shot the preceding episode. There was no way we were going to replace Bill Shatner. And then we came out with a cake.

Part of what makes the show so special is the writers. We have a special clip from a very well-known writer of the show.

Hi, my name is Will Forte, and I had the privilege of being a writer on 3rd Rock From the Sun for the final two seasons — some say the best seasons. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there with you today, but I’m in Atlanta, Georgia, and I’m acting in something in which I play a horrible mistreater of dogs.

When I was working there, I had just started writing. It was one of my first jobs, and I came into this situation very nervous, and I got to be part of a show that I had already been watching at home and was a fan of. I was surrounded by this team of people — cast, writers, crew — that could not have been more supportive. I just thought, Oh, this is the way TV shows are. This is what all shows are like. And then you leave there and you find out, Oh, this is not how all shows are. It really made me appreciate everything about the show. I wanted all of you there today to know how much you taught me about how to be respectful, how to be professional, that you can do all these things and have fun and create a fantastic show, and also treat everybody with respect at the same time. It was an experience I’ll never forget, it was an honor to work with you, and I just can’t tell you how special it was to get to be a part of this show. So thank you for everything that you’ve done in educating me, and I again wish that I was there. I send you all the best, and I love you.


JL: Aw, what a wonderful pal. Can you imagine? He got to write for John Cleese and he created Planet Monkey World. I believe that was his first episode.

KJ: That was the one where you broke your foot, no?

JL: Could be! But I do know that that young boy was writing comedy for John Cleese.

FS: Will looks like hammered shit now. [Laughs.] Somebody had to say it!

WK: Did he get a liver transplant recently?

There’s one significant cast member we have to mention: Jane Curtin, who is so vital to the show. I know that there was a first pilot that was written and the Mary character was not there.
KJ: It was filmed.

Could you talk a bit about how the show changed — how it became more grounded — when you had that character come in?
JL: Yes. There was a lovely actress who played my assistant, and there was a bit of a potential love relationship there, but she was a shy, tremulous wallflower. We shot the pilot, we all had a good look at it, it didn’t quite work, and Bonnie’s analysis was, “Dick Solomon is a tennis ball. He needs a hard wall to bounce off or he will not bounce.”

Of course, they had worked extensively with Jane. They had written the Coneheads movie, and they were very good friends. They called her up and brought her in, and we reshot a third of the pilot. And suddenly, pop! And pop is the word. The moment when we kiss each other, I kiss her in the bathroom of a faculty party and she slaps me — and then she kisses me, and I slap her. And then as I exit the party, the hostess of the party, the dean’s wife, kisses me good-bye, and I slap her! And that was the shot heard round the world. That was the big punch line of the pilot episode, and it was all Jane. She was the wall, and I was the tennis ball.

I do have another surprise. We have somebody on Zoom who I think would like to say hello.
Jane Curtin: Hi guys! I’m in the sun right now. It’s very bright in my house. The lighting is extraordinary.

[Cheers and applause.]

Jane, thank you so much for joining us. One of my very favorites is the moment when John is wearing leather pants that make this noise and it seems as though you cannot hold it together.
JC: I can’t!

Were you constantly trying not to laugh as you were working on this show?
JC: Well, yeah! I was constantly trying not to laugh while working on that show because it was so damned funny. And with this giant man in leather squeaky pants trying to make it from point A to point B, it was just too much. I lost it.

For you, what are the most quintessential Mary scenes — the ones where, as you look back, you think of as just That was the show operating at full speed?
JC: I think it was the show where we’re locked in the library overnight. I’m very tired, and we have to find our way through the heating system, and we have to attach ourselves via my pantyhose. Every moment of that particular show when John and Mary were interacting, I couldn’t stop laughing. To me, that was just the funniest thing in the world. I loved being attached by pantyhose!

Can you tell us what a table read was like?
JL: They were Wednesdays at 11:00 a.m. We were just such a dream team. Everybody knew exactly what they were doing, and the writers had written exactly the right stuff for us. People would just laugh themselves silly those days.

KJ: We never laughed going, “Ooh, that’s a stinker!” — like, ever, right? Every time we were like, “Oh, that’s the funniest thing!”

WK: It’s very rare that you work on something where the table read is the reward. It’s not the starting-off place, it’s a reward. It’s like getting a cookie, you know? You come in and you’re like, “Oh boy, here we go!”

FS: We would do our table read and you’d spend most of the week really trying to get back to the table read. It worked then, and you go off and you work too hard — or you work hard enough — and suddenly you’re back at the table read again.

JGL: But also, doing table reads on 3rd Rock ruined it for everyone, because table reads in general are not as full-on. Everyone deserves credit for it, but I would single out our captain of the ship here, because when the star of a show comes to a table read and goes 110 fucking percent, then everyone has to follow suit. It was like that with the whole show. You always set the tone: “I am bringing it now!” And so we would all be like, “Okay! Let’s go!”

JL: Oh, God bless you, Joe. But I tell you, there was a real method to that. I’ve always felt you have to give writers the best possible version of what they’ve written immediately because they don’t have a minute to waste. They have to run out and fix whatever doesn’t work. And these are the best comedy writers — I mean, the best comedy writers.

FS: Our writers’ room was legendary.

JL: I just felt that this table read is a lot of fun for us, but it’s essential for them. They had to have everything when they left that. They’d go right off and have an hour-long notes session based on what we had done.

KJ: It’s weird to do shows after and the actors bring maybe 20 percent to the rehearsals. Again, you’re overacting, you’re sweating, and everyone else is phoning it in because you’re not filming it. And honestly, because it was my first big show too, I thought that’s what actors were supposed to do — like, show the writers exactly how you’re going to do it. And that’s not the case, and I miss it.

JGL: But it should be.

KJ: It should be.

JC: Honestly, every single show I’ve done has been that way except SNL, Kate and Allie, and 3rd Rock. Those shows, you came in there and you read full out. There were a couple people on SNL who didn’t, but everybody else did!

In a lot of ways, there are two cores of the show: There’s the family core, and then there’s the Mary and Dick core, as far as the warmth and understanding that they could actually want to be human. There is this desire to have this relationship work. I remember being so struck by how much they were really hot for each other. Jane, could you talk about when you came in? What were you pitched as the character, and how did the relationship between those two characters evolve over time?
JC: I don’t really remember a pitch so much as You would be Dick’s love interest. That was what I understood. But I’m a really good cold-reader, so I can get what I need from the script. It was right there: What I had to do and what Mary had to be. I didn’t see any other way of doing it — it was on the page. That’s the writers allowing me to do whatever I do to make that happen. It was the writers that created Mary.

Were there moments between the two of you when you were like, This is the most absurd thing I can ever imagine? It had to have happened constantly.
JL: Well, I think there was the farting episode. That featured heavily in the blooper reel at the end of the season. Jane is absolutely the best deadpan face in comedy. There’s no question, just harkening way back to her and Chevy Chase. But when she breaks, it’s like the Hoover Dam! She is gone for the next 45 minutes! And it’s really the most glorious moment in comedy acting, acting with her when she breaks.

That has got to be so satisfying.
JL: Oh my God! Well, she was farting, what can I tell you? And she could not get through the scene without breaking. Finally, she would get it and I would break. The studio audience just loved it. They were delirious.

Well, I can imagine. Who breaks the easiest of all of you?
JL: You know, this was never really a huge problem.

JC: No.

French, it seemed like in that turkey scene–
FS: Oh yeah.

KJ: When you spit on the baby.

JGL: I totally lose it, and they picked it to be in the show! It’s totally embarrassing and unprofessional.

FS: We had this scene where we’ve been feeding the baby, and the baby’s been spitting at us, and then finally I put a whole wad of baby food in my mouth and just spit it on the baby! And we couldn’t get over it. We never did. We never did. It’s still on film.

There’s so much physical comedy — pratfalls and dances and these huge, physical scenes. Particularly when you were younger, it seems like one episode out of four, they were throwing you across the set.
JL: From behind the couch! Up and down! Up and down!

How did you rehearse? Did you get hurt? What was the process of developing the physical language of the show?
JGL: It was such a fun part of it. I never did get hurt, but … I don’t remember what the bit was, but I remember we’d shoot on Tuesday nights and then do table reads on Wednesday morning. I forget what we shot, but the next day, French had these gashes on his leg.

KJ: I know what that was. It was me shoving you through that cornfield.

FS: Oh yeah, that’s right!

KJ: And I did it too harsh, and he fell down so hard!

FS: No, that’s the thing, I spend half my time when I’m doing physical comedy just trying to talk somebody into, “Oh, just go full out, you won’t hurt me.” I never had to do it with her! Kristen will just slam your head down! “Hey, go ahead and slam my head on the table!” Bam! “Oh hey, push me through the corn!” “You got it, buddy!

JL: We had this fabulous thing we only managed to find about four or five times to put in. Usually, when you saw a spider, you’d leap into my arms! Just boom, up in there! Suddenly he was in my arms, like a little baby with his feet with his legs tucked under him. And bam! It just happened like that.

JGL: I remember noticing like, Whoa, did you actually hurt yourself? And you saying, “Yeah man. This is comedy! Let me tell you about an actor named Buster Keaton. You ever heard of him?” I had never heard of him! These guys taught me so much. He told me about who Buster Keaton was, and I went home and watched Buster Keaton movies. By the way — I don’t know if anybody had the pleasure of seeing French in his Buster Keaton show. I saw it twice. It’s brilliant. But it definitely did teach me something about physical comedy and physical acting. You try to push it. You don’t injure yourself — I have injured myself a few times and it’s French’s fault — but it’s part of it. It’s like playing a rough game of football or something. You might get a little hurt, and you gotta make ’em laugh!

FS: You know what’s funny is when we had Chyna on, the late great Joanie Laurer, I said “Hey, can you teach me? Can you just pick me up over your head and body slam me?” And she said, “Yeah, I’ll teach you how to do it.” So she picks me up, she tells me how to do it, she picks me up and she slams me down. And I’m like, “Oh! God! Joanie!” And she’s like, “What?” I said, “I don’t think I did it right?” And she said “Well, did it hurt?” and I said, “Yeah,” and she said, “Well, you did it right!”

Jane, did you have any stakes in what the end of this character was going to be? Were there things you talked about or hoped for?
JC: You know, I didn’t get involved in the direction the writers wanted to go in. That was Bonnie and Terry’s call. I just went along with them because I didn’t see Mary leaving Earth, and yet the possibility was there. So it could go either way. I didn’t want to sway it. I was up for anything. It sort of made me sad that I would never see him again, but that’s okay.

Well, we are so glad that we could see you, and we want to thank you so much. Jane Curtin, everyone.
JC: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. [Applause.]

FS: She looks like shit. [Laughs.]

WK: Back on the sauce! Oh well!

Where did the salutes come from?
KJ: We came up with that. One of the first five episodes, John and I were like, “How should we do this?” I think it was in the writing. And then John said, “What if we do a backward one?” or something like that. You did the head, and I did the arm. We came up with it in rehearsals.

JL: We were doing the episode where I go on a trip to Chicago, and we had to figure out how to say good-bye. You know, “Take care of the troops while I’m gone,” just something very martial. It literally happened like that, and then, of course, it was set in concrete for the next six years — in fact, about three or four times a week when I walk down the street of a midwestern city.

Because you, Joseph, were so young and working with these more experienced people, could you talk more about what you learned from watching everyone?
JGL: Even when I was a little kid, I always wanted acting to be real. I was really curious about that — and 3rd Rock From the Sun was just not real at all. It’s a whole other style of doing it that is maybe more rooted in the theater, and I didn’t come from the theater. I grew up here working on TV and commercials, and they all came from the theater. Nowadays, when I speak to theater actors, I feel at home, actually. I feel like I’m among family even though I’ve still never really done a lot of theater other than this show, where we would get up in front of an audience week after week. I learned about what that means to play to a crowd and to get a laugh and to know how to time that. I didn’t know how to do that before spending all these years with them.

KJ: Joe was amazing as a 13-year-old. I mean, he was so mature, so funny, so smart. He was right there with me the whole time.

FS: He was kind of an old man in a young person’s body.

KJ: And he also was cool off the set. If you’d recommend a book to him, he’d come a week later having read it and wanting to talk to you about it. Just a great kid. We would have been so screwed if he had not been, if there was some horrible stage mother and some little diva kid. Ugh. It would’ve been horrible.

JL: Again, I go back to the casting session where Joe came in. I don’t know what your recollection of it was, Joe. I have to restrain myself from calling him Joey.

JGL: Call me Joey! I love it!

JL: He walked in, and he was a good three years younger than anybody else we’d seen, and he read the scene, and the scene suddenly made sense. There was the funny little old man in a 13-year-old’s body. It just burst.

Joe says he has not done theater. Well, he had that sense when he was working with us, and after about three seasons, he went off during a hiatus and he did a play. He almost assigned that to himself.

JGL: You all came to see it. It meant so much. I remember that.

FS: The thing is, he always had integrity. I remember even early on, they were really beating the drum for him to do Tiger Beat and Teen Beat, and he just didn’t want it.

KJ: Remember that?

FS: He was like, “I don’t wanna.” And James Anderson, the publicist, would be like, “Please, can you?” “Nope. I don’t wanna.” James had been beating it and beating it, and finally, he says, “Look, just do it once, Joe, and I’ll never ask you again.” Joe goes, “All right, fine, I’ll do it once.”

On the day, we’re sitting there, and everybody’s having interviews on the set, and I’m sitting next to Joe, and I know what’s coming. I’ve got my popcorn ready and I just can’t wait! Some guy comes in, and he’s 60 or something, and he’s from Tiger Beat, and he’s like “Hey Joe! I wanna ask you a few questions! What do you want to say to your fans who watch the show?” And Joey goes, “Well, you know, I appreciate that, and I’m really proud of it.” And I’m like, “Okay, so far so good.” And he said, “Well, what do you want to say to the readers of our magazine?” And there’s this long pause, and then Joey goes, “Why are you reading that? There’s nothing in there! There’s, like, a cover and then it’s just a bunch of pictures of kids! I don’t get it!”

The guy keeps trying to ask Joe questions, and Joe keeps giving him the same thing! And finally, he gets to the end, and he’s like, “All right, one more question, I’ll just throw a fastball down the middle. Joey, what’s your favorite color?” I hear all the air leave Joe’s body, and he goes, “Ah, let’s go with blue. What the fuck?” [Laughs.]

So what’s your favorite color?
JGL: The color of French’s eyes.

French, I know one of the things that is so intensely important about your character is the clothing you would have him in. Can you talk about the process of designing that outfit and whether there were key pieces that were really meaningful?
FS: Well, it was Johnny Foam and Melina Root. I had nothing to do with it. I would walk in and they’d throw stuff on me. Sometimes they made a vest out of one of those shag toilet seat covers, and I’m like, “Hmm, okay!” But I do have one favorite piece, and I stole it off the set and I brought it here!

Oh my goodness! Is it backstage?
FS: Yeah, I would hope so! [An event producer brings out Harry Solomon’s fur jacket.]

JL: Ah yeah! [French puts it on.] It still fits!

FS: I love it. There were three of them, and I just walked off with one. I didn’t ask because I didn’t want them to know.

The audience member, wearing it. Photo: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Vulture

KJ: Did you take the gnome, too?

FS: No.

KJ: Maybe I did.

FS: I think you took the gnome. Why are you trying to frame me?

KJ: I don’t know!

WK: Oh gnome you didn’t!

Were there other things anyone took from set?
JGL: I brought a thing I want to show. This isn’t actually from set, but this is from those days. I have it here. This is a CD.

What is a CD, first of all?
JGL: If we have a night where we’re nostalgic for the ’90s, a CD should probably be part of it. This is something that French gave me for my birthday when I was 15 or something like that. This was back in the days when you could give somebody music as a thing and hand it to them. This is Doolittle by the Pixies. I didn’t know who the Pixies were, and he was like, “I think you’ll like this.”

What’s fun is about 10 or 12 years later or so, I was in a movie called (500) Days of Summer, and there’s a karaoke scene in it. In the script, it was written that my character was going to sing a Rolling Stones song, which is way too expensive for a little movie like that. So we were trying to come up with what song the character was going to sing, and we ended up landing on a song from here, “Here Comes Your Man.” The first time I ever heard that song was because you gave me this CD for my birthday.

FS: We started trading music. We became brothers because a lot of times we were on the B or the C story together, where you’ve got a scene, a scene, and then another scene. It was always really fun.

Did anyone else take things from set?
KJ: Yes, I took all of her pants.

WK: I have one pair!

KJ: Shut up! They only fit for like six months after the show, and then I had to give them away. But I loved her clothes. I’d still wear them today if I could fit into them. She was a badass.

Oh, I took her boots! She wore the same pair of boots for a year.

JL: As a matter of fact, I do have something. I have a pair of Sally’s boots that fit me! There was an episode where we switched bodies, and I’ve had no occasion to wear them after all these years. I should have worn them tonight! It was a wonderful episode in which I got to act with Wayne in the character of Sally without revealing my secret. Remember that? The most vivid scene was when we peed together in two adjoining urinals, and I looked longingly down … it’s awful. Just awful.

I was gonna ask about that episode because you do such a great job of performing each other.
KJ: That was one of my favorite episodes to act.

JL: It was so great.

KJ: Just getting to do him–

JL: And getting to do her!

Do you remember there being a moment like, “Okay, this is how we’ll know that I’m him.”
KJ: I think it was posture. I remember just being able to say like, “Oh my God, I’m gorgeous!” Best line ever. But I remember him being jealous about it, just being unable to walk in the heels. It was really fun.

What was the key to being her?
JL: Oh, I think just watching her posture and her stride, and putting on those boots very early on. That was the key to it. It was so wonderful. It’s a great episode.

KJ: It was fun. Acting together with him as me and me as him was like, “AH!”

Wayne, it must have been very strange scenes to shoot?
WK: Oh, not at all! [Laughs.] You know, John and I make out all the time anyway! It was fine. One of the things about 3rd Rock is that you’re in a playpen when you go in, and there’s nothing that you can’t do, nothing that you can’t see or watch somebody else do. That’s what was part of the incredible joy of doing that show. It literally was an alternate universe where people were actually nice and happened to be actors as well.

JL: And Wayne and I got to play good cop, bad cop together — that’s one of my favorite episodes.

WK: That’s so funny because I feel the same way.

JL: We both wanted to be the bad cop, and we’d argue! Oh God, that was great.

One thing I did not realize when I was watching the show the first time: there’s a recurring character in the classroom scenes, Leon, whom John berates. He’s Ian, your son in real life! How did that happen?
JL: You know, I didn’t campaign for him, I didn’t suggest him. Bonnie just came up with the idea, and he came in and he read just as he would have to read.

KJ: He was so funny, too. He would have like, one line, and it just–

JL: He always killed, and it was wonderful to have him around.

KJ: All those students were so great.

FS: Chris Hogan.

JL: And Dave DeLuise and Alissa Strudwick.

KJ: And also, we should not conclude a 3rd Rock reunion without at least mentioning the brilliant Elmarie Wendel, who unfortunately passed away a few years ago. But oh my God, Mrs. Dubcek — just one of the all-time greats.

JL: And, lest we forget, Simbi Khali.

There are all these episodes that take on really big, interesting, subversive, and thoughtful ideas. There’s an episode about voting, there are episodes about race, gender. Were there any you were particularly excited about? Were you thinking about, Wow, this is wild, they’re letting us put this on television?
JL: There’re so many of them. I love examining things that we as human beings completely take for granted, like dreaming. Aliens discovering, “What’s this thing that happens when we’re asleep?”

WK: “Is this part of the dreaming? The paws?” — the dog dreaming.

JL: It won Emmy awards for cinematography and design and lighting. It was just extraordinary. Or mentioning Simbi — I’m not sure exactly how the plot worked. I guess we enacted my sexual fantasies with Simbi. And then the episode, “Tipping.” I mean, you go from great, big, mysterious things like dreaming to the nonsense of figuring out how much to tip every waiter.

KJ: Somebody shared a clip with me recently where you and I are at the DMV, where it’s like, “God, going through all this to get a driver’s license. Can you imagine what you have to go through to get a gun?” It was better written than that, but I was like, God! It still carries today! So much of the things they navigated.

FS: There’s some great, kind of dangerous jokes. When Vicki Dubcek gets pregnant, she’s in the hospital, and she says, “Harry, I ran out of cigarettes. Can you go get me some cigarettes?” And I go, “Well, I’ll get you a pack. You’re smoking for two now.” [Laughter.] It was just really thrown away, but I don’t think you could do that anymore! Not really! I doubt it.

JL: It was a wonderful pendulum swing between very smart and very stupid. It was a wonderful family show, because like an English pantomime, there were jokes that hit at exactly the same moment for two different audiences for two different reasons.

My final question. You have such fun with very topical things that when you look back, you go, “Wow, it’s really 2000, wasn’t it?” There’s a Y2K episode, there’s a Beanie Baby episode, which may be my favorite. If 3rd Rock were on now, what would be topical for the Solomons? Would they all be trying to figure out TikTok dancing?
KJ: Dick Solomon on social media would not go over well, I don’t think!

JL: You know, this is such a great question for the writers because they must think about this all the time. Just imagine going through life going, “Ooh, I could be writing about that for 3rd Rock right now!”

WK: It’s almost like society has gotten so bizarre that you couldn’t satirize it, you know what I mean? You would have to just depict it!

The married 3rd Rock from the Sun creators wrote for Saturday Night Live from 1986 to 1992, wrote the scripts for Wayne’s World, Coneheads, and Tommy Boy, and would go on to create That ‘70s Show (and its successors That ‘80s Show and the forthcoming That ’90s ShowNormal, Ohio, and Whoopi. Through their production company the Carsey-Werner Company, writing/producing team Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner created some of the defining sitcoms of the ’80s and ‘90s, including The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Roseanne. Producer Caryn Mandabach worked with them from 1984-2004 and would go on to produce Nurse Jackie and Peaky Blinders. Knight made his first appearance in 3rd Rock from the Sun in episode 14 of season one, “Assault with a Deadly Dick.” He recurred for three seasons and joined the main cast for four through six. Forte wrote on the final four episodes of the series, which saw John Cleese’s alien, Dr. Liam Neesam, attempt to turn earth into an amusement park called Planet Monkey World. Because the aliens don’t know how human objects work, their home featured an eclectic mix of decor, including a garden gnome who featured often in close-ups and eventually received a credit in the script: “The gnome - himself.”
Keeping Up With the Solomons: 3rd Rock From the Sun Reunites