META MEN: The Self-Referencing Seven


Meta makes tinseltown go round.

As the preferred gimmick of all Gen-X and Millennial writers, nostalgic meta references has been taken to obscene heights.  It’s hard to watch any show without a joke or a prop about the 80s or 90s in it, giving us nerds constant reminders of our youth.  Here’s a sampling of gentlemen at the top of the metaverse.

Stan Lee
“The Man” has shut down more conventions than food poisoning.  For a narrator that has the oration style of a carnival barker, Lee always seems to be more substance than style (and it’s a lot of style). While Stan Lee is best known for his hilarious cameos in the latest Marvel movies, old heads remember that he’s been showing up in the comics as himself since the 60s.

Lou Ferrigno
This guy could have easily been on Adam West’s level if it weren’t for a speech impediment. However, Lou’s decades of flexing was so good that nowadays he gets picked up to do voice acting roles.  Leave it up to Ferrigno to turn a supposed weakness into a strength. He's also got great comedic timing, as displayed in his role as a neighbor in The King of Queens.

William Shatner
Because of his brilliantly hammy performance of Captain Kirk, he inspired Futurama to ask and answer the question that we’ve all thought about: “What would Shatner be like as a real starship captain?”  The answer is the marvelous Zapp Brannigan.  Only a personality like Shatner’s could eclipse the collective meta efforts of all his fellow Star Trek cast members combined with one spoken word rendition of Elton John’s Rocket Man.  He can even get away with doing performances that are basically other people's parody of him (i.e. Over The Hedge).

LeVar Burton
Burton comes lumbering in as a three-headed meta King Ghidorah, being beloved equally for his involvement in Roots, Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: TNG.  Considering that he had to pull off fake torture as Toby only to endure real torture at the hands of his La Forge VISOR, and the fact that he’s a genuinely nice guy, he deserves all the accolades he gets.  No one will match his triple crown anytime soon.  

Bill Murray
Murray could be on this list just for his breaking the fourth wall in real life antics, showing up uninvited to events and turning them into the Bill Murray Cameo Show, much to the delight of the guests.  If that weren’t enough, he also twisted the metaverse with his Lorenzo Music mirror within a mirror connection, with Murray being the voice of Garfield in the movie version (Music does the cartoon voice), which was after Music did the voice acting for the cartoon Peter Venkman, Murray’s character from Ghostbusters.

Richard Belzer
My two running theories about Richard Belzer is that 1) he really IS John Munch and 2) he just wanders around from set to set injecting himself into any passing show he likes.  How else do you explain his character showing up on 10 different shows over twenty years?

Adam West
The undisputed king of meta, West is the only person on this list that can challenge Shatner for blurring the lines between actor and character.  His campy Batman performance was a welcome change from the brooding hero’s regular attitude, which has lead to numerous cameos as himself for over four decades. As if showing up as himself on one cartoon wasn’t enough (The Fairly Oddparents), he shows up again as himself in Family Guy as the friggin’ mayor.  Later, he did the voice acting for Batman’s dad on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, because of course he did.  This guy is the father of the modern meta game.

Are there any other masters of meta out there?

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