Ever noticed how many wacky characters on television have been named Kirk? And I’m not even talking about Captain James T. of the Starship Enterprise. In fact, I’m really only talking about three characters which isn’t all that many when you consider how many different characters there have been in television history, but these Kirks all have a few things in common. They have all been offbeat-perhaps even a little eccentric, maybe even slightly tetched in the head. And none of them are people that you would necessarily seek out for company.
The first crazy television Kirk was Dick Loudon’s neighbor in Bob Newhart’s second-and in my opinion funnier-sitcom, Newhart. As you may or may not recall, Bob Newhart played Dick Loudon, a New York writer of self-help books who bought a Vermont inn with his wife. The inn was right next door to the Minuteman Café, owned by pathological liar Kirk Devane. Kirk Devane was in love with the rich socialite maid at Newhart’s inn-no, not the one played by Julia Duffy. You may not remember the character of Kirk Devane because he was only on Newhart during the first two years and then was replaced by new supporting character Michael Harris, played by the great Peter Scolari, who is the one who was in love with the rich socialite maid played by Julia Duffy. But before all that occurred, there was Kirk. A liar extraordinaire. Steven Kampmann was blessed with perfect comic timing and his Kirk Devane lifted the first two season of Newhart to spectacular heights. In addition to being lying about everything, he was also quick to outrage in the funniest possible way. He eventually fell in love with a female clown and the moment that he discovered she was a clown was one of the funniest moments of 1980s television. Even funnier was his wedding-or should I say weddings, because he kept passing out. Eventually Kirk was reduced to saying his vows while strapped into a standing position in a stretcher.
The next wacky television character named Kirk was guy who in real life would have even less friends than the selfish Kirk Devane. He appeared on Judd Hirsch’s attempt to recapture the magic of Taxi in a sitcom that replaced the taxi garage with a support group for recently divorced people, Dear John. Played by Jere Burns, the character of Kirk Morris, was an overly macho jerk. The comedy that came during this sitcom-which didn’t come often-usually appeared when Kirk Morris said something. He was sort of the Danny DeVito of Dear John without the sadness attached to him that made him endearing. Kirk Morris was an outright jerk, a sexist pig who in real life would probably be in jail now courtesy of violating a restraining order or at the hands of a sexual harassment suit. And that is precisely what made him so funny.
The most recent television Kirk to rise to prominence is the jack-of-all-trades of Stars Hollow, Kirk Gleason. Kirk Gleason appears on Gilmore Girls and is played to offbeat perfection by Sean Gunn. Kirk Gleason is much closer in spirit to Kirk Devane, a small town guy that everybody knows and some avoid. He is also much like Kramer in that he has no real job, but pops up every now and then to take on some new role, from swan delivery man to T-shirt entrepreneur. (In that respect, he is also quite similar to Kirk Van Houten of The Simpsons, who has had a variety of strange occupations since losing his position as a big wheel down at the cracker factory.) Kirk Gleason is also quite the cinema auteur, at can be witnessed by his tour de force, A Film by Kirk, a movie masterpiece that combines the visceral energy of Martin Scorsese and the sense of surreal of David Lynch with the visual style of Ingmar Bergman.