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One Big Bang Theory Cameo Paid Off A Pilot Joke
2023/07/20

When Stephen Hawking appeared on The Big Bang Theory, this cameo paid off a joke from the show's pilot. The Big Bang Theory featured some seriously impressive cameo appearances over the years. Not only did Will Wheaton appear as himself in the series, he ended up becoming a minor villain in The Big Bang Theory as his fictionalized self feuded with Sheldon. Meanwhile, George Takei, Stan Lee, Bob Newhart, and Carrie Fisher all appeared on The Big Bang Theory over the years as the show's profile and popularity grew. Even the series finale featured an impressive guest appearance.

While Raj stayed single in The Big Bang Theory finale, his date to the Nobel Prize acceptance ceremony was none other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar.

While this was an unexpected cameo, it wasn't the best guest appearance in the series. That title goes to Stephen Hawking, who appeared in The Big Bang Theory season 5, episode 21, "The Hawking Extraction." This episode saw Howard tasked with maintaining Hawking's wheelchair equipment during a trip to Caltech. Howard then put Sheldon through a gauntlet of mortifying tasks to earn a meeting with Hawking, who Sheldon arrogantly considered his only intellectual equal.

Stephen Hawking Guest Starred Years After Howard's Pilot Imitation Of Scientist

What made Hawking's appearance such a clever surprise in season 5 was that this cameo paid off a set-up from The Big Bang Theory's pilot.

In the show's first episode, Howard imitated Hawking in an off-color joke. While The Big Bang Theory's Howard got better when he began dating Bernadette, he was originally a pretty mean-spirited figure. However, this joke seemed a lot less mean when Hawking himself bore witness to Howard's actor Simon Helberg doing the impersonation in real life and smiled. As Helberg noted on Conan O'Brien's talk show in 2012, the actor didn't want to pick on the disabled scientist by mocking his voice.

As such, Helberg insisted that The Big Bang Theory's producers cleared the scene with Hawking beforehand. However, this caution turned out to be unnecessary as Hawking smiled while watching Helberg perform the risky gag.

Helberg was relieved to discover that the late Hawking found the moment funny, thus allowing The Big Bang Theory to pay off a gag that was set up five seasons earlier. While there were plenty of other, more unexpected cameos in the series, like Raj's doomed romance with The Big Bang Theory's Siri, Hawking's appearance was a rare opportunity for the show to get a guest star in on the joke years after mentioning them.

Simon Helberg Once Did The Imitation For Stephen Hawking

Helberg first did his impression of Hawking in The Big Bang Theory pilot, but that was long before the show's creators could have dreamed that Hawking would appear in the series.

As The Big Bang Theory grew in popularity, the chances of Hawking making an appearance in the series improved. As such, The Big Bang Theory's writers could have simply ignored Howard's earlier joke and leaned into Sheldon's fawning over Hawking. However, reminding viewers of Helberg's impression gave Hawking a chance to display his self-effacing sense of humor, turning an already-solid cameo into one of The Big Bang Theory's best guess appearances.

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