Captain Kirk, Fonzie and two legendary athletes walk into a Japanese restaurant and end up eating shredded and skewered bits of pig vagina.
There is no punchline to this joke, it actually happened. And the reaction from the stars of NBC’s new travel-reality show “Better Late Than Never” (Tuesday at 10 p.m.) is priceless.
“The piece of pork vagina came shooting out of my mouth,” says Henry Winkler, 70, who stars in and is an executive producer on the show.
The program follows him, William Shatner, 85, NFL great Terry Bradshaw, 67, and boxing legend George Foreman, 67, as they travel across Asia with the help of their sidekick/luggage boy, 33-year-old stand-up comedian Jeff Dye.
On the first day of what would become an epic 35-day adventure, they huddled in a restaurant somewhere along the back streets of Tokyo and Winkler was turning green as he came to terms with the fact that what he had just eaten was not bacon.
“Bill (Shatner) says, ‘Henry … we’re in the culture you have to eat what the locals eat,” Winkler laughs.
“I just looked at him and said: ‘f— you Bill, I’m having the chicken.’”
In the first episode the men arrive in Tokyo, stay in refrigerator-sized hotel rooms, end up on a Japanese game show, climb Mt. Fuji and eat bizzare foods.
In later episodes, they travel through five more cities across four countries during their 35-day odyssey that was filmed last summer.
Stops include Kyoto, Seoul, Hong Kong, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Along the way the five try to make connections with the local population, immerse themselves in local traditions and sample exotic food.
William Shatner captaining … something weird on “Better Late Than Never.”
Winkler says he hadn’t been in that part of the world since 1983, when he was touring with the cast of “Happy Days” and visiting American troops in Japan.
“What is amazing and what is not always in every part of the show is the amazing conversations we had as a group,” he says.
It’s a big part of what makes “Better Late than Never” so special and makes sense, given the show’s history: It’s actually a remake of a ridiculously popular 2013 South Korean reality program called “Grandpas Over Flowers.”
Like the American version, the show followed four veteran actors, all in their later years, as they traveled around the world on a backpacking tour. It became such a cultural phenomenon that it spawned two spinoffs and a slew of remakes in countries around the world.
So it’s fair to say that there’s really nothing new here, because travel shows have been around forever.
But the unique twist along with the cast’s recognizable faces and their larger-than-life personalities is their age.
Bluntly put: They’re old.
“Bill (Shatner) didn’t know this , we got a little side bet going and we picked the country that we possibly thought he would not make it out of alive,” Bradshaw tells the camera. “It’s terrible, terrible — but I think he’s going down in Thailand.”
That perspective is part of what made the success of the original Korean version of the show so shocking, because television around the world is dominated by young, pretty people.
Jeff Dye, William Shatner, Terry Bradshaw, George Foreman and Henry Winkler discover that they’ve dined on pig vagina in Tokyo.
On this show, it’s a collection of AARP members who are front and center and they knock it out of the park.
It’s the chemistry between the group that makes the show special. What otherwise could have been a mundane travel show morphs into something far funnier and far more sweeter than expected.
Much of the magic has got to do with who these men are and the depth of their lifetime’s worth of experience.
“Each episode of the show gets stronger,” Winkler says. “We get tighter and tighter. You can see how much we enjoyed each other’s company,” Winkler said. “It really was the trip of a lifetime.”
With the exception of Shatner and Winkler, who had briefly met a handful of times in the past, the four stars didn’t really know each other before the trip.
“I knew Bill, but not that well,” says Winkler. He didn’t meet Bradshaw and Foreman until they signed on to the project.
Foreman, who over the decades has transformed from one of Muhammad Ali’s most frightening foes to a big teddy bear, is the most adaptable, easily napping anywhere and struggling far less with local cuisine.
It doesn’t hurt that he travels with a bottle of his own brand of barbecue sauce to splash on some of the stranger things they eat.
“If you’ve got bad circulation, cow penis soup is something you’ve got to try if you’re ever in Hong Kong,” says Winkler. “Although frankly I wouldn’t put that in my mouth.”