Some TV shows are built for star cameos, like Extras, Life's Too Short, Entourage and Glee. Some are lucky enough to have before-they-were-famous "cameos", like Casualty, The Bill and Midsomer Murders. But others, particularly soaps and long-running sitcoms, indulge in the odd celebrity guest, and occasionally they are very odd indeed. In this list we celebrate the incongruous inclusion of folk far too famous to be slumming it on the small screen like this - and be sure to chip in with your own favourites in the comment box below.
Weird cameo: Michael Palin
Episode: 2238 (1997)
The idea that a show could reach “Episode 2238” is undeniably scary, but when the result is Michael Palin’s utterly out-of-context outing on Australia’s Summer Bay soap opera, there’s a glimmer of hope. Down Under as part of his Full Circle travelogue, the pleasantest of Pythons decided to slip on a modern-day Victorian muscle man swimming suit – dictionary corner calls it “a singlet” – and pretend to be a very British surfer who’s scared of both sharks and jellyfish. Why? Because… because. The resulting minutes of YouTube gold are genuinely quite funny, but not in the way anyone involved might have hoped for.
Weird cameo: Britney Spears
Episode: Season 4, Episode 1: “No Place Like Home” (1999)
Sabrina is one of the 1990s’ best witches – just edged out by Charmed’s Prue, Piper, Phoebe and Paige – and her fans enjoyed four seasons (on ABC) and endured three more (on the WB) that they all pretend not to regret. An undeniable moment of awesome came right at the end of the ABC sweet spot, when an at-the-peak-of-her-powers Britney Spears was summoned by Sabrina’s dad, Edward Spellman (Doug Sheehan), to sing her third US top ten hit, ‘(You Drive Me) Crazy’. Equally weird but not quite as as enjoyable cameos on the show include Usher, who played Sabrina’s “Love Doctor”, and Daniel Bedingfield, whose role saw him critisise another character’s bad acting, though he himself isn’t exactly, ahem, James Dean.
Weird cameo: Matt Lucas and David Walliams (as their Little Britain characters Lou and Andy)
Episode: 5234 (2007)
It would be weird enough if Matt Lucas and David Walliams were cameoing in an Australian soap opera as either themselves or as new characters within the show’s own universe, but to appear as Little Britain’s Lou and Andy for no real purpose at all other than a background joke is next-level bonkers. Adding to the preposterosity of it all, in the foreground Nicky Whelan’s Pepper is enduring a terrible date with a terrible sexist, which jars so horrifically with the getting-up-from-his-wheelchair whimsy it’s a wonder why Ryan Maloney’s Toadfish Rebecchi didn’t wink and point at the camera by the end of it all.
Weird cameo: Stephen Hawking
Episode: "The Hawking Excitation", Season 5, Episode 21 (2012)
Cosmological physicist Dr. Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA isn’t above a cameo or two – he recently pushed Brian Cox over during the Monty Python Live (Mostly) shows – but this Big Bang Theory episode closer is a real belter, with the super scientist joyously putting Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper in his place (a heap on the floor). Making it especially enjoyable is the fact that Hawking was referenced in the very first episode of the show, where Howard (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar) geek out over footage of a young Hawking, and the fact that Helberg had to do his Hawking impression in this episode with the real one in the room. Also, Hawking says the word “boner”. You may now laugh.
Weird cameo: Ian McKellen
Episodes: 6028-6032 (2005)
Coronation Street is no stranger to Britain’s great and good popping round The Rovers Return for a pack of pork scratchings – as Cliff Richards, Prince Charles, Cheryl Cole and most of Status Quo will attest – but no-one has invested in the show in quite the same way as The Artist Occasionally Known As Gandalf The Grey/White Or Magneto. Appearing in five episodes over the course of a particularly well-acted week, he played con man (and ladies’ man) Mel Hutchright (real name: Lionel Hipkiss), a lothario desperate to sponge money and drinks off anyone nearby. You can read all about McKellen’s thoughts on his time there on his blog, Ian McKellen Writings: “I began fantasies of Mel turning up in the Emmerdale bar once he's moved on from the Rovers… or even the bar of the Queen Vic.”
Weird cameo: Johnny Depp
Episode: Part 1 of the “Last Ever” show (2000)
As an anglophile and long-time Fast Show fan, it must have been murder for Johnny Depp not to corpse during his extra-special cameo in the final Suits You Tailors sketch, with the Brylcreemed brothers-in-arms machine-gunning him with phrases like, “You must have kneaded some prize bazookas in your time, sir,” and, “Have you ever addeded it up, sir?” With such a knowing grin, it’s hard not to see that he’s in on the joke, which is a shame, but you can tell just want an out-of-body-brilliant experience he’s having.
Weird cameo: Jean-Claude Van Damme
Episode: "The One After The Superbowl: Part 2", Season 2, Episode 13 (1996)
In a show which has featured cameos from Jay Leno ("The One With Mrs. Bing"), Charlton Heston ("The One With Joey's Dirty Day"), Sarah Ferguson and Richard Branson ("The One With Ross's Wedding: Part 1”), Ralph Lauren ("The One With Rachel's Inadvertent Kiss"), Donny Osmond ("The One Where The Stripper Cries”), Jeff Goldblum (“The One With The Mugging”), Robin Williams and Billy Crystal ("The One With The Ultimate Fighting Champion"), there is one clear, utterly weird winner: Jean-Claude Van Damme. During his appearance The Biceps From Belgium is fortunate enough to play himself but still somehow doesn’t quite get it right. He also appears in a credits gag involving Joey losing a line in a film after overacting too much. It’s at this point that comedy died from a horrific irony overdose.
Weird cameo: Boy George
Episode: "Cowboy George", Season 4, Episode 16 (1996)
There are no words.
Weird cameo: Anthony LaPaglia, Richard E. Grant and Robbie Coltrane
Episodes: “Goodnight Seattle – Parts 1/2", Season 11, Episodes 23/24 (2004)
Frasier, then. 11 Seasons, 264 episodes, 37 Emmys, three terribly cast Englishmen. In the two-part final finale, Daphne’s brothers came to Seattle, but somehow spent a little too long in other parts of the world – presumably because of difficult connecting flights. Instead of mimicking Daphne’s Manchester twang, LaPaglia went to London, Coltrane headed to Yorkshire and Grant refused to leave the Home Counties. What makes this all the weirder is that the actress who plays Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves) is from Essex and apparently didn’t care enough to tell the producers (or the actors themselves) that all their accents were going for a very long walk.
Weird cameo: Larry David
Episode: “My Best Friend’s Boyfriend”, Season 2, Episode 7 (2007)
Before her twerk addiction went public, and a little after she changed her name from Destiny Hope to Miley, the physical embodiment of Hannah Montana was the biggest child icon on the Disney Channel. In an episode during the show’s sophomore season, Hannah ran into Seinfeld co-creator Larry David in a restaurant. Despite arriving later, Miss Montana ends up seated first, with an additional table put out specifically for her, while Larry has to wait in line, grumbling and griping. It's hilarious for Curb Your Enthusiasm fans – perhaps – but for an audience that doesn’t go above the age of 12, The Chuckles Fairy may not have visited many children that afternoon. And yes, you’re absolutely right, the highbrow / lowbrow headbutt of a cameo came about because of David’s daughters, who were big, big, big, big, big fans.
Weird cameo: Hulk Hogan
Episode: Season 2, Episode 15 “Bash At The Beach” (1996)
Hulk Hogan has never been afraid of an awkward cameo, but his trademark baritone greeting of “Hello, brother” never really fitted in his own films, let alone the 1990s’ foremost slow-motion near-naked 242-episode running montage. Crowbarred onto the show after a group of wrestling stars – also including “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair – are saved by California’s finest human oranges following a jetski accident, The Hulkster’s awful, ADR-ed acting immediately makes you want to watch that weird moment in Mr. Nanny where a man throws his dog into a river. No, really.
Weird cameo: Justin Bieber
Episodes: Season 11, Episodes 1 “Shock Waves” and 15 “Targets Of Obsession” (2011)
Yes, this happened. Twice. Canadian poplet Justin Bieber appeared on Season 11’s premiere, as well as episode 15, where he is shot several times in the chest in the slowest of slow-motion (presumably this scene is a favourite for certain Bieber naysayers). His crime: blowing things up, or to put it another way, being foolish enough to appear on the show where this sort of thing happens as often as you get ‘Baby’ stuck in your head. Making this celebrity appearance all the odder are the many other challengers for the crown of “Weirdest Season 11 CSI Cameo”. Cameos that could easily have won the Oddest Award in any other year, but pale in comparison next to Bieber being turned into pink mist, include Dita Von Teese, Elliott Gould, Deadmau5, Method Man and, um, Carrot Top.
Weirdo cameos: Michelle Obama and One Direction
Episodes: Season 5, Episode 8: “iMeet The First Lady” and Season 6, Episode 2: “iGo One Direction” (2012)
In a fight between The First Lady and Simon Cowell’s perfume-peddling pop Avengers for the weirdest iCarly cameo, there is no winner, only silence. For those not in the know, iCarly was a “Nickelodeon teen sitcom” – shudder – about a popular kiddy “webcast”, and it mercifully wrapped up in 2012. But before iCarly kicked the iComedy iBucket, it snuck in two internet-breaking cameos, one featuring terrible dancing (please forgive us, Mrs Obama) and another featuring terrible singing (don’t bother forgiving us, Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry and Louis).
Weird cameo: Oprah Winfrey
Episode: Season 3, Episode 2: “Believe In The Stars” (2008)
“Sitting next to Borbo” on a plane is exciting, if you’re Liz Lemon, and you’ve taken a very strong sedative and mixed it with alcohol. Lemon's seatmate, she is convinced, is in fact Oprah, and naturally she tries to befriend the lifestyle guru at once. Lemon reveals all her innermost secrets, drinks some more, and picks up lots of fashion tips. Back in the office, she boasts that “Oprah” smells of “rose water and warm laundry”, when, in fact, she doesn’t. Her seatmate is in fact a teenager called Pam and Lemon merely hallucinated the presence of the billionaire. And while neither of the other 30 Rock bananas-cameo contenders are Oprah – sometimes it’s hard to believe that Oprah is Oprah, frankly – two other cameos deserve a mention, namely Aaron Sorkin (“Walk With Me”) and Kesley Grammer (“I’m in Chinatown, baby”).
Weird cameo: Paris Hilton
Episode: Season 5, Episode 5 “Fallen Idols”, 2009
In a show where the two leads can crash through a window and land in “our world” and find out that they’re actors in a television programme called “Supernatural” – "So what, now you're Polish?!" exclaims Dean Winchester to his brother, now known as "Jared Padalecki" – anything and everything is possible when it comes to special guest appearances on CW’s horror hunk-off. The Exorcist’s Linda Blair has dropped by, as have a few Buffy favourites, but the most fantastically freaky of them all is Paris Hilton’s genuinely enjoyable turn as an Eastern European farming god called Leshii, a being with the power to transform into celebrities and draw power from the blood of their fans. Adding to the sheer entertainment power inherent in seeing the reality princess file her nails on a sickle, there’s also a gag about House Of Wax, a movie that both Hilton and Padalecki (who plays Sam Winchester) starred in, but which Dean Winchester(Jensen Ackles) claims he hasn’t seen.