World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking was beloved by many not only for his genius, but for his presence within the Big Bang Theory universe, where he was one of its most deified guest stars. After his passing, the cast and crew mourned and shared fond farewells, and co-creator Bill Prady told a pretty hilarious and touching story about making Hawking smile during a post-lecture dinner.
Following the filming of Big Bang Theory‘s Season 5 episode “The Hawking Excitation,” in which Stephen Hawking made his first appearance, the cast and crew joined Hawking for lunch (with the awesome Kip Thorne also around and about). And it was here that Bill Prady learned more about Hawking’s time-heavy manner of communicating, in which his cheek muscle is used to choose letters and words via an infrared light. As he put it in his Variety editorial, Prady also learned that while Hawking was eating, sometimes his cheek movements would accidentally set off the voice synthesizer, meaning their meal was peppered with non sequitur words like “maybe” and “tomorrow.” This inspired Prady to make a joke about it, but he held off.
The opportunity presented itself again, though, when Bill Prady was invited to a birthday party lecture and a meal at Caltech, and he was eventually seated next to Stephen Hawking for dinner. And it was here he got to make magic happen. According to Prady:
But while we ate, the random words returned. ‘Probably,’ said Hawking’s voice synthesizer. ‘Uh-huh,’ it added. Emboldened by the wine and the dirty double entendres in Hawking’s lecture, I turned to him. ‘You know, Professor Hawking,’ I said, ‘you should have them load mealtime vocabulary into your voice synthesizer. That way, if you trigger it accidentally, it will say things like ‘This is delicious,’ and ‘I must have the recipe.” And a smile crept across his face. And mine. Hawking was imprisoned in his body by the ravages of a cruel disease; I’ve spent my life trapped by crippling shyness. The only way I’ve found out of my confinement is jokes. And I told one to Stephen Hawking. Months later I found myself on a phone call with his assistant. He was calling to get some DVDs of the episode. Before he hung up, he added, ‘By the way, Professor Hawking asked us to work on the eating vocabulary — he thought it was a hysterical idea.’ I don’t know if they ever got it working.
While the joke could have easily come across as immature or insensitive, Bill Prady was speaking from a foundation of pure respect and goofy comedic ideals. Considering the two men weren’t exactly strangers by that point, Hawking was also keenly aware of Prady’s good-natured ribbing. And not only aware of it, but actually of the opinion that setting up preconceived dinner dialogue would be a pretty good idea. Like Prady, we have no idea if Hawking ever put any development into the idea, but if there’s anyone out there who has ever been asked for a recipe by Hawking after a home-cooked meal, let us know, will ya?
It seems another story of this nature would have also gone down involving someone from The Simpsons‘ writing staff, since that show, and Futurama, also honored Hawking in big ways over the years. (Check out the one rule Hawking had for his animated Simpsons counterpart.)
Though we won’t get to see any more Stephen Hawking cameos on The Big Bang Theory in the future, we can easily relive those of seasons past. New episodes air on CBS every Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. ET. To see what’ll be hitting the small screen before and after that point, head to our midseason premiere schedule.