Futurama's Kif Started Off A Lot More Like Star Trek's Spock

"Futurama" is a loving send-up of science fiction, "Star Trek" very much included. The series' parodies of "Trek" got pretty bald, such as the episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before," which features the Planet Express crew teaming up with the original "Star Trek" cast to fight the alien Trekkie Melllvar. However, the most endemic "Star Trek" parody in "Futurama" is the recurring characters Zapp Brannigan and Kif Kroker. The premise behind Zapp is simple and hilarious: what if William Shatner was captain of the Enterprise instead of James T. Kirk?

Kif, his alien second-in-command, is, in turn, a loose parody of Spock, but rather than a loyal right-hand man, Kif loathes his commanding officer. So much so, an exasperated sigh at Zapp's idiocy is Kif's catchphrase. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Kroker lacks the backbone to stand up for himself or permanently break away from Zapp. But according to Kif's voice actor, Maurice LaMarche, his performance was originally going to be a more direct parody of Leonard Nimoy's Spock.

Finding the right voice for Kif

While "Futurama" creator Matt Groening's inspiration for Kif was Spock, differences between them were clear from the beginning. Spock's people the Vulcan are basically human, just with pointed ears and eyebrows. Kif, however, is a green-skinned Amphibiosan, and the more about his species is gradually revealed, the less human they seem; they reproduce asexually and can become liquid, for instance. These design differences stem from the shows' different production models — "Star Trek" had a shoestring make-up budget while "Futurama" was only bound by the animators' imaginations. However, that Kif didn't look much like Spock could be why LaMarche's initial voice didn't work.

LaMarche was asked in 2013 by CraveOnline about Kif's roots as a Spock parody. His answer revealed his and Groening's process for developing the character's voice. As LaMarche said:

"We initially tried a very Spockian kind of voice for him, [Groening] goes, 'No, that's not right. It doesn't look like it would come out of him.' I said, 'Well, does he have emotions? Is he pure logic or?' He goes, 'No, no, he'll have emotions. Mostly annoyance.' So, you know, I kind of let go of the Nimoy thing and what we did was he combined kind of Jon Lovitz pissiness with a Truman Capote world-weariness."

That mix LaMarche describes definitely better complemented the writing of Kif. There'd be no other way to feel but "pissy" and "world-weary" if you had to deal with Zapp Brannigan day-in-day-out. While Kif still isn't the most emotive character, that's because of Zapp-induced depression, not the absence of emotion like it is with Spock. Even so, if Spock had been Brannigan's minder, odds are even he wouldn't have been able to keep his frustration in check.

Refining Kif's characterization

It wasn't just Kif's voice that changed. His characterization shifted as well, though there it was more of a subtle evolution versus a conscious change. In Zapp and Kif's debut, "Love's Labours Lost In Space," Kif is a more bitter character. He openly refers to Zapp as "the jackass" and "the fatso." When the imprisoned Planet Express Crew ask why they're being freed (answer: because Leela gave Zapp a night of pity sex), Kif mutters under his breath, "Why indeed?" in Leela's direction. In later seasons, this sourness gave way to anxiousness and Kif became unfailingly polite, even submissive; after season 1, he'd have been way too nervous to make that crack at Leela's expense. The implication became that Kif had been under Zapp's thumb for so long that he didn't know any way to behave.

Season 3 episode "Amazon Women In The Mood" is the one that solidified this anxiety as part of Kif's character, not to mention introducing his main non-Zapp relationship: Amy Wong. Initially, the two of them kissing was just a one-off gag in season 1 episode "A Flight To Remember," but "Amazon Women" made them into a genuine couple. Kif, too nervous to even talk to Amy, initially has Zapp be his wingman. However, he's only able to win over Amy when he decides to be his natural, nice, nervous self.

The lesson is the same one LaMarche learned when he ditched the Leonard Nimoy impression for Kif's voice: Don't try to be someone you're not.