When you’ve run out of things to say about the television series you starred on nearly 20 years ago, it’s time for the jokes.
Of course, to hear actor Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner tell it during their Saturday panel at Emerald City Comicon, the jokes started almost as soon as shooting did on the early episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And the humor certainly didn’t stop during the pair’s ECCC discussion, which left close to 3,000 people rolling in the aisles.
The actors, who played Commander Will Riker and Lt. Commander Data, took the stage to thunderous applause, with Spiner sounding the early notes of humor by adopting a pitch-perfect Patrick Stewart impression. He returned to that shtick throughout the panel, with Frakes as a masterful straight man.
“In a fight between you and Kirk, who would win?” Frakes asked.
“Are you talking Kirk Cameron?” boomed Spiner/Picard.
Moderator and Seattle radio host B.J. Shea noted that the ensemble cast of ST:TNG — on-air from 1987 to 1994 and reunited for four feature films — was extraordinarily chummy and happy to work together. How did that come to be? he asked.
“It turns out it was a very clever, funny group,” Frakes replied. “… And we laughed at each other. We made fun of each other.”
“We basically had a job where we’d laugh all day long,” Spiner said.
Serious turns like that one were few and far between, and anyone hoping for deep, inside dish on the Next Generation days came away empty-handed, but smiling. Audience questions quickly turned into straight lines for the two stars to spin into dry ribaldry.
For instance, one audience member asked whether Frakes would’ve have made different choices had he directed Star Trek: Nemesis, the 10th Trek film and one widely disparaged by critics and fans.
“He would’ve focused the camera,” Spiner quipped.
The two have done varied work before Trek and since, with Frakes moving into TV and feature-film directing — he’s recently helmed episodes of Leverage and Burn Notice — and Spiner acting in character parts, not least of which was his acclaimed 1999 turn in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. He’s also become a star of Twitter, sometimes composing long, fantastical adventures in the 140-character format.
Both men came prepared to cut up. Frakes chewed gum throughout the panel, used his microphone like a microscope, and knocked over chairs. Spiner played off audience questions with killer, deadpan wit. One questioner wanted to know whether geek idol Wil Wheaton was already “such a character” when Frakes and Spiner worked with him on Next Generation.
“Wil’s a real person,” Spiner replied. “He’s not a character. Wesley is a character.”
Spiner did reveal one big “secret” of Nemesis, the film that disappointed fans by allowing Data to perish (more or less) at the end. “After the movie was over, and the curtain came down and you were walking up the aisle? Behind the curtain, the entire ship blew up.”
“Was Marina driving again?” Frakes asked.
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