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Galactic Guffaws
"Star Trek: Insurrection"

With his Royal Shakespeare Company training, you might expect Patrick Stewart to equate comedy with the classics of Wilde or Shaw. But Star Trek's Captain Picard defines himself as the world's "number-one Beavis and Butt-head fan."

"I am probably the only Academy member who voted for "Beavis and Butt-head Do America" for best picture," says Stewart, who stars on the big screen in the new "Star Trek: Insurrection." "This past weekend I was doing my estate planning and I left my entire Beavis and Butt-head collection to my son."

Actually, a sense of humor seems to be a prerequisite for admission to the crew of the Starship Enterprise. Amazingly, after 178 TV episodes, three features and over a decade of collaboration, the "Next Generation" actors have kept their camaraderie, and their funny bones, intact. It's a far cry from the cast of the first Star Trek series -- many of whom have written tell-all memoirs that paint a dismal picture of their captain, William Shatner.

To partake of the good fellowship, though, you need a thick skin. "On the set you can say anything to anyone," says Jonathan Frakes, who directed Insurrection and also appears as Commander Will Riker. "You better not show up in the morning, unless you're prepared to be verbally bludgeoned."

For one thing, everyone has his own Patrick Stewart imitation. At the "Insurrection" press junket, Brent Spiner (Data) used his roundest Shakespearean tones to intone: "Make it SOOOHHH!" It was pretty impressive, but he admitted the best Patrick Stewart on the Enterprise (other than Stewart himself, of course) is Marina Sirtis.

In "Insurrection," for once, the humor actually shows up on screen: The movie has more laughs -- and less angst -- than previous outings. And although Star Trek fans are traditionally male, this kinder, funnier "Insurrection" may be more appealing to than its predecessors to the female audience. "Women have asked me 'Is this a chick flick,?'" says Frakes. "I say 'Yes -- but we still blow up spaceships!'"

-- Sean Doorly
(Written for Premiere Magazine Online)