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SFist Interviews: Michael J. Nelson of RiffTrax and MST3K

May 23rd, 2007 by · 1 Comment

All those folks who are still complaining about the cancellation of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”–and by “all those folks,” we mean us–wake up! The MST3K guys are still at it–they just aren’t trapped in space any more. In fact, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy will be in San Francisco this weekend skewering a film in front of a live audience with RiffTrax Live.

RiffTrax is Mike Nelsons clever venture which allows him (and frequent contributors Murphy and Corbett) to make fun of more current films (and TV shows) without having to deal with annoying copyright issues. Just purchase and download an MP3 of their movie commentary and then play it along with a DVD of the film. The wonders of modern technology!

We had a chance to talk with Mike Nelson about Rifftax, performing live and, of course, bad movies.
First off, thanks for once again doing some shows in our fair city. But we’re wondering why you guys keep coming here. You’re making other cities jealous! Do you have any other live shows planned? Perhaps a tour of some kind?
The guys at the SF SketchFest have been kind (or crazy) enough to invite us a couple of times. We did a live RiffTrax this winter and it worked out, so they asked us back. We get asked by other cities to do live shows but frankly, those other cities don’t provide as much sushi as does San Francisco. If they can pony up more sushi, we’ll consider it.
Since you’re doing mainstream movies now, do you find it harder to just go see a movie these days without thinking about how it might fit into a RiffTrax, and constantly thinking up wisecracks in your head, (or perhaps out loud, to the delight of your fellow movie watchers)?
Yeah, I’m doomed to look at almost every movie as material. I watched The Hours not long ago and every tragic moment in it (of which there are dozens), I’m thinking, hm, that could be pretty funny… But no, I don’t do it out loud in a theater, even when movies deserve it, like, say, Déjà Vu.
Have you gotten any negative feedback from fans of some of the new films youve chosen? Like, have any Lord of the Rings fans threatened to throw you into the fires of Mordor for daring to make fun of those movies?
The funny thing is I’m a fan of the Lord of the Rings films. I lined up for ‘em when they came out. But I think any fan of Sci-Fi or Fantasy has to admit there are goofy elements to even the best of it that makes it ripe for satire. I mean, hobbits? Ents? Gandalf Stormcrow?
How long does it take you to prepare a RiffTrax? How many times do you have to watch the movie before recording the final track?
It takes just a little bit longer than a week. And though I only watch the movie through a couple of times, each viewing is 3 or 4 days. I may have rewound a particularly vexing Keanu Reeves moment several dozen times before I hit upon the right thing. Try that without going mad.
Speaking of going mad, have you ever come across a film that you at first thought would be perfect for a RiffTrax, but upon a complete viewing you realize you never want to have to sit through the thing again? We want names!
Yes. In fact many people have suggested, and I originally agreed, that Showgirls would make for good riffing. And it may. The problem is it’s just so ugly, so vile, I just can’t bring myself to encourage people to watch it. You’d have to take a series of hot showers with a good pumice soap after watching it. And I don’t even want to think about writing it. Ew.
When you do a live RiffTrax show, do you ever make changes based on audience reaction to some of the jokes? Do you try different things out on different nights?
Yeah, we adjust on the fly quite a bit. It’s not an entirely different animal when it’s live, but it’s different enough that you have to be flexible. From one night to the next we may individually drop, alter or improv a new joke different from what was in the script based on instinct. Not a lot, but it happens. You begin to sense the mood of the crowd, how the sound system affects the jokes, and whatnot. Or you simply lose the courage to do the stupid pun that’s going to get groans.
What makes you laugh? Any TV shows, movies, or books? People? Sunday comics?
Patrick Swayze, although I don’t think he means to. Among those who do mean to, I’m really fond of the British “Office” and I recently discovered another British show I quite liked called “Black Books”. “Arrested Development” was pretty fine, if a little raunchy here and there. I don’t have TV in my house, so I can only watch those that come out on DVD. It’s kind of like having a really sluggish Tivo. I love Laurel and Hardy, The Andy Griffith Show, The Marx Brothers, Spinal Tap, The Thin Man, Woody Allen (before he married his daughter). I adore P.G. Wodehouse, could read him every single day and not get tired of it. Nothing against Sunday comics, because there’s a lot of talent out there, but not a single comic has ever made me laugh. I keep trying, but it just doesn’t happen. We’re not compatible.
Weve got to get at least one MST3K question in here. Do you think the show will ever come back the air, at least in re-run form? As for the DVD sets, any idea if an actual, sequential, complete set of the series will be released to satisfy the anal retentive fans out there?
I doubt the show will ever make the air again, given the rights issues with the films. For that same reason, I doubt it will come out in a nice, easy sequential format.
What can we look forward to in future RiffTrax fun? Any more celebrity guest appearances like your recent Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory RiffTrax with Neil Patrick Harris?
There will be more celebrity guest appearances, yes. But as with everything celebrity based I’m not allowed to talk about it or I will be barred from Mr. Chow’s the world over for life.
And in that same vein, one last question. We know you like to keep the name of the film you’re going to do at a live RiffTrax show a secret, but we’e dying here. Can you give us a teeny, tiny clue?
Well, I shouldn’t but here goes: the Bacon Number of its main star is 2, with Sandra Bullock being the link. (See “The Oracle of Bacon” for more information.) For what it’s worth, I have a bacon number of 4.
You can see Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy perform RiffTrax Live this Sunday at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, and on Monday at Cobbs Comedy Club.
Visit Sketchfest for more.

Tags: Events · Interviews · RiffTrax · RiffTrax Live!