This is an event that happened last Friday, and for the sake of completeness (and because it’s a fun Q&A session, where fans could interact with Mike semi-directly) we’re reposting it here.
Mike Nelson of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fame was online Friday, Aug. 24 at 3 p.m. ET to discuss mocking the movies and his new project, RiffTrax.com.
A transcript follows.
Dupont Circle: Mike,
LOVED MST3K and eagerly await each new release of the Film Crew series.
One of my all time favorite moments in MST3K is the “Delta Knights” madrigal song skit (“we sing of the glorious Delta Knights, they live in Europe somewhere” – you know it, you wrote it); going from the very particular to the general, could you explain some of your research process in coming up with jokes for the show?
Mike Nelson: Glad you liked it, thanks.
The process was pretty much Rob Petrie-like, with a bunch of writers throwing out jokes and ideas. There wasn’t a lot of research until the very last season when we had an internet connection in the room.
Los Angeles: MST3K was in its prime when I was a teenager. One day I came home and saw my dad, who was in his late 40s, watching an episode. I think it was a Hercules movie.
“They show some really good movies on this show, but I hate how they have that guy and those robots interrupting it the whole time,” he complained. I told him that that was kind of the point, and he said, “Well, they’re ruining a perfectly good movie.”
I just shook my head and went upstairs to finish watching it on the TV in my room.
Mike Nelson: That was a very common reaction in the early days!
Rosemount, Minn.: What are the major differences you find between the low-budget pieces of crapola you used to riff on and the super-expensive but still somehow terrible movies you do now? What are the perks and downsides of each?
Mike Nelson: The terrible movies of MST had a lot of easy and obvious moments – along with a lot of difficult ones. But in general the big budget ones I do for Rifftrax aren’t all that different, though they do have the advantage of being lit well, mic’ed properly, etc.
Arlington, Va.: What happened to the robots used in the show? Junk heap?
Mike Nelson: A few were auctioned on ebay and a couple others were given to planet Hollywood where I believe they were stashed in a large warehouse ala Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Harrisburg, Pa: Mike,
Just want to tell you that MST3K’s rendering of “Mitchell”, starring slovenly Joe Don Baker, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever viewed (along with MST3K’s versions of “Sidehackers” and “The Mole People”). Is ol’ Joe Don still angry at you and Joel and the Bots?
Mike Nelson: Joe Don was on record as stating that he wanted to, ahem, thrash our backsides. My backside, as of this typing, remains unthrashed.
Nyack, N.Y.: Does watching a movie like “Battlefield Earth” multiple times during your writing process have any adverse effects on the rest of your life? Do you become bitter and ornery with your friends and family, questioning all things good and pure?
Mike Nelson: Not so much. I’m a happy and blessed individual in general… though now that you mention it, what cause have I to be happy when there’s so much Battlefield Earth-caused misery in the world? Damn you! Life is an endless pit of filth and decay!
Fairfax, Va.: Just checked out RiffTraxx and it looks brilliant. So, like, you’ve already made money from this chat before it even started. Technical question not obvious from the site. How large are the mp3s?
Mike Nelson: Not too large, between 30-50 megs of hilarious goodness.
Foggy Bottom, D.C.: How many times do you usually have to suffer through a movie to get a full complement of material?
Mike Nelson: It’s about 3-5 viewings but each viewing is many, many hours.
Columbia, Md.: Do you keep in touch with the MST3K crew that you’re not currently doing business with (i.e. Joel, Trace, Frank)? How are they holding up in a post-MST3K world?
Mike Nelson: I see all of them every now and again, and continue to work with Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Mary Jo Pehl. As well as Briget Jones, ’cause, well, we’re married.
Alexandria, Va.: Longtime fan, Mr. Nelson. I think you’re hilarious. Will you ever do any Rifftrax events on the East Coast? I’m just a poor grad student and I can’t make the trip to the West Coast, but I could probably make it to NYC or heck, why not, D.C.?
Mike Nelson: Nothing planned as of yet. But as a grad student, couldn’t you write a grant proposal to come out to the West Coast and study us?
New York, N.Y.: Mike! Your books are hilarious. I particularly enjoy “Mind Over Matters.” I know you’re busy these days, but any chance we’ll be seeing a new book of essays in the future?
Mike Nelson: Thanks for the kind words. As it happens, the publishing experience wasn’t entirely a happy one for me, so I’m not eager to repeat it. But I do think I’ll do it again someday.
Woonsocket, R.I.: BOY am I excited to have a chance to ask you a question! I can’t tell you how many times you guys made me literally crawl out of the room because I was laughing so hard that I was losing control of my bodily functions.
Heck, I was singing your Gamera song to my five-year-old yesterday. He loved it.
So what makes you laugh these days? And how many of the MST3K gang stay in touch with each other? Inquiring minds want to know!
Mike Nelson: Thanks!
I laugh the most when I’m making these Rifftrax with Kevin and Bill and the gang, but I imagine you’re asking about other work – I really enjoyed “Arrested Development” even if it got a bit randy here and there for my taste. And I love the British “Office” (haven’t seen the American version as I don’t have TV). Will Farrel always makes me laugh.
Madison, Wisc.: Hi Mike,
How does your “Film Crew” project with Kevin and Bill fit in with Rifftrax? I’ve bought all the Film Crew movies out there and have really loved them. I’d be very excited if that project were going to continue.
Mike Nelson: The Film Crew is really our outlet for older titles on DVD while Rifftrax is an online venture for new titles and we can also bring in other talent (e.g. Neil Patrick Harris).
Fairfax, Va.: Hey Mike, big fan of your work and I am delighted with the spiritual continuation of MST3K with Riff Trax and The Film Crew. Especially since Riff Trax allows for the riffing of more mainstream movies. The treatment of The Matrix was hilarious.
Is there a movie you’ve always wanted to riff but never could due to rights or some other issue? Or is that no longer an issue since Riff Trax does not require rights?
In a similar vein, is there a movie you thought was a great candidate for riffing but once you started on it, it just wasn’t working?
Mike Nelson: Thanks!
The Rifftrax innovation is that we’re not required to clear rights. But, yea, back in the MST days the Travolta/Tomlin film “Moment by Moment” was yanked from us at the last minute. The pain is deep.
DC: Hey Mike! Glad to see there’s more riffing for me to enjoy.
Have you guys considered, as a special challenge, riffing on true classics, indisputably wonderful movies? I’m thinking “The Godfather” and “Casablanca” wonderful.
Keep up the good work!
Mike Nelson: In fact, I wanted (and still want) to do “The Godfather” but the results of our online poll were not encouraging. Come on, people, let me do “The Godfather”!
Columbia, Md.: Hi Mike,
Thank you so much for your years of service to crappy movie connoisseurs! I was excited to see your RiffTrax of “Glitter,” which brought up a question: have you and your brain trust thought about a RiffTrax of “Showgirls”? My friends and I think they would be an excellent double feature.
Mike Nelson: I have considered “Showgirls” but another viewing of it decided me against it because there’s not enough water on the planet sufficient for the hot showers we would all need to take just to get rid of the first layer of “Showgirls” filth.
Silver Spring, Md.: Virtually everyone I know who is between 20 and 30 years old is familiar with MST3K. Are you amazed at what a phenomena it was, and to an extent, still is?
Mike Nelson: It is surprising to me, and in fact, I appeared at a high school near where I live that had an MST3K club. “How do you even know about it,” was my question, but they apparently all own the DVDs, so that’s how it lives on. I love it.
Indianapolis: Do you yammer on and on at every movie you see, or just the bad ones? I think I sit right behind you every time I go to the movies.
What do you consider to be the easiest type of movie to target? Gladiator, bad sci-fi…?
Mike Nelson: No, I’m dead silent at the theatre and encourage EVERYONE ELSE TO BE, AS WELL!
Claverack, NY: Michael! You are like a god to me. Specifically, Demeter, Greek goddess of the grain and harvest. You both have that chunky, mid-westerny, matronly way about you. Plus you both used to go on basic cable and argue with puppets (you: MST3K, Demeter: “Fraggle Rock”).
My question is, what’s the best beer to drink while listening to Rifftrack? Is there one gold standard, or do different brews go better with different flicks?
Mike Nelson: Chunky? Matronly?
You know I’m Mike Nelson, right, and not Charlotte Rae?
Ithaca, NY: As a female fan, I’d like to ask that you cut movie women a little more slack – sometimes (both with MST3K and RiffTrax) I find that you’re reinforcing stereotypes more than you’re making fun of them… Though someone did speak up in Sidehackers, where there was all that inexplicable violence against women!
Mike Nelson: I will take your request seriously. Though I honestly don’t think you have to go all the way back to “Sidehackers” to find us behaving well (though I’ll leave that for others to judge.)
Arlington, Va.: Mike,
OMG how do you know Doogie Howser?
Mike Nelson: I totally hung with NPH in Hollywood. He’s a great guy and very talented. My own children prefer his riffing to mine. What are you gonna do?
Lincoln Park: A former Minnesotan here who was an avid MST3K fan back in the day. I blush as I admit that I had a sort of a gay crush on Tom Servo. Was I picking up the right vibes there or was he more of a androdic metrosexual? Did he really wind up in the warehouse or is he now in some interplanetary version of Key West or Provincetown?
Mike Nelson: We always viewed the robots as having a Bugs Bunny-type sexuality. That is, whatever served the comedy, that’s what they were.
But I’ll pass along your affection.
New York, N.Y.: I saw the MST3K showing of “Manos: The Hands of Fate” after Entertainment Weekly declared it the worst movie ever made. Did you ever find what you believed to be the worst film ever made, or conversely, were you ever worried that a film was not generating as much material as you’d hoped, and maybe wasn’t quite bad enough?
Mike Nelson: I do believe that Manos deserves serious consideration as Best Entertaining Bad Movie Ever Made. And, yes, there were many bad films that commit the sin of being bad and very, very boring.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi Mike…
I enjoyed MST3K for a number of years and shared many laughs with friends over some of them. One particular favorite of ours was “Mr. B Natural” (I particularly loved the debates Tom and Crow had after). One joke that came up which has puzzled me for years was when a whole pile of rough trumpet cones was shown, one of the characters said “Honey West!”, which has puzzled me and my friends for years. Can you please enlighten us on what that referred to? Thanks!
Mike Nelson: Honey West was a groovy TV show from the 60s. I think the music was reminiscent, though I’m too young to remember the show. (But clearly one of the other writers was old enough)
Arlington, Va. (or the Satellite of Love): Thanks, thanks, thanks to you and all the Bad Brains crew for MST3K and many years of laughter; I still break out the old tapes recorded from Comedy Central when the weather’s bad.
I’m looking forward to trying out RiffTrax but I’m wondering, considering the Minnesota connection of the old Bad Brains days, have you considered riffing on “Little Big League”? That’s a horrendous film about a 12-year-old boy who winds up owning and managing the Minnesota Twins.
Mike Nelson: I have never seen Little Big League but on your recommendation, such as it is, I will.
Freising, Germany: I was just wondering how you got the idea of making someone insane through bad movies. Were there any inspirational movies that helped you in this respect?
Mike Nelson: No particular movie in mind, though we did feel it important that Mike and the bots be trapped there so they didn’t just come off like every other wiseacre. (Though they may have anyway).
Mike Nelson: Many thanks for the questions and kind words! I really enjoyed it.