I may have mentioned once or twice that I'm a long-time Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan.
Back in the days when the show was still on the air, my only chance to have seen the guys perform live would have involved a trek across their home tundra of Minnesota. Now, I love twin cities as much as the next girl, but I could never quite get it together to drive aaaaalll the way out there – the only people I knew personally would would be even half-nerdy enough to split the 12 hours of driving with me would have been my younger brothers, and they were about 5 years old at the time. Children. So useless.
Then the show went off the air, and seeing a live performance just became one more thing on my growling list of young hopes and dreams...dashed. (Imagine your own violins here.)
And then, something wonderful happened.
From the ashes of the beloved old, new audiences and technologies raised not one but two Satellite of Love-led troupes. This past Saturday brought the Joel-helmed ship to our hostile suburbs, so-called by one of my brothers, both of whom joined me for the show. (See, I'm not a total failure as a big sister; I take them to something cool once or twice a decade.)
The bros, another like-minded friend of mine, and I wedged ourselves in at about 9.50 for the 10pm show. The weather was bad – again – so I was expecting a bit of a late start. I was just glad to be sitting down as I'd had a spill a few days earlier and was starting to worry that I'd broken my left ankle. (Oh it's much improved today, thank you so much for asking, aren't you sweet!)
The ROMT stage area was set up with a big movie screen and the staggered platforms that form the CT silhouette. At 10.35, Mary Jo Pehl came out to one of two standing mics for some warmup standup. Oh, this is even more exciting! We'll all get to see each of the performers doing their thing!
MJP did a couple minutes of good-natured midwestern humor. I'm glad to say, MJP is much funnier than Pearl Forrester, but then I never liked Pearl.
Mary Jo then introduced the next castie to take the mic, one of my original favorites, Frank Conniff, aka part-time Countdown contributor, aka TV's Frank.
First things first: Yes, his hair is really that color. Conniff spoke to something that I personally really respect and agree with, and that is the importance of communal experiences. It's true that you could just buy CT episodes and watch at home, but by sharing the event with a theater full of your neighbors and peers, friends and strangers, we together create an unrepeatable experience through which we all expand as people. Then again, he may just have been setting up a Justin Bieber suicide joke. Even more respectable about Frank: Chester A. Arthur joke. That takes chops.
After Frank came my total favorite, Trace Beaulieu. Trace played both Dr. Forrester and Crow T. Robot on MST3K, both favorite characters of mine, both the only MST3K t-shirts I've ever owned (both of which I still wear to work).
As the 10pm show was the second show of the night, Trace asked, "How many of you were here for the early show?" The house lights came up to show more than half the audience with their hands up. "Aw crap, I don't have any new stuff. Okay, you people don't listen!" I was laughing already, because Trace's excited voice is totally Crow, and Crow always makes me laugh. (Crow T. Robot and Master Shake, two of the greatest TV characters ever, both brought to you by the mighty MCB!)
Trace read for us a few selections from his completely child-unsafe book, Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children.
Just before he started, he introduced another castie to us whom he'd brought out to accompany him on the bass guitar, J. Elvis Weinstein, aka Josh, aka "oh, that Servo?" according to Josh himself.
In the early-early MST days, Josh had created the Tom Servo character, but shortly moved on to bigger writerly pastures, and the character was later taken over by Kevin Murphy. I have almost no exposure to "oh that Servo?" so I was curious to see what Weinstein would bring.
After a couple of lovely rhymes about dead and/or vomitous children, Trace left the stage to Josh, who explained that, due to union rules, he couldn't use the name Josh Weinstein, so he chose J. Elvis because of his deep, abiding love for Canadian figure skating great Elvis Stojko. He then launched into a surprisingly good bass-only rendition of "Watching the Detectives." Psych!
Next to the stage was MST3K creator and beloved original host, Joel Hodgson, aka Joel Robinson, sleepy-eyed father figure to a crew of misfit bots. And he started off with... a card trick. And a massively old, hack card trick at that! I wonder what he did for the first show. No matter, the crowd was his to do with as he wished. After that display of brilliance, he invited co-composer J. Elvis to rejoin him on stage for the MST3K theme song, into which Joel had adorably included (second host) Mike's name. Even more adorably, he miffed the lyrics, how many decades later? I was disappointed that the crowd didn't join in, at least for Robot Roll Call (although there were a few la-la-las).
And then finally at 11pm, we've got movie siiiiiign!
Tonight's movie is a little Kinescope suppository from the video depository, Rattler.
As the CTers took their places on the podia, it occurred to me that what I was looking forward to most about this was seeing these funny and talented comics speaking (presumably) their own words. With a cast of robots and other characters, you never really know whose writing is making you laugh. For some reason, I was also really amused by the fact that each castie had a digital touchpad on their music stands rather than paper scripts.
With Joel, Trace and Mary Jo on the left side, and Frank and J. Elvis on the right, along with my crew, I couldn't help keeping an eye on J. Elvis. It turns out, HE delivered some of the best riffs of the whole show, including one that got the only full-house groan, for which he turned to us with a proud bow. (There are better ways to go... "Ask David Carradine!" [groan] [applause] [bow])
The movie was quite shockingly terrible, right up to their alley, feeding line after dumb line for hilarious riffing. Like live Easter eggs, there were a few inside jokes in the performance, too. And who loves inside references more than nerds? The best: A movie character explained that snake tracks through the sand get washed away, and Joel chimed in, "Washed out? For snakes?" Now, those not in the know wouldn't have even picked up that line, but THIS crowd broke into applause. Later, there was another "Hey, you could have been more specific than 'watch it'!" moment. The good news is, Rattler should be available soon for purchase at the CT site, so you can all share in our pain.
All in all, it was a good couple of hours of silly puns, pop culture references, goofy jokes, community and, yeah, bad cinema. Can't wait to do it all again.