Michael J Nelson on MST3K and the heavily anticipated return of Manos: The Hands of Fate, and RiffTrax

In a sure sign that our dreams are really coming true, Manos: The Hands of Fate is returning to movie theaters for all of us to experience on the big screen. No, this won't be the restoration you've been hearing about -- it's the next RiffTrax Live event, and for the first time, the riffers and stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett will be revisiting a classic movie from the show in front of a live audience this Thursday night at 8:00 PM (EST). I spoke with Nelson about Manos and the mission to restore it, as well as MST3K, RiffTrax, and potential future riffs and live events.

Jamie Frevele: Why Manos: The Hands of Fate?

Michael J. Nelson: The reason to revisit Manos is because it’s been 19 years, and there was some chatter on the web about a guy who found a pristine copy, and he’s in the middle of restoring it right now, I believe. We were in touch with the guy, and we were going to try to get it for this showing, but it just wasn’t done. But we were able to find, on our own, a theatrical print that’s very nice. It’s better than anything that’s out there, so it’ll be nice. You know, it tamps the “creepy” down a little bit. But the reason to do it was that we’d all forgotten it. We really had, and we thought after 19 years, there’s gonna be a whole bunch of people who haven’t been exposed to the horror. And it’s only fair that they should have to, since we’ve endured it. Luckily, we’ve forgotten everything, so it’ll be fresh eyes.

Jamie: That’s great. I think Generation Y will thank you for this.

Mike: I hope so! I hope they appreciate what we’re doing for them!

Jamie: Do you think that besides making it a little less creepy, the restoration will help us look at Manos in an entirely different light?

Mike: (laughs) I think what I was selling Kevin [Murphy] on, I talked to him about it and said, “Hey, I did take a look at the new print, and it does sort of give it a nice gloss!” And Kevin was like, “Oh please, this thing still looks like a snuff film.” It’s just so… the limitations are all there on film. The fact that it’ll look better, I think, is sort of interesting and will make it more fun, but it won’t cease the pain under the grime.

Jamie: Well, that’s a shame. So, it’s not going to bring Hal Warren’s ultimate dream to life like we thought it would. I watched a restored scene, and it was the scene where Torgo was playing with the wife’s hair and then she yelled at him to never do that again. I was like, “Oh no, that’s still just as strange as it was before.”

Mike: Yeah, that didn’t come across to you as a Katherine Heigl rom-com now that it’s been all cleaned up? It still looked creepy, huh?

Jamie: It started out looking a little better, and then I quickly realized the take was just as long as it was when it was dirty-looking.

Mike: Right, in this case, who knows? Maybe it’s better to have a layer of gauze over this thing? It’s just another separation from the pure horror.

Jamie: It’s served Barbara Walters so well.

Mike: (laughs) That’s right.

Jamie: At the time [of the original MST3K episode], you were actually a head writer on the show, except for your appearance as Torgo.

Mike: It wasn’t my first appearance, but it was definitely my favorite, and we sort of upped the guest appearances after that.

Jamie: Did you try to replicate the metal rigging that the actor who played Torgo used in the movie?

Mike: No, it’s astonishing to me that it appears to be a true fact, that it appears to be corroborated, it’s like “That’s not just a bunch of soiled bedding stuffed into your legs?”

Jamie: No, there were mechanical goings-on under there.

Mike: That’s...unfathomable.

Jamie: Was there a piece of you, when it came back up again, that was like, “You know, I really would have liked to riff this one myself”?

Mike: It really was such a team. We didn’t have that separation. We were always there, all the writers were always involved in everything because it was so small. I always felt like even making the transition to host was pretty easy because it didn’t require a huge shift, because if you were watching a Joel [Hodgson] episode, I was probably standing just off camera with the script, and so were the other writers. It was really a very close atmosphere, so there was no real separation there.

Jamie: It was actually preceded by a short. Is that going to happen again to fill out the time a little bit?

Mike: Yeah, we have a couple of shorts. Manos is a pretty short movie, which, I think, is probably its greatest attribute. We’ve done previous live shows, and we love combing through old 16 mm films. We get boxes of them shipped here and it’s always like Christmas Day, we just rip it open and we spend a day watching these 16 millimeters. And we found a couple of really strange ones that we’re always excited to unveil at these live shows.

Jamie: I have to say, the shorts are probably my favorite things ever.

Mike: Yeah, the shorts are so much fun because instantly, they put you in a different frame, and you don’t have to do a lot of explaining. With Manos, somebody watching it for the first time is kind of like, “What is this? Where did it come from? Who are these people?” That little hump has to be gotten over, whereas a short you just know: there comes the title and the music, and you know, “This one’s about cleanliness! This one’s from the ‘70s and it’s a creepy safety film!” So they set themselves up, and that makes them really fun and brief pieces of entertainment.

Jamie: I think the first time I was introduced to MST3K, it was to the shorts, and then my aunt and uncle who were also really huge fans were like “Sometimes the movies are just too long to take, so the shorts are perfect.”

Mike: Right. My dad had the same feeling. I would talk to him every couple of weeks. He’d give me a call and he’d say that he watched the show, and he’d go, “Yeah, I saw it. Boy, that movie was really bad!” Like, “Dad, that’s kind of the point of the show!” But he just did it, like, every year. But then he would make mention, “The short was good. That was funny! I liked it.”

Jamie: I have a friend who has said to me many times “I like that show, but sometimes I just wanna watch the movie because it’s so crazy bad!” But sometimes, you need help! And sometimes the commentary is appreciated!

Mike: Yeah, it was an interesting phenomenon in the early days when we did the show, we’d get a few fan letters, and that was the only feedback that we had. The network didn’t really talk to us because (laughs) we were out in Minnesota and they were in New York, and so fan letters would come in – most of them were fan letters, but we always cherish the people who were like “What are those characters doing at the bottom of the screen? Please shut them up, I am trying to watch the movie!”

Jamie: Any chance that Pod People might get a live show?

Mike: You know, we were talking about that. That title came up. We haven’t looked into it. But I’ll leave it at that: The title came up in our little discussions, and that one’s been a really long time as well. So, who knows?

Jamie: Are there going to be any surprise appearances, like the same way you made an appearance as Torgo, or the way “Weird” Al Yankovic made an appearance on the Christmas shorts?

Mike: Let me just say there may, in fact, be surprise appearances.

Jamie: Is this the first time you’re re-riffing a movie from the show?

Mike: It is, yeah! There have been a couple of shorts that we considered. I think there was one I even started writing – this is how lame it is – and then I went, “Wait a minute, this is familiar...” I don’t how many hundreds of shorts that I’ve done, and they’re all kind of gray and from the exact same era, so it’s hard to remember.

Jamie: How long do the shorts take to riff? I feel like the full-length movies are quite an undertaking.

Mike: Yeah, it’s much shorter because one of the problems you encounter, especially when RiffTrax does the blockbusters, the modern blockbusters, which, you know, every movie now has to be at least two hours and forty minutes long. I don’t know why that trend is continuing, but there’s only so many cards in the deck as far as jokes that you can make on a particular thing. And as it starts to get longer, you’ve obviously pretty much tapped them all! So it’s a lot more challenging, whereas a short – you take it on its own terms for 10 minutes and you’re done. So from a writing perspective, it is definitely easier to do a short.

Jamie: If there was ever a documentary about Manos, would you want to be involved in it, besides just providing commentary on it? would you want to go make that thing?

Mike: I’m always wary of being too close to the thing. The distance helps to separate you from it. But I’d definitely be interested in seeing it. You just want to be a little bit at arm’s length from the things you’re making fun of, because it gets dangerous. I have met people who we’ve riffed and had a chance to be friends with them, and then it does kind of put them off-limits of being made fun of. It’s the same phenomenon in a way, you just want to have a bit of distance.

Jamie: Somebody pointed out to me that today (August 8) is the 13th anniversary of the airing of Diabolik, the series finale. Any thoughts on that?

Mike: Wow, 13 years. I’m just old, I guess. Since then I’ve just been so wrapped up in bad movies still, and it’s making me question, “What is wrong with me? Why do I keep returning to this?” But there is something about it that I really enjoy, the craft of doing this peculiar kind of humor writing that we do. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do other things, but I enjoy it. I’ve been very blessed to continue to do this, and so I don’t regret a bit of it.

Jamie: Have you been able to watch movies just as recreation without heckling them in your head?

Mike: Not anything that is flawed, but only in my head if I go to see a movie. But it makes you appreciate, when you see things that are done poorly, over and over and over again, you realize how complicated it is and what a difficult feat it is to pull off a very good movie, and so when you see them, it actually does give you a better appreciation when something doesn’t look like something Hal Warren has made, but rather rises well above it. You go, “Well done, sir! That is really tough to pull off!”

Jamie: Have you guys ever riffed a movie that made you feel guilty about riffing it? Because you have riffed good movies.

Mike: We’ve talked about that because we think the process of riffing on it, obviously our point of view is not “this thing is horrible, and let’s just continue to throw insults at it.” The point of view is like “What would this be like to sit and watch this movie with your funniest friend?” Whether that’s one of your favorite movies, or whether it’s something that deserves some of those insults, we try to fit it appropriately. So as we’ve talked about the philosophy of that and just as a challenge to ourselves, we did do Casablanca. Because it’s in the top five for all of us, so we did that. And it was interesting! It was kind of fun. A lot of people liked it a lot, and the movie’s already funny and already great. It’s not something we would do again and again, but we just wanted to see how that experience would play out.

Jamie: I think I remember seeing that you guys did Casablanca and was like, “Oh, well that’s ballsy.”

Mike: Yeah, there are things we wouldn’t touch.

Jamie: Like what?

Mike: It’s more about subject matter. We’re obviously not going to do Schindler’s List. There are things like that. But we’ve talked about doing The Godfather, just to see, because that’s still a movie that’s watched a lot, so people might enjoy a different take on it.

Jamie: What movie, in recent years, do you think could hold a candle to Manos’ badness?

Mike: It’s really funny. This may seem self-serving, I swear it’s not, I swear I’m telling the truth. We’re doing a live showing of Birdemic coming up in October, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but it… it just makes me smile. Manos I find kind of creepy, but Birdemic is bad on that level that...you know, every single choice this guy made was the wrong one. Like every frame of the movie was a wrong choice, every actor was wrong, and yet, it’s a sublime experience. The unintentional humor is there throughout, it doesn’t really drag in terms of that. That’s the one that is currently my favorite.

It’s important that you realize that it’s a serious attempt at making a good movie. That’s something you need to get over, because when I first watched it, I was like, “Well, this is ridiculous, someone just tried to make the worst movie ever made.” Then you look into and you realize, “Oh no, he was entirely sincere in every bit of it,” and that makes it so much more fun.

The Room is very close behind it.

Jamie: Have you gotten requests [to riff The Room]?

Mike: We did an MP3 version of it, we haven’t thought about it for a live show. But that one rises above, too. You have to see Tommy Wiseau’s nude backside, unfortunately, and I don’t know if I can subject a live audience to that.

Jamie: Well, I think in New York you could, because that movie is huge here.

Mike: Is it? Do they still do midnight shows and stuff?

Jamie: Yes they do. So, if you do ever decide to do The Room live, I would definitely suggest doing it in New York.

Mike: That’s a good thought. We have not staged it from New York, we’d always wanted to, so maybe The Room launch would be a good one.

Jamie: Have you ever gotten any responses from current filmmakers after riffing one of their movies?

Mike: Yeah! Well, I wouldn’t say it was an angry response, but Tommy Wiseau did call us. We had a long phone conversation with Tommy Wiseau, which I confess, we were trying to keep him on the phone as long as we could. Because it was just so much fun to listen to. But I really think that he didn’t understand the concept, and he thought that we were selling his movie, and we were trying to explain over and over, “No, we were just selling an MP3 that people can either choose to listen to or not,” and he insisted, still, that “Well, you still owe me money,” and we were like, “No! It’s a separate thing!” But then we eventually talked to the guy who played Mark. He’s a good guy, he listened to the RiffTrax, and he liked it a lot. So he explained to Tommy what it was, and said, “No, no, they’re just poking fun at the movie like everybody else.” So he understood that.

Jamie: The RiffTrax commentaries are generally good-natured, and you're certainly not going out of your way to be horrible and mean and hurtful.

Mike: We try very hard to do that. We are not mean and hurtful people. And who wants to see that? That’s always my thought. There’s a lot of places where we could sort of lash out, and occasionally, I will admit that we do, when it feels warranted. Because who wants to sit and watch some bitter person talk about how much they don’t like something, or hate this, or whatever? We really do try to keep it light, as much as is possible.

Jamie: If anything, I’ve noticed that if you do go into that territory, it’s turned into a joke, like joke rage.

Mike: Yeah, we have “alter-characters” that go into the booth that are occasionally horrible people, but usually that humor is directed at ourselves, it’s not directed outward.

Jamie: Are there any movies you're not allowed to riff?

Mike: There are movies that we’ve asked to do for a live show, like something a little more modern, cheesy ‘80s. And it’s not like the studios or the filmmakers really object, it’s just that they’re a little skittish about embarrassing the stars that they still have to work with. We think that with enough cajoling we could get away with it. I’d love to do Roadhouse live or something like that. But as of yet, we haven’t been able to get them over the hump of “the movie still exists, it’s all in good fun, if we could actually get a star to watch a RiffTrax, he’d understand it.” That it’s not mean stuff, it’s all fun.

Jamie: I know you’ve had guest riffers. Have you ever had a guest who was in the movie they were riffing?

Mike: No, although Neil Patrick Harris, who did his favorite movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with me, he did suggest doing the space epic that he’s in, the insects, the fighting the insects on another planet, Paul Verhoeven, Charlie Sheen’s ex-wife is in it...

Jamie: Starship Troopers. [Ed. note: This required an internet search.]

Mike: Yes. Thank you.

Jamie: That would be amazing!

Mike: Yeah, it’s quite long, so he would have to sit in a booth with me for quite a while.

Jamie: But that would be worth it!

Mike: Yeah. Hopefully we can pull that off soon. I know he’s a very busy and sought-after man. But I hope I can cajole him into the studio.

Jamie: He has all those awards shows that everyone wants him to host forever and ever.

Mike: I know! Maybe if he stops the tap-dancing, maybe he can lend me a few hours.

Jamie: Do you have any RiffTrax best-sellers that are specifically, weirdly successful?

Mike: Yeah, because it reaches out beyond the typical RiffTrax crowd, the Twilight tracks are just a big hit. And we love them. They just worked so well for us. And a lot of guys who are forced to watch Twilight with their girlfriends, it gives them a sort of relief. Or they get revenge on their girlfriends by giving them a RiffTrax party for it after they’ve seen it in the theater.

Jamie: If you could riff any non-film medium, what would it be?

Mike: This might be a boring answer, but it would probably be the video game stuff, because it’s so cheesy, and the bad dialogue, and things like that. Who knows? Maybe the Olympics.

Jamie: How do you think MST3K’s style of commentary has affected comedy for a new generation of comedians? Do you think it has had an effect?

Mike: I know that a lot of people do the movie riffing thing, even if it’s not in the same style, it’s more funny commentary. I know Adam Corolla does it, I know Weird Al, and Paul Scheer, and they did a little take on Birdemic. It wasn’t sitting with it, but it was a sort of podcast, bringing up points and showing scenes. I feel like that whole “commenting back” at pop culture in a good-natured way is something that if we influenced anyone, then maybe that was a good thing.

Jamie: Do you plan on doing RiffTrax for The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises?

Mike: Oh, absolutely. There’s no question.


You can buy tickets for RiffTrax Live's presentation of Manos: The Hands of Fate at Fathom Events. RiffTrax Live: "Birdemic" will hit theaters on October 25!

Also new on RiffTrax is a streaming video of Neutron the Atomic Superman vs. the Death Robots, which clearly has something for everyone in it.


      1. I get confused on the on the small screen. I lose track of where the sentence ends or starts.

  1. In my opinion, the best Rifftrax are:

    2009’s Star Trek
    Raiders Of The Lost Ark

    Star trek starts off average, but the last 20 minutes are a non-stop riff fest.  My face hurt from laughing so much.

    1. My favorite was House On Haunted Hill, but then I saw that one at a local theater with live commentary by the RiffTrax guys. They also started with two shorts that were hysterical.

      The one downside of seeing RiffTrax live was missing some of the jokes because the audience was laughing so hard.

    2.  I love their Video on Demand stuff the best, when they do movies that you could see them doing on MST3K, I find them to much more rewatchable.

      1. Cinematic Titanic (Joel and crew) focuses more on the old schlocky B-movies, and there are a lot of those on Hulu.  Worth checking out.

        Plus they do live shows.  I went to one; it was neat.  They all came out and signed autographs after (and Trace just hung out and chatted with the fans before everyone else came out); they really are a nice bunch of people.

        1. Yeah, I enjoy Cinematic Titanic as well, but nowhere near as much as I love Rifftrax. I guess I just don’t find them as funny.

          Oddly enough, even though Mike says in this interview they try on Rifftrax to not to be so insulting, that’s why I enjoy Rifftrax so much more then Cinematic Titanic, they seem to have more insult based jokes.

  2. I never found him funny, and RiffTrax even less so. I’m not alone in finding several of his “jokes” at least borderline homophobic. He’s also ultra-conservative politically.

    1. huh, didn’t know that — but then, i’ve never actually seen rifftrax, just mst3k.  i don’t recall any homophobia in there, but then again, i haven’t seen all the eps, and it’s been a while since i’ve seen most of the ones i have.  for what it’s worth, i preferred joel…

      any examples of the kinds of disagreeable humor you mentioned come to mind?  not trying to be all “citation needed” about it; just curious.

      1. I can’t think of any homophobia in any of the Rifftraxs, and I’ve seen them all, many, many times over.

        Yes they make gay jokes, but never in a way that says being gay is a bad or wrong thing.

    2.  Hey, that sounds familiar…which one of my tightly-wound, humorless hipster ex-girlfriends are you? I still want my damn records back.

    3. I’m not familiar with his rifftrax work, but I remember mst3k’s political humor to be mild jabs at politicians at the most. Whatever his personal political views are, they didn’t factor much into his work on mst3k at least.

      1. Yeah, the only time I remember him ever talking about his political views was when an interviewer asked him point-blank about them.  And even then he just spent a couple sentences on it; something to the effect of “I think George Bush is the best man for the job” and then dropped it.

        I must admit I was disappointed, but it’s not like he went off on a rant; someone asked him a question, he answered it, and he didn’t dwell on it.  That’s class.

        Anyway, I get the impression Murphy’s a pretty liberal guy, so it balances out.

        1. Actually, he said much more than that:



          Also, it might not “balance out”. Make no mistake, Nelson runs the show, and if the past is any indicator he controls what gets said. It’s been widely discussed that although most of the other members of MST3K were very liberal, Nelson was very successful in silencing them, while he got quite a few conservative jibes on the air, like about tax-and-spend Democrats.

          1.  Honestly- I don’t care what his political opinions are. I’ve been aware of Nelson’s views, and yet I’m able to watch and enjoy his very non-political show. Same with Bill Willingham’s “Fables”, Adam Baldwin on “Firefly”… good God, man. Life’s too goddamn short to get riled about the off-camera objectionable political opinions of people who aren’t running for office.
            If Nelson “controls what gets said”- and I don’t doubt he does- then he’s pretty careful about not offending his audience. He knows what show he’s running- It’s Riff Trax, not Hannity.

          2. Actually, he said much more than that:

            Again, disappointing but it’s a response to a direct question.

            It’s been widely discussed that although most of the other members of MST3K were very liberal, Nelson was very successful in silencing them, while he got quite a few conservative jibes on the air, like about tax-and-spend Democrats.

            If you say so.  I remember them being pretty evenhanded and getting their jabs in at both sides — as recently as the “Vote Christine O’Donnell!” crack at the end of the witch short when they did House on Haunted Hill in 2010.

            I really don’t see MST3K or Rifftrax having a political bias (even if they did do a Spider-Man movie with James Lileks as a guest riffer once).  Mike’s allowed to believe what he believes and vote the way he does; it sounds like we wouldn’t have much to agree on if we discussed politics, so if I ever met him I’d probably steer the subject to beer.

            And hey, if his opinions make his work unpalatable for you, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it too; I respectfully disagree.

            Now what are your thoughts on Stone IPA?  I think it’s pretty great!

    4. You sure? Most jokes on MST3K and Rifftrax that leaned toward the political are almost always jabs at the right side.

      And yeah, Rifftrax makes gay jokes, but they are never in the context that being gay is bad or wrong.

      1. Saw Manos last night; the closest thing to a political joke was, when the Brides shove Torgo off the slab, Kevin says “They just found out he doesn’t have health insurance.”

        There were indeed a handful of gay jokes, but I wouldn’t describe them as homophobic jokes — saying “They’re about to kiss!” is more a joke about the pacing of the scene and the framing of the shot than about it being two men.

    5. I’ve listed to 15-20 RiffTrax and I don’t recall any political slant, either way.  I certainly don’t recall any anti-gay jokes.  I would have noticed, I’m fairly liberal.

      Also, RiffTrax are *hillarious* I’m sorry you don’t find them funny.  Your loss.

    6. I have no problem listening to other people’s point of view if they are funny. Mike is funny. Also, I’ve never felt that they were pushing any agenda other than “is it funny.” Yes, it is funny most of the time. I’ve never found any Rifftrax or MST3k’s to be homophobic in the slightest…don’t know where that’s coming from.

      1. I found some of the jokes in MST3K’s Village of the Giants a bit homophobic.

        Little history: Tommy Kirk was gay and when Walt found out he was forced out of the Disney family. (He did get to come back and make one more Merlin Jones movie though.) After being fired by Disney, he found it hard to get work and turned to drugs (in addition to cheesy movies.) That’s why he looks so out of it in VotG apparently. Given this unpleasant backstory, jokes like “You made my shirt a bra, I love you!” strike me as rather unfortunate.

    7. That explains the snarky comment he left on one of  Frank Conniff’s political posts on Facebook recently — something about how Frank must be finding life in ‘Second Banana Heaven’ stressful. 

      1.  I saw that, but then I followed the account, and I highly doubt it was actually his profile. Dude has all of 90-odd friends, and he asked if someone could download a video for him. No, not him.

  3. Anybody know if any of the MST3K fellas cite Rocky Horror Picture Show as inspiration? There are probably earlier examples of shouting jokes at a movie but that’s the first I was ever aware of.

    1. Kevin Murphy talks about the Rocky Horror theatergoing experience in his book, A Year at the Movies.  He is not a fan; he complains about how cliquey the live audiences can be and how they aren’t welcoming to new fans (and how the jokes are the same ones over and over and aren’t that funny).

      I’m a former Brad myself and have had a much more positive experience with the casts I’ve worked with (Tempe/Phoenix/Mesa and Flagstaff, plus a few people up from Tucson now and again).

      1. That makes sense…and I’ve had similar experiences at Rocky Horror showings.  Some casts are nothing but drones and some would come up with new material.

        I prefer the latter.

        Thanks for the reply.

      2. He clearly was not dressing in drag, taking ten hits of acid and seeing it at the Strand in San Francisco while snorting poppers until he forgot how to breathe.

  4. Sorry, but MST3K will always be 100% Joel for me. He was awesome as a comedian before MST3K and his viewpoint is what made that show. (Although Trace Beaulieu was actually my favorite talent on the show).

    Once he was gone… well… MJN was basically a poor man’s version. Very poor. They should have just called it quits then. I haven’t seen Riffs, but my guess is it lacks that off-kilter, non sequitur outlook that Joel brought.

    1. …oh good, and here I thought we could get 8 posts into the thread WITHOUT somebody starting the damn Kirk versus Picard argument.

    2. You are missing out on some amazing laughs.
      1. as this article states, Mike was the head writer for ALL of Joel’s years. Who is to say how much of what you enjoyed was just Joel’s delivery, or Mike’s humor.  I would say that “off-kilter non sequitor look” is 100% pure Mike.

      2. Joel did 4.5 seasons, Mike did 5.5. Mike also got themselves a theatrical movie. +1 to Mike

      3. The Rifftrax (where you’ve still got original Tom Servo and Second Crow) send up some great laughs at regular films. Honestly, pick a film you absolutely love on their list and check out the Riff.

      1. Mike was the head writer for ALL of Joel’s years

        Not quite; he became head writer in season 2.

        The Rifftrax (where you’ve still got original Tom Servo

        The original Tom Servo was Josh Weinstein.  Murphy (of “I Hate Tom Servo’s New Voice” fame) picked up the role in season 2.

        But I agree with the substance of your post, if not the details: I like Mike and Bill just fine, and I consider Kevin Murphy to be the definitive Servo even though he wasn’t the original.

        1.  I’m a huge fan of the show, but the stuff before Mike became head writer was terrible and I honestly wondered why the show wasn’t cancelled.

          Also, Kevin Murphy becoming Tom Servo was infinitely better than J. Elvis Weinstein’s schtick, which was 90 minutes of “Hey guys, that’s weird.” If they hadn’t taken control of the show, it would’ve died it’s well-deserved premature death.

          1. I think it’s a bit much to put all the improvements in the show down to two guys.  Joel, Trace, and everybody else were flying by the seat of their pants and making it up as they went along; I think Mike and Kevin made the show better but they were hardly the only people making it better.

            I didn’t like all of Josh’s episodes but I liked some of them.  (Mad Monster was pretty great.)  And I saw him with Cinematic Titanic and thought he did just great there.  He was, what, 16 or 17 when the show started?  If he’d stuck around, I’m sure he would have improved as he went, just like everybody else.  But his leaving left openings for Frank and Kevin, so that was a good thing too!

          2. …J. Elvis Weinstein’s schtick, which was 90 minutes of “Hey guys, that’s weird.”

            No, there were fat jokes, too. Lots of fat jokes.

            Kevin Murphy was the best part of the show, not least because he’s such an amazing singer. But I still want to marry Joel.

        2. Thjank you for the corrections. (although Mike was around in Season 1 as a staff writer) I tend to ignore the KTMA and season 1 episodes for some reason. I guess for me the show hit its greatness at season 2. Maybe its because of that extra Mike Shine! :)

      2. Yeah, I know Mike was a writer, but I liked Joel’s character and delivery much better. He seemed downtrodden by the Gizmonics. Mike was too upbeat with his captors. :P
         And I *hated* the movie, so that’s a -1 for Mike for me.
        And Crow by anyone other than Trace is pure sacrilege.I think it’s a simple case of me being around from the beginning and so that set my standard. Like most people, whichever version of something you were introduced to first tends to remain your favorite iteration.

        1. Glad I am not ‘most’ people. Was with MST from the beginning (even saw tapes of KTMA before it got picked up by the Comedy Network) and Mike is still my favorite.

          But then, I’ve been a Whovian since 1980 and I still think Chris Eccleston is the best Doctor.

        2. He seemed downtrodden by the Gizmonics. Mike was too upbeat with his captors.

          See, I saw Joel as friendly and deferential and Mike as the guy more inclined to treat his captors like, well, his captors.  (Joel never called Dr. F a dick.)

          And Crow by anyone other than Trace is pure sacrilege.

          Eh.  I prefer Trace but Bill did just fine.

          Like most people, whichever version of something you were introduced to first tends to remain your favorite iteration.

          I never saw the show until the Sci-Fi era (we didn’t get Comedy Central here when MST3K was on it) but I wouldn’t say that’s my favorite version.  If I had to pick I’d go Mike, Kevin, and Trace in the theater, with Trace and Frank in Deep 13.  But I don’t dislike anyone who was on the show; I think Bill and Mary Jo really had their work cut out for them when they started in season 8 but they made the roles their own and got very good in a very short amount of time.  I love the Joel era too, and Josh had his moments (and, again, has gotten better along with the rest of them, as you can see in Cinematic Titanic).

    3. I disagree, whether you like Joel or Mike more, you can’t say the writing didn’t get better the longer the show went on.

      I’d take seasons 6-10 over 1-5 any day, the writing was just so much better.

  5. Hey Jamie, this is really quite a good interview.  Thanks!

    ALSO: Since I imagine this is of interest to people reading this comments section, Woot currently has a sale on MST3K DVD’s; there are ten different episodes available, $5 each. Most of them are on Netflix, but if you want to own them there are some great episodes in there. (And Hamlet.)

  6. I’d really like to watch the MST3K “The Castle of Fu Manchu” again, which actually broke them.

  7. I found MST3K to be more polished post-Joel, and I liked that. But I was also a late comer to the gig. I did, however, work with MJN for 3 days in our comedy theatre for a live show, and found him to be quite funny, personable, humble and flexible; really wonderful to work with!

  8. I like the scene in Manos where all the women were wrestling in their slips and Servo said “”I like it. It’s not Lisastrada, but I like it.”

    1.  Lysistrata was also used as a punchline in Catalina Caper. The show was a joy for literature majors.

    1. I believe it went off the air because of movie right issues. In order to keep showing it on TV, they would have had to keep paying the people who own the rights to the movies in each ep.

      I still remember the last time it aired in 2003, The Screaming Skull.

      1.  A bunch of the movies are in the public domain, but then some of them have unknown rights holders. So I’m sure they don’t want to air and see who comes along to sue.

        1. They’ve got DVD’s currently in print, and those episodes HAVE had their rights cleared, but yeah, I’m not sure it’s enough to support a TV rotation.

          There are a number of episodes on Netflix and Hulu, though.  Hulu’s also got Cinematic Titanic, which is the next best thing to new episodes.

          1. I can’t find the interview but I think it was Joel* who was explaining the kind of in-n-outs of how they acquired the movie rights and how it was something like 1 in 5 that could pass. But of course that was back in the day when even if you did publish a tv series on vhs it went to libraries or archivists because of the sheer expense so they never negotiated for video distribution rights. TvTropes has some great (condensed) info: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Series/MysteryScienceTheater3000

            *or was it Mike? I’ll just go with Joike.

          2. When they were on Sci-Fi they had access to everything in Sci-Fi’s library, but a bunch of that stuff’s lapsed now.  Merlin’s Shop of Mystial Wonders was delayed right upfront, there were longstanding issues with Blood Waters of Dr. Z (though I think it finally got to rerun, and maybe was released on DVD), and last I heard nobody can figure out WHO the hell owns Pumaman.

            For my money it’s all a very good argument for shorter copyright terms, looser restrictions on derivative works, and a better system for dealing with orphaned works.  But obviously BoingBoing is no place for discussing the problems with copyright law!

    1.  Really? I had no idea, since Rifftrax makes a lot of what could be called anti Republican jokes.

  9. I’ve watched some of Trax and Titanic and just haven’t felt anything resembling the old hilarity of 3K, which I watched from its first appearance on what was then called Comedy Central. I recently watched some of the old shows, which are all on YT, and something dinged: in the new shows, no one is seen watching the movie. In Titanic, the gang stands on these weird platform risers to either side of the screen, ain’t no way they can see what they’re riffing. In Trax, just the movie screen, no riffers visible. 

    Granted, the hand-shows and other  visual riffs in 3K usually weren’t that funny; but that illusion of the guy and the two ‘bots sitting in the front row of the theater was powerful. And many of the studio sequences, esp. in the Joel years, were gutbustingly hilarious (e.g., the Wild Rebels cereal ad, the amazing fashion show after the end of Teenagers from Outer Space, and many of the “invention exchanges”). That is, the original had, and still has, a magic that hasn’t been replicated for me in any of the modern riff shows. 

    1. You are correct, the lack of seats at the bottom is sorely missed. In the window to my office I have a little cutout of joel and the bots. If the door is closed you can look in on me and imagine they’re riffing on the day I’m having. 

  10. I re-watched MST3K’s Manos yesterday (I only saw it once previously, ten or more years ago). It was a DVD rip and the quality was actually much higher than the copy they used in that youtube demonstration of the restoration.

    The restoration is much better than the DVD copy, yes, but the DVD copy is not as bad as the copy they show there.

    I loved the show and used to watch it all the time, but mostly just its later seasons as I was still a kid in the mid to late 90’s. I was obsessed with it at the time, but I realized a few years ago that there are a ridiculous number of episodes I’ve never seen. There’s an 85 GB torrent with every episode on piratebay that I’m considering downloading.

    I haven’t seen one of the live shows, or any of the Riff Trax for that matter, so I’m going to go on Thursday. It’s been a while since I’ve been into watching bad movies (there is an almost endless supply of good movies too, you know).

    1. I’d definitely suggest LEGALLY acquiring the episodes that are available commercially; I think it’s the Right Thing to Do.  (Even moreso with CT and Rifftrax, as they’re completely independent operations and all the money goes to the creators.)

      That said, there are a whole lot of episodes that aren’t available commercially, and I have no ethical objection to anyone grabbing those on a torrent.  Keep circulating the tapes.

      1. Yes, of course – I referred to the torrent because it’s going to be the only viable place to get a lot of episodes and because that’s the modern version of “keep circulating the tapes”. 

        I’m not advocating pirating currently-available stuff like the RiffTrax mp3s and so on. I’m happy to give them money for these things, especially since they never really saw any money from me for the original show (aside from a couple of DVDs I purchased) and it’s still the thing that has made me laugh the hardest.

        1. There is also the dapcentral tracker, which (usually) only lists episodes that are not commercially available. They are sometimes slow at removing an episode when it is announced for an upcoming DVD, though (hence the “usually” above).

  11. This made me flash back to, there was a MST3K Windows 3.1 screensaver.

    Periodically Torgo would shamble across the screen, accompanied by the haunting Torgo theme.

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