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


78 Responses to “Michael J Nelson on MST3K and the heavily anticipated return of Manos: The Hands of Fate, and RiffTrax”

  1. kP says:

    Please find a photo of Joel Hodgson in his MANOS inspired FOOT cape, which IIRC, had a pocket for Mentos!

  2. Conan Librarian says:

    If you haven’t already, you should follow them on twitter, they can make you laugh more with 140 char, then most comedians.

  3. Christopher says:

    So who’s going to take care of the place while the master is away?

  4. Spitty Sumo says:

    as a graduate of the torgo school of fondling, this is relevant to my interests.

  5. geekd says:

    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.

    • Conan Librarian says:

      I would add Twilight and Firewall to that list.  And about half of the shorts.

    • Christopher says:

      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.

    • Earthbound_X says:

       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.

      • Thad Boyd says:

        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.

        • Earthbound_X says:

          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.

  6. zibuki says:

    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.

    • Spitty Sumo says:

      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.

      • Earthbound_X says:

        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.

    • Philboyd Studge says:

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

    • ponzicar says:

      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.

      • Thad Boyd says:

        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.

        • zibuki says:

          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.

          • Chris Noble says:

             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.

          • Thad Boyd says:

            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!

    • kP says:

      Are you referring to the Oscar Wilde references?

    • Earthbound_X says:

      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.

      • Thad Boyd says:

        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.

    • geekd says:

      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.

    • Michael says:

      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.

      • ChuckTV says:

        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.

    • Doug Black says:

      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. 

      • Chris Noble says:

         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.

  7. Senor Schaffer says:

    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.

    • Thad Boyd says:

      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).

      • Senor Schaffer says:

        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.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        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.

  8. bbonyx says:

    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.

    • Thad Boyd says:

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

    • akbar56 says:

      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.

      • Thad Boyd says:

        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.

        •  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.

          • Thad Boyd says:

            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!

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            …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.

        • akbar56 says:

          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! :)

      • bbonyx says:

        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.

        • akbar56 says:

          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.

        • Thad Boyd says:

          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).

    • Earthbound_X says:

      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.

  9. Thad Boyd says:

    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.)

  10. brianary says:

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

  11. creesto says:

    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!

  12. Preston Sturges says:

    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.”

  13. Mister44 says:

    Why is MS3K not on some place like SyFy at 3am in the morning?

    • Earthbound_X says:

      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.

      • zarray says:

         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.

        • Thad Boyd says:

          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.

          • zarray says:

            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.

          • Thad Boyd says:

            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!

  14. Possibly America’s only funny Republican.

  15. 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. 

    • akbar56 says:

      Thats why I made a cardboard cutout of Mike and The Bots custom for my TV that I use when I watch any Rifftrax.

    • Gregory Muir says:

      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. 

  16. Brian S. says:

    Great article on the making of Manos here: http://jophan.org/mimosa/m18/brandt.htm

  17. penguinchris says:

    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).

    • Thad Boyd says:

      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.

      • penguinchris says:

        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.

        • Coderjoe says:

          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).

  18. planettom says:

    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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