Mike Nelson Talks About A Lifetime Watching Bad Movies And RiffTrax’s Big ‘MST3K’ Reunion Show

Entertainment Editor
06.27.16
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Best Brains / RiffTrax

With a full series reboot in the works following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it’s safe to say that it’s been a year of pleasant surprises for fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That continues with the 20th live simulcast performed by RiffTrax, a comedy-riffing institution formed in the wake of MST3K‘s 1999 cancellation and anchored by former MST3K host and head writer Mike Nelsonand ex-MST3K writers and performers Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett.

Broadcasting to theaters Tuesday, June 28, this new live event is a special one, and an event most fans thought they’d never see again: A full MST3K reunion that finds Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett joined by MST3K creator and original host Joel Hodgson, MST3K vets Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, Mary Jo Pehl, and Bridget Nelson, and incoming host of the revived series, Jonah Ray.

Like many people, Nelson has been making fun of movies his whole life. The only difference between him and the rest of the world is that he makes fun of movies professionally, and knows exactly what his silhouette looks like. Ahead of the reunion show, we discussed what it took to bring the whole gang back together and what it’s like to be a person who cracks wise over movies for a living.

The Game of Thrones episode of RiffTrax is one of my favorite things you’ve done over the years.

That’s awesome to hear, that’s fantastic. We kind of debated a long time about it. We’ve tried hour-long episodes before, real early on, and people didn’t like them as much as the movies. So I don’t know what took us so long to get around to it, but it was really fun.

If the hour-long episodes are working out well for you, do you see a future where you have 22-minute episodes of bad TV shows to rip on?

I don’t think there’s any limit on it. There is a pretty broad range of stuff on the site, but a lot of it is old, like the shorts and stuff like that, so we haven’t explored a lot of newer stuff and I think that’s a direction we will go, especially given the reaction of GoT, people did seem to like it. So yeah, why not? I mean, it’s not that much different. It’s obviously similar to doing a modern feature film, luckily for everyone, it’s a little bit shorter.

What has been the most difficult type of movie or show to riff on?

Obviously, with GoT, famously we’ll have a bunch of ‘it’s very grim’ and ‘it’s very gruesome’ and that’s the banner headline for the series. It’s not always easy. Sometimes comedy can really work off of that because it’s so shocking that people already know it, then you can really defuse it in a way that even heightens the comedy. But the most difficult things are really kind of longer, confusing action scenes. I’m lookin’ at you, Transformers, among other things, where it’s just sort of repetitive. It’s probably trying to imitate a video game to entertain younger audiences or whatever, and it just doesn’t have a lot of content or flow. And so it’s just a bunch of single moments of mayhem, and that gets really tough to get a foothold.

Are there movies you’ll never touch? Or is everything up for grabs?

I think it’s kind of everything is up for grabs because the movie gets, from a comic perspective, the treatment that we think it deserves. I don’t think we try to be unfair to even bad B movies. Like, we’re doing one today, an old John Carradine movie, just terrible and very slow-paced. If you don’t mention that and use that for your comic advantage because, well, it’s just odd. And then when a movie is really good and is fun in a way, you kind of have to change your comic tone. You’re not hammering on the movie, you’re finding different ways to amuse yourself with this thing that you like.

For instance, Jaws: There are movies that we’ve done for RiffTrax that I can still watch completely without even remembering what we did with jokes. I can put it out of my mind and still really enjoy them. Obviously, Jaws would be one of them. We did Casablanca to sort of prove that point and it was on TV the other day and I stopped what I was doing and watched the whole thing again. You just give it the treatment it deserves, if that makes sense.

When you sit down and watch a movie, can you shut off your brain and just enjoy entertainment?

Yeah, I can shut it off, especially with stuff that’s good. I really love doing that. I watch a lot of tennis and you’re forced to endure the commercials, and that’s when it switches back on. So I get a little annoyed and start riffing on the stuff, but for the most part, it’s easy to switch off and just enjoy.

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