Jonah Ray can’t remember the first time he saw Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he remembers being confused by it. “It was night,” he recalls, “and I got home and I turned the TV on — and Comedy Central had just started in Hawaii — and I tuned in. And I was like, ‘Oh, it’s an old movie. This sucks. I thought it was supposed to be a comedy show.’ And then there were the silhouettes and it was like… I thought my TV was broken, shoving two images on top of each other.” Talking to Ray, the host of the newly revived Mystery Science Theater 3000, alongside his co-stars Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount, over lunch in Chicago on a February afternoon in the company of series creator Joel Hodgson, it becomes clear that they can divide their histories into two halves: before encountering MST3K and after.
“I had a similar experience,” Yount says. “Seeing the seats and hearing the voices as clearly as the voices in the movie and laughing and just being, like, everything that they’re saying is much better than this movie. And then it went to a host segment and I’m like, ‘What is happening?’ And that was it. I stayed.”
It’s unlikely, however, they could have imagined how long they’d be staying. But with the relaunch of Mystery Science Theater 3000 just over the horizon — Netflix will debut 14 new episodes on April 14th — Ray, Vaughn, and Yount have become a part of the history of the show that shaped them. They’re also largely responsible for proving MST3K can make a funny, vital return, winning new fans and pleasing the old ones, nearly two decades after it aired its last episode. But, hey, no pressure, right?