Mystery Science Theater 3000 debuted on local access channel KTMA in 1988, with a simple premise. A janitor, Joel Robinson, is trapped in space and forced by a mad scientist and his assistant to watch some awful B-movie with his two lovable robot pals. Their only means of staying sane was to crack jokes the whole time. It’s easy enough to explain to any newcomer and funny enough to create new fans immediately. The show jumped around from network to network, finally ending up on the Sci-Fi Channel in its last three years, ultimately being cancelled in 1999.
But the show’s legacy has persisted through sheer fandom, an undying loyalty that exists to today. The famous phrase, “Keep circulating the tapes,” made the show achieve cult status beyond what it had already achieved, and now you can pretty much find every episode on YouTube, proving that the MSTies (the nickname for the fandom) have kept this ethos alive long since the show took its final bow.
Then, in 2015, creator and original star Joel Hodgson (he left in the middle of the fifth season after undoubtedly what was one of the best episodes: MITTENS, MITCHELL) brought the longtime loving lovers some fantastic news: They were going to bring the show back.
With a record-breaking Kickstarter, netting $5,764,229 in a month, with an additional $425,000 raised outside of the original crowd-funding effort, it guaranteed fourteen new episodes, and became the record-holder for highest-grossing Kickstarter ever. With a mix of new actors and characters, alongside some returning writers and stars in cameos, the show would be back and home-crafted as ever. Furthermore, taking care of some of the fears of longtime fans, response from Experiment 1101 has been largely positive, ensuring a new legacy for the long-running and beloved show.
Now, as the new episodes premiere this Friday (exclusively on Netflix), we at Daily Grindhouse wanted to take the time to speak with the real driving force behind the revival: the fans. What you’ll find beyond here, are unique perspectives brought together by the love of one series.
First, let’s talk to Jordy Licht:
My name is Jordy Licht, the ‘ch’ pronounced like the very hard ‘g’ that sounds like you’ve got something stuck in your throat, non-Europeans love to make fun of that. I live in Hoorn, a small city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Amsterdam. I can be reached on Twitter @jordylicht.
Daily Grindhouse: What does Mystery Science Theatre 3000 mean to you?
JL: Mystery Science Theater 3000 to me is like a really funny inside joke I share with a small group of people and I’m not even talking about the cult-status the show hit, but over here, in my country, the show is barely known, which means the people that DO know it form a very tight, almost proud group. When the Kickstarter Campaign came around, I had to become a backer. Next to the awesome perks, it was a great chance to introduce (and re-introduce) the show to people who were unaware of the show. I hope the new season will reach a much larger audience and we haven’t seen the end of MST3K for a long time. Not too long ago, I was made a moderator for the ‘MST3K Revival League: A Fan Page‘ Facebook group. It may not mean much to some people, but I don’t think even the creators of MST3K have a grasp of how far the fandom of the show reaches. I think it’s pretty awesome there’s a Dutch moderator, but only a handful of Dutch MST3K fans.
I believe satire is the best form of humor; looking at the world and making fun of the weird and stupid things people do. We’ve all looked at movies or television shows and made fun of the way it was written, the wooden acting or terrible effects. The people behind MST3K have lifted this to an art-form; they’re saying the things we think, but in the funniest way possible.
DG: Favorite Joel episode? Favorite Mike episode?
JL: Joel episode -> Pod People. Yeah, it’s not very original, but the riffs are just so sharp and perfectly timed in this one.
Mike episode -> The Final Sacrifice. Come on… Rowsdower, Pipper, a Dutch director. Everything falls in place.
DG: What’s your absolute favorite riff?
JL: In Track of the Moon Beast, the camera zooms in on our heroine, Kathy, trying her very best to act like she’s putting one and one together, but it completely misfires and becomes one of the worst acting ever caught on film. At that point a riff is uttered, which always puts a smile on my face:
Mike Nelson: [Kathy has a blank expression on her face] “Brain has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down.”
DG: As an overseas viewer, how did you discover the show?
JL: With the rising popularity of YouTube, I’ve been a fan of satiric internet reviewers for a while now. Brad Jones, ‘The Cinema Snob’, being high on my list. I’ve been enjoying his videos for a decade now, bought his movie, etc. I immediately fell in love with his snarky remarks towards bad acting, ridiculous plots, etc. I heard him mention Mystery Science Theater 3000 as a big influence on him, especially the Space Mutiny episode. My curiosity was sparked and had to check that out. I found out it was nearly impossible acquiring that episode in a legal way in my country, but fortunately found it on YouTube. The rest was history. I laughed all the way through that episode and had to discover more. I found out there was a website called ‘Club MST3K’, maintained by a big fan, where most full episodes could be watched. This was years ago and I have now seen all but one or two episodes of MST3K.
DG: When did you come to Mystery Science Theater 3000?
Tim Callender:My first MST3K was “The Sidehackers” in 1990. My sister had access to Comedy Channel and circulated tapes to me. I then circulated the tapes to friends; I remember one friend who laughed hysterically when he first heard, “His bosses didn’t like him/ so they shot him into space.”
I watched it as often as I could, although that became more challenging as kids were born, and my now-ex distinctly did not like the show. But I never outgrew my love for MST3K, and when the Kickstarter kickstarted, I contributed my share.
DG: What does the show mean to you?
TC: MST3K has been a constant source of joy since I was introduced back in 1990. Truly, there has been nothing like it on TV before or since. The entertainment industry loves to mimic its successes, but nobody has ever tried to replicate MST3K. (RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic are offshoots, and are something a bit different.) You know, I don’t know if there’s a quick or easy way to answer this. For me, it has been a touchstone in my daily life: I love “riffing” on the things and people I encounter, and yes, sometimes I’m playing to an audience of one. But I think when Joel first appeared on KTMA, he probably thought the same thing.
DG: Favorite Joel episode/ Favorite Mike episode?
TC: Favorite Joel episode: “Fugitive Alien”. I’m a sucker for bad space movies,and bad Japanese imports, and “Fugitive Alien” has both. The riffing is nonstop and constantly funny. Plus, he tried to kill me with a forklift! As for favorite Mike — “Danger! Death Ray!” Bad spy movies are better than good spy movies. Again, excellent riffs from start to finish. This beats out “Agent from H.A.R.M.” because of the bapadapadahdah theme. And Bart Fargo Bart Fargo Bart Fargo. And Abe Lincoln – Time Cop.
DG: Favorite riff?
TC: From “Design for Dreaming”, as Janine Turner and her Mystery Date take off on the Highway of Tomorrow: “Look – dead raccoon of tomorrow.”
Ask me all this again tomorrow and I’m sure the answers will be different.
DG: What does Mystery Science Theatre 3000 mean to you?
Phillip Frey: Most of the series/movies/etc. that I follow have a few things in common. Among them are a sense of humor, a long history with twists and turns and the ability to engage with them on a microscopic level (“how he eats and breathes…”), as well as a basic level (“it’s just a show”). MST3K hits all of those, and also has the advantage of intersecting with so many of my other interests. I was a Godzilla fan from my youth in the 1970s/1980s and not long after I discovered MST3K, the “Ed Wood” film made me a fan of his. Add to that sword-and-sandal, spy movies, etc., etc. This non-stop pop culture feedback loop is probably a big reason that MST3K never faded too far from my consciousness even during the dark years.
Another place where it fits into my personal philosophy is how it reminds us that all creative works, even “bad” movies, are works of art worthy of our attention. I read a book that referred to a once-popular book (The Black Douglas by S.R. Crockett, if you’re interested) as a “justly forgotten novel.” That kind of attitude incenses me. MST3K helps make sure that these works will never be forgotten.
But what I think makes the most difference, at least in the past few years, is how I’ve been able to pass it on to another generation. There’s something universal about MST3K‘s particular type of humor that means a new generation can still appreciate it. Yes, eventually, the “topical” jokes become dated, but that just means they join all the *already* outdated references, so they never really become outdated at all. It’s always fresh the first time you see it. So, I think that’s it. The timelessness of it is what stands out the most.
DG: What’s your absolute favorite episode?
PF: For a lot of people, I know this is a difficult question. But, for me, it’s easy: #K10 – Cosmic Princess. Honestly, it has everything I could possibly want. The riffing is strong (especially for the improv-centric KTMA season), the sketches are solid (the “haircut” sketch is one of the several KTMAs to be redone on cable) and the “movie” is from one of my *other* favorite shows, “Space: 1999”. It’s almost halfway into the season, so everyone is fairly well settled into the characters and they’ve clearly got a stronger understanding of what works and what doesn’t than they did at the beginning. I’ve always been a fan of early works, apocrypha and the like. (I listen to pre-Steve Perry Journey and post-Jim Morrison Doors more than the regular stuff.) So, finding the KTMAs and seeing they could be as much fun as “Cosmic Princess” was likely the most wonderful period of my fandom until, perhaps, now.
DG: What’s your favorite riff?
PF: This one is tough, so I’ll just go with my favorite riff. I can’t really explain it, but I think it’s because it was one of the few times (perhaps the first) where I thought the riff as it was said. So, I’m going with “Before you put on your dress…” “…caress…” from “Keeping Clean and Neat” (#613 – The Sinister Urge). It’s just one of those perfect riffs that just flows…
DG: What does Mystery Science Theater 3000 mean to you?
Meagan Southwick: It has always been a way for me to enjoy even the “worst” of situations. I often find myself riffing awful things happening in my life; this show has helped me to cope with so many anxieties and woes, just by making fun of it. MST3K means LIFE.
DG: What’s your favorite Joel episode/Mike episode and why?
MS: Untamed Youth, specifically, the cotton picker song. It barely needs riffing, it’s so ridiculous.
DG: Your favorite riff?
MS: Very simply, it happens several times through the seasons. Tom Servo just says “mmm hmmm” in response or in “agreement” with a character. I don’t know why, but it gets me every time and I find myself saying it all the time in his exact upbeat tone.
DG: Tell me more about how you got into the cosplay aspect of MST3K?
MS: Well, before the new season, there wasn’t really much for females to cosplay as. Trace has always been my favorite (as Doctor Forrester and as Crow) so I just thought why not show my love for him via cosplay, and my husband jumped in a red jumpsuit to join me as my non-evil counterpart. It works on many levels really, and no, I won’t elaborate on that.
DG: What does Mystery Science Theatre 3000 mean to you?
Kathie Hagen: I love Comedy (with a capitol “C”). The kind with a small “c” is a dime a dozen. Everybody thinks they’re a comedian. Comedy is rare and, for it to be really funny, is mostly unscripted. Ask any of the old-school kings of comedy and they’ll tell you they never met a joke they couldn’t steal (that’s a Milton Berle quote), so people who are truly funny don’t always use only unique material.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is Comedy because it’s a unique mix of the quirky personalities on the Satellite of Love and classically funny stuff from the kings and queens of comedy (The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Lucille Ball, Danny Thomas), and 20th-century movies and television (series, cartoons, movies of the week, commercials, and game shows). What makes MST3K special is the fact that Joel, Mike, and the Bots — as well as Dr. Forrester, TV’s Frank, Pearl, Bobo, and Brain Guy — are outcasts and loners who have been thrown together in a uniquely stressful situation and are forced to depend on each other for the preservation of their sanity.
I was introduced to MST3K when I had my second child (MST3K was in its early seasons on basic cable, post-KTMA). My daughter was 13. She and my husband would be watching TV while I struggled with housework and a newborn. I was pretty much going nuts, and there were my husband and son, doubled over laughing at silhouettes of some guy and his toys in a dark movie theater watching some awful print of a B movie (I knew all about B movies from Creature Feature, a UHF must-see after Mass in the 1960s and 1970s).
I found that my life was like Joel, Mike, and the ‘bots: we were caught up in a crazy life, and the only way we were going to get through was to depend on each other to make ourselves laugh so that we didn’t get consumed by the monstrous insanity of it all. I met Joel, Josh, Trace, Mary Jo, and Frank during the farewell Cinematic Titanic tour, I follow BeezMcKeever on Facebook, and I saw The Mads Are Back recently. I tried to briefly convey to them how much they’ve helped me get through what Prince so eloquently referred to as “This Thing Called Life.”
It’s embarrassing and difficult to try to encapsulate such deep feelings and communicate them to people who consider you a stranger. But we’re limited by our language, and I basically just said a heartfelt Thank You. It’s not original or unique, but then, so many great things aren’t.
Thanks to the MSTies who contributed to this article, the Kickstarter and all MSTies worldwide.