Keep Circulating the Tapes (My love affair with MST3k)

MST3K
In the days before the Internet. I had heard about Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) from a friend who had visited some relatives in Minnesota, but I wasn’t exposed to it until my friend got The Comedy Channel on cable. After that night, it was a love affair that’s still going-on to this day. Read the rest after the link…

In the Beginning
It was 1989 or 1990, and I was at a friend’s house hanging with the fellas and watching TV. We flipped to The Comedy Channel (they merged with the Ha! Network to become Comedy Central in around 1991) to find a really crappy movie with 3 silhouettes in front of the screen. Then we heard the jokes they were making at the movie screen, and we were all hooked. The movie was Episode 110 – Robot Holocaust, and I still remember riffs to this day. It featured a semi-buff man in a loincloth that looked a bit like Ted Nugent (The Nuge!!!!!!) and a little alien that kinda looked like Alf. I was instantly a fan! This is what I’ve been looking for all of these years!

pilotSo, what is MST3K? Basically, it started as a local Minneapolis show on KTMA, a local TV Station. The show featured a man trapped on a spaceship (the Satellite of Love) with 4 robots (CamBot, Gypsy, Crow T Robot, and Tom Servo.) He was stranded there by the evil Scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and his dimwitted assistant Dr Earhardt. The “Mads” as they would be known, forced Joel, Tom, and Crow to be watch insanely bad movies, all in the name of Evil Science. The premise changed a bit over the years, but really, that was the fun stuff added-on to the incredible riffs that the team came up with for the movies.

After seeing that first episode, I never missed a show. The VCR was set every week, and it was always the one thing that I looked forward to no matter what. In 1991, Comedy Central started an incredible tradition (that they later ruined) called ‘Turkey Day,’ a 30-hour marathon of MST3k episodes hosted by Penn Jillette which took place every Thanksgiving. It was a great way to get a better VCR recording, and a good way to get away from the family after a while. They also did some short skits that were usually only shown during the marathon, so again I made sure that my VCR was ready. My obsession got so bad that I would schedule tape changes.

newsletterOver the next few years, Joel Hodgson, who had really been the creator of the show, decided to leave to pursue different ideas. It took a lot of fans by surprise, and many worried about the future of the show. It was announced that Mike Nelson, Head Writer and occasional contributor to the “Host Segments” would take over the duties on the Satellite of Love, and he quickly quelled the fears of many with his deadpan delivery and his perceived innocence. The invention exchange quickly vanished, as that was really Joel’s “thing” and didn’t really seem to fit any more. They had really hit their stride, and Dr. F and TV’s Frank were an amazingly evil yet inept team. But again, people started leaving. First Frank, then Trace (Dr F,) but they handled the departures with incredible grace and skill, that it really never lost “that” unseen trait.

Then one day in 1994, my MST3K newsletter arrived with the announcement of the first (of 2) MST3K Conventiocons, which would be up in the Twin Cities. I planned on going right that second, and was still going to until about a month before it happened. I was guilted into attending a friend’s wedding instead, and to be honest, I still regret that decision. No matter what though, I was going to the 2nd one, no matter what.

inside coverConventioCon ExpoFest-A-Rama 2 – Electric Boogaloo
It was Labor Day Weekend of 1996, and they took over the much bigger venue of the Minneapolis Convention Center (the place is HUGE.) My best friend Travis actually lived pretty close to the venue, so we just stayed at his place at night, well, that was the plan at least. The schedule was crazy, and I wanted to experience all I could. They had keynotes and Q&A’s, tours of the studio, rooms with props being displayed, and during “downtime,” episodes were to be shown in 2 different viewing rooms, which were handled by volunteers. I looked at the schedule of episodes, and there it was, Robot Holocaust at 3 a.m. on Sunday. I walked over and volunteered on the spot, and after signing a piece of paper, they actually handed me the Betamax tapes of the episode. Like, THE tapes, not copies, THE ACTUAL, ORIGINAL TAPES!!! I was paranoid as hell. We took them straight back to Travis’ apartment and hid them until they were needed. When it finally came time to show it, I kept falling asleep, but it was still fun!

We were then treated to a viewing of the theatrical MST3k movie, but included in the viewing was a short made for the defunct DVD-ROM, and the Original (and MUCH better) ending to the movie. It was such a great night, as many of the MSTies there had not ever had the chance to see the movie, as it was handled very poorly by the studio, and never got past a limited release. My friends and I actually drove 3+ hours down to Chicago to see it ourselves. So here we were, sitting in a humongous convention room, watching a movie with some of the nicest people we’d ever met (Shoutout to Danielle from Colorado, wherever you are). It is an experience that I will never forget, and something that Travis and I still reminisce about to this day. We even walked over to a TGI Fridays downtown to see the Packers vs Tampa Pre-Season game, and I still remember seeing Keith Jackson catching that first touchdown, in a game that started a Super Bowl season.

front coverWinding-Down
The show was in jeopardy at that time. Comedy Central started treating a show that was a Flagship for years like a red-headed stepchild. They started screwing with Turkey Day, then just got rid of it. The rumblings, especially at the Con, was that the newer Sci-Fi channel was interested, and when the President of that network appeared on-stage at the Con, the entire place erupted. I thought the roof would blow off. So, a few weeks later, it was official. MST3K was moving to Sci-Fi, where they’d have a “much bigger film vault” to get their material from. But my most emotional experience with MST3K was quickly approaching.

On March 14th of 1997, I was involved in a pretty bad wreck, one that was about a hair away from killing me. I was on my way to a job interview, and a torrential snow storm rolled-in. I, in my little Dodge Shadow, was driving down a 2-lane highway while a fully loaded Semi came from the other way. He crossed the center line, and well, you can guess the rest. I was beat-up pretty bad, resulting in 186 staples, rods in both legs, a plate above my left knee, rivets in my left hip, and a plate below my left shoulder. I was sent to a Nursing Home to start therapy, and I was miserable. Here I was, 24 and in a nursing home. I worked my ass off to get out of there, but when I had to just lay in bed, I was lucky that my friend Adam brought my TV for me to watch.

calendarThen, one day, a package arrived. Inside I found a note from Travis’ (now Ex) wife that said:
Dear Glenn,
How are you doing? We are fine up here. Remember I told you that I was going to email MST3K about your accident? Well I did. They responded to my story by sending the Encloed items for your pleasure. Along withe the attached note:
Melissa – Hope Glenn recovers just fine! Hope This Helps!!
(I’m not afraid to admit, but I’m crying my eyes out right now-Glenn)

In the package, was a signed Crow postcard from Bill Corbett and a 1997 calendar signed by Paul Chaplin, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Mary Jo Pehl, and Mike Nelson. I was without words. I still kind-of am to this day. To say that my mood improved is an understatement. I was already overworking my self to get out of there. The Doctors at the hospital in Milwaukee said that I wouldn’t be able to walk for about 20 weeks, but I walked in just over 5.

letter

A New Era
You can still enjoy the work of these talented individuals, in many ways too. There have been a ton of episodes released on DVD, and even the movie got a decent release. Two different ventures have emerged from the ashes of MST3K over the last few years, and both deserve your attention and support.

Cinematic Titanic – Hosted by Joel, Mary Jo, Trace, Frank, and J. Elvis, Cinematic Titanic is a more traditional homage to the look of MST3K, as they still include the silhouettes on the screen. They have released 7 DVD’s so far, and each one has been a masterpiece. They also do live tours, which I still need to catch if I ever get a freakin’ job. They can be found over at http://www.cinematictitanic.com

Rifftrax – A more interesting approach, and one that involves a bit more work from the listener, but the budget of the movies is definitely higher. Mike, Kevin, and Bill (along with guest Riff’ers occasionally) Riff on movie like usual, but the medium is much different. Instead of getting a DVD with everything on it, you go to the website, and for anywhere from $.99 to $3.99, you grab an .mp3 file and sync the track to the movie being spoofed. I watch Michael Bay’s piece of crap Transformers last week, and the Rifftrax made it better than just “watchable.” If you have a Windows PC, they have even made it easier for you. Simply grab the .riff file of the .mp3, and use the Movie player from the website, and everything is sync’d automatically for you. They are also doing a Live, nationwide feed next week, and I highly recommend that you check it out if a theater near you is showing it. You can get all of the info from their website at http://rifftrax.com

cardI guess that I’ve rambled enough, even though there is SO much more that I could say. To say that I am a fan of what these people have produced over the years is a ridiculous understatement. I love MST3K, I am a faithful and proud member of the Fan Club, and I will keep circulating the tapes until the day that I die.

Thanks to all of the Brains for bringing such joy to my life.

Links and Resources:
Wikipedia Page- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mystery_Science_Theater_3000
The Official MST3K Fan Site- http://www.mst3kinfo.com
Cinematic Titanic- http://cinematictitanic.com
Rifftrax- http://rifftrax.com

Written by Glenn Percival

Glenn Percival

Just a guy that loves games, movies, Golf, Football, and Baseball.

Podcast Co-Host, Editor-in-Chief, Video Producer, and whipping-boy

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  • lang7588

    Long Live MST3K!!!

    It's a shame that it's done, but my brother found, and introduced me to, Rifftrax and I have a few of them on my PS3 for whenever. Few meaning….12.

  • Awesome, I need to get more from both outlets. I have 2 left to get from CT. Can you watch a DVD and play the Rifftrax at the same time on the PS3???

  • lang7588

    Nope…
    There are some ppl that have made DVD rip videos with the commentary in there as one file. The res. is a bit on the shitty side, but it works. We (my brother that has to mp3 files and I) use an old Dell pc that's near my PS3 as the audio and my PS3 for the DVD player, or the Mp4 save file on the HDD.

  • lang7588

    Nope…
    There are some ppl that have made DVD rip videos with the commentary in there as one file. The res. is a bit on the shitty side, but it works. We (my brother that has to mp3 files and I) use an old Dell pc that's near my PS3 as the audio and my PS3 for the DVD player, or the Mp4 save file on the HDD.