MST3K had been a long-running show that began airing on local television in the Minneapolis viewing area before jumping onto cable TV by way of the then fledgling Comedy Channel (later becoming Comedy Central). Later on, it filled out the rest of its years on the Sci-Fi channel, amidst a movie and several cast member changes. Since it went off the air, there have been many stories from different parties as to exactly what went down behind the scenes and why key cast members, crew, and producers of the show either didn’t get along or weren’t interested in working together anymore. All of it could simply be hogwash, but it certainly kept fans talking for years.
All of that began to change in the mid-2000’s when Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy started the short-lived Film Crew series. It’s actually the closest that anybody ever got to doing an MST3K-type show since it ended. It had the riffs, of course, but it also had the in-between sketches. It only managed to get four shows in before falling by the wayside, but it kept fans satiated for a brief window. Later on, the three returned to form with Rifftrax, which to date, has been the most successful incarnation of the whole “riffing on movies” idea since MST3K’s demise. Between the MP3s, VOD & home video titles, and the live shows, it’s been a tremendous success. Yet despite it, the question still hung in the air over everyone’s heads: would the entire cast of MST3K return someday?
Meanwhile, Joel Hodgson was busy gathering together the rest of the MST3K cast including Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein for Cinematic Titanic, a live riffing show of their own that toured the country and managed to squeeze out a few DVD releases as well. After the show was eventually retired, more talk of a reunion surfaced. According to Joel, it was just a matter of finding the right time and the right place, as well as doing “something special”. Then word came down the pike that not only had Shout! Factory secured exclusive rights to MST3K lock, stock, and barrel, but that a new version of MST3K was in the works with a new cast, spearheaded by Joel. Then, as if out of nowhere, it happened. The announcement came. Due to a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign by Rifftrax, nearly all of the main cast from MST3K would return for a reunion show via Rifftrax Live!. Additionally, the new MST3K host Jonah Ray would also be there, as well as MST3K alumna Bridgette Jones Nelson (noticeably absent were J. Elvis Weinstein and Jim Mallon, for reasons I’m not going to get into).
As I write this, it’s 1am and I just got home from seeing Rifftrax Live! MST3K Reunion and, let me tell you, it was a blast. Not only did it feel a bit emotional at times seeing all of these people all on a stage together for the first time in decades, but it felt like they hadn’t missed a beat after being apart for so long. Now I don’t want to sound like a drooling fanboy and say that the show was absolutely perfect. There were some minor missteps and a couple of awkward moments to be had, but not to the degree that it ruined the show for me in any way. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and at certain points, I was crying from laughing so hard.
For this particular show, instead of riffing a movie or two, they decided to do a night of shorts, with cast members coming out two or three at a time to give them a chance to do some stuff on their own. It was probably THE best course of action for the show, but because of the slow trickling of guests and the quality of the shorts themselves, things did seem a little uneven. Some shorts and riffs were stronger than others, but never was it at the expense of the show as a whole. I’ve always said that MST3K almost never had perfect episodes where every joke landed smoothly or every skit killed, which is a subjective point of view, I know. Regardless, the reunion show stayed entertaining for the full two hours and never did I find myself bored or at least chuckling, let alone snorting with laughter.
Besides the usual random pre-show joke title cards with parody music playing underneath (including a couple of versions of the MST3K theme song), there was also a pretty cool opening, which contained a quick run-down of past live shows, just to get you acclimated to and pumped for what was to come. Once the show got started. Mike, Kevin, and Bill took on The Talking Car, which is about a little boy who just can’t seem to remember the rules of crossing the road. He finds help in the form of laugh-inducing (or nightmare-inducing, depending on how you look at it) talking cars to give him some pointers. Next up, Bridgette and Mary Jo took the stage to riff on A Word to the Wives (which had been previously riffed sans audience). This very dated and sexist short shows just what it took to get a man to understand what it’s like for a woman in a kitchen that doesn’t fully suit her needs. The man attempts to cook, hilarity ensues. After that, Trace and Frank came out for More Dates for Kay, a short that highlights a young woman’s desire to be more outgoing with the opposite sex. And by outgoing, I mean going out with them, as many of them as possible. Once that short ran its hilarious course, Mike, Kevin, and Bill came back out for a previously-riffed classic Shake Hands with Danger, a brutal look at what can go wrong at a work site if proper safety guidelines aren’t followed. Warning: you will laugh at the horror you will witness. Next up, Joel and Jonah, who came out to tackle Americans at Work, but more specifically, barbers and beauticians. While a man stands outside and hotboxes one Camel after another, his wife has her hair done. Oh women, they take forever, don’t cha know? Then for a little breather, Mike, Bill, and Kevin brought out the head writers at Rifftrax, Sean Thomason and Conor Lastowka, to show them a little appreciation. After that, they ran a Rifftrax: 10 Years sizzle reel, highlighting some of the funniest jokes from the various movies and shorts that they’ve riffed on over the years. Everything culminated with Riffapalooza, which featured the entire cast riffing two shorts: Stamp Day for Superman and At Your Fingertips: Grasses, the latter of which was a previously riffed classic. Bill Corbett even plugs his Tumblr page cornisgrass.com for good measure.
For me personally, there were some great highlights. Just seeing these people interact and hug each other gave me goosebumps, especially Mike & Joel and Trace & Bill. As far as which shorts were my favorites, I have none, but I laughed the most at More Dates for Kay and At Your Fingertips: Grasses. I actually think that the last one is probably the highlight of the show, and saved for last for a reason. The show ended with many thanks to Kickstarter backers pictured and non-pictured, as well as lots of footage taken at the show behind the scenes and in the theater lobby. I was sad when it ended, but relieved at the same too because I just don’t think I had any laughs left in me and my face was hurting from smiling so much. Ok, that last sentiment was a little too much, I know, but I can’t stress enough how much fun I had.
If you somehow missed seeing this show, I urge you to get tickets for the replay of it on July 12. Not only is it great to get to see these people do something together after all of these years, but it’s one of the funniest times you’ll have in the theater outside of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates... wait, scratch that. That last bit was wrong, all wrong. Seriously though, it’s a great show, and worth your hard-earned moolah and minutes to see. Now push the button Frank, and order those tickets now! And after that, brush up on your MST3K and Rifftrax!
- Tim Salmons