Before I was 14, I really didn’t know what funny meant. Then in one year I was introduced to the two things that inexorably shaped my comedic sensibilities: “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Python was that dose of intelligent ridiculousness I didn’t know I’d been craving and it opened up a world of British comedy that is basically far superior. I silly walked my way through the halls of my high school and got a talking to from the assistant principal for it. That’s another story.
MST3K was totally different yet completely in my new found wheelhouse. I remembered seeing it as a small child on Comedy Central when my parents would watch it. I remembered Joel and the bots and the making fun of movies, but apart from the random references to kids shows or crotches, I lost much of the humor. Many years down the line we got the Sci-Fi Channel, (before it became SyFy) and there was this show again. The faces and voices were different, but it was still a guy and two robots watching bad movies and cracking wise for 90 minutes. Within the first two jokes I was in hysterics and proceeded to tape every episode that aired until it ceased transmission.
What made “Mystery Science Theater 3000” so brilliant, and something I feel is lacking in the comedy world today, is that it was smart humor that didn’t need to rely on foul language and adult content. Not that there’s anything wrong with that for fuck sake, but they didn’t need to do it. It was as clean as hilarity could be. I watched those tapes until they broke trying to crack the code on why these people were so funny. It might be tempting to say it’s easy to make fun of bad movies, but to do it that consistently and that cleverly takes a huge amount of skill, preparation, and commitment to the premise. And at no time during the episode did you lose what was happening in the movie. All they did was make what you were watching infinitely better, like putting ice cream and chocolate syrup on a stale Nilla Wafer.
No one can deny the influence the show has had on the comedy world. Shows like “The Soup,” and our friend Mr. Hardwick’s own “Web Soup,” owe a great deal to this little puppet show from Minnesota. Every group of college kids with a case of Pabst and a DVD player can pull of a bad MST3K routine to stuff like “The Skeleton Key” or “Terminator 3.” The show has also given me reason to enjoy watching crappy movies in general. I probably wouldn’t have thought to watch “Night of the Lepus” or “The Astro Zombies” if not for learning an appreciation for God-awful cinema from “Mystery Science.”
The reason I bring up this perennial favorite that’s been off the air for close to 11 years is simply out of nostalgia. My VCR is dead and my old recordings have long since gone by the wayside leaving me a little wistful about something that was such a huge part of my impressionable youth. I own every episode of “Monty Python” and all the movies but due to licensing and distribution, we’ll probably never get a chance to own every episode of “Mystery Science Theater.” I miss this show and I miss looking forward to it every week. Over the years, Rhino and now Shout! have put out favorites on DVD and lately Netflix has put a slew of them on Instant Play, allowing us MSTies out there to remember some of the glory that was “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” I recently watched “The Final Sacrifice” for the first time in years, having seen the episode probably 40 times, and it’s still as funny as it was when it aired. My hope one day is that a show can capture even a fraction of its fantastitude (a word I will stand by until the day I die).
What are some of your favorite episodes and who do you prefer, Mike or Joel?