On a warm Thursday afternoon in Downtown Manhattan, I made my way to street level from the PATH train. I was heading toward something I would not have imagined even a year ago, let alone as a child. See, I was like many of the young boys and girls who grew up through the 1990s; I remember staying up on a Friday night with my brother to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000, and laugh at some very bad movies along with good friends. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett have been in my life intermittently since childhood. Of course Kevin and Bill were better known to me as Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, but it was still them. Now, the trio continue their style of comedy through their company, RiffTrax, and I had the chance to sit down and talk to them about their craft and their first appearance at Tribeca Film Festival.
“Headline: RiffTrax Seeks Goat Nipples!”
NERDIST: Gentlemen, you are in no way amateurs to your craft, but what led to you finally doing a live show at The Tribeca Film Festival.
MIKE NELSON: Well, they asked us if we had anything. They wanted us to participate, and as it turned out we were gathering movies for our live shows slate for the year. So, it worked out for us that way.
[Image: Matt Delhauer]
“The Room was one of those movies that was just obvious from the get-go”
N: How do you guys go about choosing your movies for your live shows?
KEVIN MURPHY: They come from a lot of different places. We sort of kept our ear to the ground to know what’s coming up, and a lot of the fans will also give us suggestions for things. Of course, with so many of us immersed in the internet now, things will just kind of appear every now and then. Like, for example, this year we will be doing Miami Connection as one of our live shows and I had never heard of it before. These guys [Mike and Bill] were really excited about it, and I discovered there was just this whole cult of people that really love this movie. Now, The Room, which is our first live show this year, was one of those movies that was just obvious from the get-go. I mean, almost as soon as it came out, and there was that infamous billboard in L.A. for so long. So many people wanted to know why it was there, then the movie came out, and the undercurrent of that spread really quickly. It is just so wonderful that we got it for the live shows.
MN: I would just like to add this one thing. Some of the most fun we have is with the 16mm short films we will show at the start of the live shows. Those are just a total crap shoot, but it is like Christmas Day at RiffTrax when they come in. You open up these boxes of completely unlabeled films, and thread them up in the 16mm projector. There is one we did called Zlateh The Goat, which is just this grim tale about a kid and his family starving to death in Russia. So, he has to go off and sell their goat, and I’m just watching thinking, “Well, this is awful. We can’t use this.” Then suddenly he’s in a hay bale and he’s squirting the goat’s milk into his mouth directly from the utter, all of which is in soft focus, and we’re like, “Hold on a second. I think we’ve got something.” [Laughs] It turned out to be a great one for us, and those are those moments when you discover it in real time that get to be really fun.
BILL CORBETT: If there is a goat nipple involved, all the better. [Laughs]
N: I will make sure to write down anything that is sent in to you must include goat nipples.
KM: Automatic 5!
BC: Yes, Headline: “RiffTrax Seeks Goat Nipples!”
N: So, if you guys have wanted to do The Room as a live show since the beginning, what were some of the obstacles that made you have to wait on it?
BC: Well, it is owned by Mr. Wiseau himself. We did do an mp3 of it a bunch of years ago, so there is a strictly audio commentary for the movie, but we’d been dying to do it live. So, finally we just got in touch with him and were able to strike a deal. He’s on board with it, which is kind of terrifying on its own.
N: What would each of you say is your favorite movie you’ve done with RiffTrax?
MN: I’m going to go with Fun In Balloon Land.
BC: Damn you, Mike. [Laughs] I was going to say Fun In Balloon Land as well, but I think it shifts with what we have done most recently. I’m trying to remember one we did most recently. I think it was R.O.T.O.R.
KM: What does it stand for again?
BC: Oh, God, I don’t even remember.
KM: Robotically Operated Time…Or….Resistance, or something like that. It’s absurd, whatever it was, it makes no sense.
[Note: The title stands for Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research]
BC: Yeah, but that was one of my favorite ones we did most recently.
KM: Well there is one that is about to be released called Radical Jack, with Billy Ray Cyrus as an international spy who breaks up a ring of arms dealers in…Oklahoma…or rural…something.
“It’s like Roadhouse with arms dealers”
MN: They call the town Hope, and it’s supposed to be a southern town, by it was made by the people who made a film called Time Chasers way back when, which we did on Mystery Science Theater. People loved that one and this is equally as bad.
KM: It’s like Roadhouse with arms dealers.
MN: Arms dealers just hanging out in a bar with the head of the Senate’s arms committee apparently. You knew Billy Ray was a tough guy right from the beginning, though, because not only did he have the do-rag and everything, but he also wore the gloves with the fingers cut off of them.
BC: Nothing but the baddest of bad-asses do that.
KM: His painter’s pants tucked into his boots as well. [Laughs]
N: What movie have you guys wanted to do for a live show that you just haven’t been able to do yet?
MN: Twilight. We did a Kickstarter not too long ago to secure Twilight. They listened to us, but they just had different plans for it, and they said no. Maybe in the future, but yeah that would be one. We’ll have to get the rights to it.
BC: Yeah, that would be such a great live show.
KM: Some people keep talking about us doing 50 Shades Of Grey.
MN: I don’t know about that one, though. Bunch of grown men sitting around watching that movie. Going to get a little weird. [Laughs]
N: Has anyone gotten mad at you guys about this before? I know you get their permission, but sometimes people don’t know what they are getting into.
MN: No, and I think it’s because we’ve always done things that are so obvious that they should be done that even the people who made them have an idea of that. [Laughs]
BC: This might be anecdotal, but Time Chasers was pretty recent when we did it on MST3K, and I think they all gathered as a cast to see it and were pretty excited we were using their movie. We heard tale afterward that they were like “aw…really?”
KM: Well that may have had something to do with a line that went like, “Go to hell all officials and citizens of the town of Rutland, Vermont.”
BC: Which we would recreate in that Billy Ray Cyrus movie.
N: Before we wrap up, guys, what is your full slate for the live shows this year?
BC: Well, we start with The Room and will also be doing Sharknado 2. The first Sharknado was very successful for us and it was really fun. It turned out real well. So after that is Miami Connection and we end the year with Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny.
N: I do have to tell you that your Riff on Sharknado was a date night for me and my wife, and the audience we saw it with was primarily middle-aged women.
BC: Wow, really?
KM: That must be the Ian Ziering effect.