As a lonely nerd hitting his nerdy stride in the early 90s, comedy was as important a part of my life as comic books, video games, and Star Wars. When along came The Comedy Channel — which quickly turned into Comedy Central — it brought me to "the not-too-distant future" and the Satellite of Love with Joel Robinson, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo. That's right kids, if you didn't figure it out already, I am talking about Mystery Science Theater 3000.
While MST3K ended in 1999, thanks to its strong fan base and its creator, Joel Hodgson, it's coming back. Hodgson ran a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign in November 2015, raising over $5.7M with over 48,000 backers, to relaunch MST3K with fourteen new episodes and featuring an entirely new cast.
The episodes will be appearing on Netflix in "the not too distant future," but at SDCC this year I was able to sit down for an wonderful conversation with Hodgson and some of the new cast. Joining Hodgson for the interview was Jonah Ray (Hidden America with Jonah Ray) who will be the new host, new Tom Servo Baron Vaughn (Grace and Frankie) and Hampton Yount (Last Comic Standing), who will take over as Crow T. Robot.
Our meeting started off better than could be expected when, after introducing myself as being from Bleeding Cool, Ray said, and I quote, "I like Bleeding Cool a lot." So Rich, that one's for you. After my then kissing Ray's butt about my being a fan of his and having attended a number of the Nerdist Podcast live shows at SDCC throughout the years, we got down to talking.
I began by asking Hodgson why he decided now was the time to bring MST3K back? He said it was already the right time to bring it back six years ago, but it took this long to sort out the rights; which cleared last fall. Once the legal issues were sorted, he quickly wanted to do a Kickstarter and then recruited the new crew to do the show.
I mentioned how I listened to Hodgson's appearance on the Nerdist Podcast and remembered Ray expressed how much he loved MST3K.
"And Joel made fun of me," Ray added.
After that recording, they ran into each other the next two nights around Los Angeles. The second time Ray even did a Joel impersonation for Hodgson, which Hodgson called him on, even thought he actually liked it. They continued to hang out and even wrote together for the Channel 101 tenth anniversary show.
We then discussed how Vaughn and Yount got involved. Hodgson asked Ray who he thought would be good and he immediately thought of Vaughn and Yount. Ray said that not only did the timbre of Yount's timbre fit, but his standup is innocently dark and maniacal like Crow.
Ray also said when he thinks of Tom Servo he thinks of a ladies man, trained in theater, with a bravado, and so he immediately thought of Vaughn, who is Ray's one trained-actor friend.
Vaughn said, "Ladies man, I don't know about all that."
Ray said they all met through stand up comedy. Yount said they are all old friends and very close, and when he watched the show he thought of the characters all as friends, so he thinks that their pre-existing friendship will be a good formula for success on the show.
Vaughn and Yount were both fans of the original show. Yount said it was hard not to be influenced by something that was on all the time for so long. Vaughn added that the show is iconic, folded into the fabric of comedy since it's been around. They were influenced by not only MST3K, but by other shows that were influenced by MST3K.
I asked about the inspired choices for the rest of the cast, including Felicia Day as one of the new Mads. Ray said that he had asked Hodgson if he wanted suggestions about the Mads.
Hodgson had a very specific idea about what he wanted and said when they shot the Kickstarter video with Day, it completely confirmed his choice in her. Ray felt the same way. Hodgson said that Day and the rest of the cast are all writing on the show and their personalities are woven within the fabric of the new season.
When we discussed Patton Oswalt joining the cast Joel said he sent him an email asking if he wanted to be on it, and the response he got was simply, "Oh my god!"
We also discussed the process of creating the show. Joel said all the theater material is written, but that it is all about chemistry once they start performing. "I think that's why people give us so much credit, because they think we're just talking. 'God, they're so funny so often,'" he said. Vaughn added that stuff comes out of improvisation, but at a certain point you have to write it down to make it work timing wise with the movie that is being watched and within the show.
I asked Yount and Vaughn about what it was like playing pre-existing characters and whether they went back and listened to hours of the show to try to make sure they had the voices down. Vaughn said, "It's about capturing the essence of who this character is. It's not about creating an exact replica as much as it is standing on the shoulders of the people who came before and then taking it forward into something that fits into what we are doing today."
Yount said that as a fan of the show, it is hard not to want to do Crow as performed by Trace Beaulieu or Bill Corbett. But he also doesn't want to imitate the past.
Vaughn joked that he's going back to the classics, and Tom Servo is mostly going to be Hamlet.
When I asked Ray to describe his character his response was easy for him to give: "It's kind of just me." He went on to say that until shooting takes place he's not sure how the character will come across. But he thinks he will definitely sound like Joel and Mike when he does the show, because of what an influence the show has been on his own comedy.
Lastly, I asked how they felt about the success of the Kickstarter and the pressures of doing the show. Hodgson said that MST3K fans are the most forgiving and thoughtful fans around and he is just looking forward to recording the show and seeing what happens.
I guess that's what the show has always been about since the beginning; just record it and see what happens. And I for one can't wait for the new episodes to come out to Netflix and see what happens when the new MST3K cast ride the Satellite of Love.
For further musings from the Joshua Stone follow him on the Twitter @1NerdyOne