For a laid-back, ultra-chill, good-natured Comic-Con panel, Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator and original host Joel Hodgson and former cast members Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot #2) and J. Elvis Weinstein (Tom Servo #1) got together to reminisce about the past. There were no shocking revelations to be had. No surprise announcements. No gossip. And yet, to hear these folks talk about working on MST3K is a treat.
In 1988, stand-up comedian Joel Hodgson and a few friends launched a show on public-access TV in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Little did they know that that show would go on to have a cult legacy that continues to thrive to this day. That show was, of course, Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that has undergone many changes while also maintaining the same core concept: a human and his two robot pals watch a bad movie and make fun of it. It’s an overall weird idea, and MST3K has its detractors who would rather not listen to a bunch of guys crack-wise through a film, no matter what the quality of the film.
But for those who clicked with MST3K, the show became something special. I distinctly remember taping episodes off of Comedy Central back when the show aired there and keeping that going when the series moved to what was then called the Sci-Fi Channel.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 experienced a surprise revival on Netflix, but that revival appears to now be dead. Still, the show lives on in the form of RiffTrax and other specials, and the Comic-Con panel was all about the legacy of the series. Joel Hodgson, Bill Corbett (who took over as Crow T. Robot after original Crow Trace Beaulieu departed) and J. Elvis Weinstein, who was the original Tom Servo and who also left after one season. In a sense, this was bringing the three eras of the show together: the public-access era, the Comedy Central era, and the Sci-Fi era. Curiously enough, the Netflix revival doesn’t come up here, even though Joel was the person who helped get it going.
Any devoted fan of MST3K has likely heard the stories told in the video above before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. Hodgson mentions that there were many times when he didn’t understand some of the riffs he was saying but went ahead with them anyway. This leads Weinstein to cut in and add that the beauty of the show was that there were so many riffs/jokes that it didn’t matter if every single one landed. If a joke bombed there would immediately be another.
Not that Joel and the gang realized that at first. As he tells it, in the early days of the show, no one was sure how many jokes should be in place. As a result, very early MST episodes are loaded with awkward stretches of silence from the hosts. Eventually, everyone caught on and realized that to make the show work better they needed wall-to-wall riffs.
Other topics include Corbert taking over for Beaulieu, with Corbert stating that there was some discussion about getting rid of the character of Crow entirely after Beaulieu left since he was so associated with the gold wise-cracking bot. Of course, Crow remained on the show, and Corbert settled into the role. He talks about how when he first started he was trying very hard to do an impression of Beaulieu, but eventually let his own voice come through.
So why does MST3K continue to live on after all these years? “At its heart, it’s so playful,” Hodgson said. And that really is the key. MST3K wasn’t about being mean to the movies. It was all meant to be good-natured. As the panelists put it, they thought of the movies as their comedy partners. And while Mystery Science Theater 3000 may no longer be running, it some ways, it’ll live forever.
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