Episode 2: Interview with Mike Nelson
On December 5, cinemas across the nation – including several in and around the Los Angeles area – will be screening a production of RiffTrax Live: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. RiffTrax is a spiritual successor to the cult favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000, otherwise known as MST3K, and involves MST3K alums Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy. In partnership with Fathom Events, this is the 10th such live screening since they started back in 2009.
But what, you may ask, is riffing?
“We always say it’s like watching a movie with your funniest friends,” Nelson says. “The tone we go for is we’re making fun of it, but in a way that’s pretty light-hearted. We’re all fans of movies and we want to see good movies, but we also really enjoy bad movies in the right way, you know?”
Bad movies indeed. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a film that MST3K covered back in it’s very early days – so early, in fact, that Keven Murphy was the only one of the three that was there at the time. “It’s been long enough that we forgot it,” Nelson says. “I think for most fans, because I can’t even remember it, I assume they don’t remember much about it either.”
Writing the riffs for the live shows has some similarities to their normal riffs (which either are recorded as commentary tracks to DVDs or are MP3s you can sync with the piece in question). But it also differs from their normal ones as well. Nelson compares it to doing a live tour all in one night. “It’s a little more intense. There’s more people watching you and there’s different considerations, and different things that can happen in a live event.” All told, Nelson says it normally takes the trio about two weeks to do the writing, with most of it going over the material enough times to see if it plays well. “You also have to be a little light on your feet when you’re actually up there on stage, because things surprise you and audiences are different than you thought. So, it’s a fun thing.”
Coming fresh off a successful Kickstarter campaign, this live presentation is the third this year – and the first time they’ve done a third since starting the live shows. He’s not sure why the live shows (or the Kickstarter, for that matter) have become so successful lately. “I don’t know whether it’s a choice of material, but they seem to be hitting their stride,” Nelson says. “The more we can do, the better for us, because it’s still only three shows a year. It doesn’t really slow us down on the website, so it works out well.”
Nelson, as well as RiffTrax, will forever be linked to MST3K, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, and has its pluses and minuses. “It was fun to be part of something that got that much attention,” Nelson says, “but it kind of cut both ways. People read into it a lot of times that we were trying to do some sort of meta commentary on society and things like that, and we were always just a bunch of comedians trying to make a really funny show. It really wasn’t our intent to do anything that was a grand scheme of commenting on stuff.”
You can see more of Angie’s work over at her website.