It’s been nearly two decades since the original wisecracking, B-movie-roasting Mystery Science Theater 3000 concluded its run, but now, the cult show is back with a reboot on Netflix, and its newest iteration is coming to Philadelphia to do what it does best: mock cinematic travesties.
Jonah Ray, the host of Netflix’s MST3K reboot, hosts the live rendition of the show that is coming to the Keswick Theatre on Friday as part of its “Watch Out For Snakes!” tour. Philly is one of the fewest cities to get two shows: One is Eegah (7 p.m.), a 1962 horror movie and MST3K fan favorite. The second is a “Secret Surprise Film” (10 p.m.) that has not yet been announced.
Heckling for both of those films will come courtesy of Ray, as well as series cocreator and tour emcee Joel Hodgson, Hampton Yount (voice of Crow T. Robot), and Baron Vaughn (voice of Tom Servo). Revival favorites Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day) and Max, a.k.a. “TV’s Son of TV’s Frank” (Patton Oswalt), will check in via video screen.
Due to MST3K‘s freewheeling nature, what’s going to happen is anybody’s guess. We recently caught up with Ray to get his thoughts on MST3K, the tour, and how his lifelong fandom for the franchise has influenced his own comedy.
What was your introduction to Mystery Science Theater 3000?
I became a fan when I was a kid, and remained a fan my entire life. I just happened to find it on Comedy Central one day, and then became a little obsessed with it. Even when I was on a trip to see my uncle in Carson City, Nevada, one time, I saw that the MST3K movie was playing in Reno, so I made him drive me to Reno so I could see it in a theater.
That’s commitment. Do you think your love for the show has influenced your own comedy in any way?
Yeah, [my comedy] is referential and goofy and kind of sniping in lines here and there. Even the show’s ideas of parody and sarcasm are definitely ingrained in my comedy sensibilities. But I have two comedy records out: The first is called This Is Crazy Mixed Up Plumbing, and the second one is called Hello, Mr. Magic Plane Person, Hello. Both are lines from the MST3K movie.
In that case, it must have been surreal working with co-creator and original MST3K host Joel Hodgson on the revival. What was that experience like?
It’s funny because we became friends a few years before we started working together. We ran into each other at a couple other events that didn’t have much to do with comedy, and started chatting and hanging out if we were ever in the same city. He started slightly bringing up the fact that he was going to try to bring MST3K back. I was like, you know, ‘I’ll be involved in any way you want me to if it ever happens. I’ll write or produce or [be a production assistant], for crying out loud. I’ll run craft services.” It was a slow thing of working with him before really working with him. At that point, it was like working with a friend.
Now, with the new MST3K on Netflix, and the first proper tour on its way to Philly, what can fans expect from the live show?
It’s not just live riffing, it’s a whole show. There’s a whole stage setup, and it’s going to be like a live performance of the TV show, as opposed to live movie riffing, which we’re pretty excited about. There are sets, there are props, there are sound cues, and music, and stuff like that. It’s going to be a big stage show.
For the live shows, how do you approach writing riffs and takes? Is it much different from the recorded show?
We write the riffs for the live show the same way we would write for an episode. The difference is — and we write as much as we can because we want to have the options — the rhythm is going to be a bit different. You’ve got to account for things like people laughing. You have to figure out that rhythm of spreading out the riffs a little more than you usually would. That’s the thing about it being live: There is that possibility of things going wrong or being said wrong or messing up, and it adds to the now-ness of the live show.
What about the new version of MST3K compared to the old one? The striking thing about it to me is how true to the original it feels.
It’s tough, because I’m in it. The whole thing seems different, and if it feels the same, I get into this mind-set where I think I look like I won a contest. Probably the most psychologically interesting thing that I noticed was the weekend it came out was the whole huge fanbase that I had been a part of for a very long time were excited that there were new episodes of their favorite show out. And there were new episodes of my favorite show out, but I couldn’t really watch it because I’m in it. I feel that we pushed it in ways that were fun but not egregious.
Is there a bad movie out there that you would like to see the modern MST3K riff on? Anything you’re itching to roast?
There’s this movie that the people from Cinefamily, a really cool revival theater in Los Angeles, found. They found a movie called Get Even, and it’s this guy who is a trial attorney — I’m not talking about the plot of the movie, I mean an actual trial attorney directed, funded, wrote, and edited this movie. It’s real, real bad. It’s so bad, everyone refers to the movie as “Geteven” because the words and letters are too close together. It’s perfect, and I want so badly to riff that.