Rifftrax Live is back October 24 with a Halloween show featuring George Romero’s classic zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead. This past Friday (Oct. 11), Whedonopolis talked with Michael J. Nelson, known for his many years on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) as writer and host.
It’s been four years since Rifftrax Live was first beamed to theaters nationwide, but he, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy did similar shows for years at comedy clubs.
“It’s hard to go on the road and it’s hard to sort of mount a show,” he said. “We realized ‘hey, there’s satellites flying around earth and they do this thing where they beam them to other places.’ So we just thought, what a good mix to be able to sort of cover the country where we can’t normally travel and give people the experience of what these live shows are like.”
So how come Night of the Living Dead was chosen, after being a DVD staple for Rifftrax? It’s not because they think the movie is bad, as Nelson points out.
“We like some of them, we like some less, but it’s more about having fun with something, with your funniest friends,” he said. “This is a movie that we all enjoy, so now let’s go see it together and have this fun experience. It was just one that we’re all so familiar with and love so much.”
Along with the movie, there will be a couple of shorts including a new adventure with Norman Krasner of Welcome Back, Norman, featured in the live riff of Manos, the Hands of Fate last year.
“We’ve grown to love Norman,” he says, although he hasn’t said which Norman short will be shown.
Last August’s live event, which riffed on Starship Troopers, was special because it was funded by fans through Kickstarter.
“That one, I think, had a particular magic for us because of the Kickstarter, and the interest in it, and obviously that’s a much higher profile movie than we normally get, ” he said. He may do it again in the future, but hopes to get a specific movie.
“Now we have an ‘in’ with studios,” he explained, “and we had a great relationship with Sony. I think the studios won’t be afraid anymore. We don’t ruin a movie. We don’t destroy it and burn all copies of it. We just have fun with it for one night. So, I think studios get that and they realize it’s all in good fun.”
Nelson may be an expert in movie riffing, but he admits he wouldn’t make a good movie critic.
“I don’t have a good sense of my own aesthetic,” he says. “I like to exaggerate all my likes and dislikes based on nothing more than the fact that I like or dislike them. Sometimes I can go to extremes for no particular reason, so I’m probably not even-handed enough to do that.”
He has riffed on movies good and bad, but there some movies that he really enjoyed.
“I really love the Lord of the Rings series, just for pure enjoyment, and I have such affection for the material,” he says. He also enjoyed Casablanca and the Bourne movies. However, he has a tough time trying to riff on the Transformers movies.
“I feel like I’m a grandpa in a lawn chair with a sprinkler when I watch them,” he says, “like ‘I don’t even know what you kids are talking about.’ Also, I think they’re the noisiest, most obnoxious movies.”
Still, Rifftrax fans have apparently enjoyed his take on these and other cheesy movies. He plans to take on more recent films in the future.
“There hasn’t been really good blockbusters recently for our purposes but we’re going to revisit Harry Potter because we feel like we owe people the series, so we’re going to do that,” he said. “I have not screened The Lone Ranger but I can’t imagine that won’t be in our sights.”
Rifftrax had added a special series of shorts saluting favorite villains, and genres like internet movies from the 1990’s.
“We just wanted to gauge interest in like a shorter form, and things that where people wouldn’t necessarily hang in there for the whole movie,” he said. “But one of the encouraging things about the specials, with the 90s internet specials thing that we did, is people are like ‘oh, this is great, do the whole movie’. Maybe we’ll pull out the whole thing at some point. It’s just we weren’t sure how much interest there would be in those things. It’s kind of like movies that we had affection for.”
Nelson just turned 49, but was surprised to learn the 20th anniversary of his first MST3K episode as host is coming at the end of the month. However, he still enjoys riffing movies because he feels blessed by how it’s changed his life.
“I’m kind of like a baseball player who can still occasionally hit a fast ball.,” he says. “I do other things. I have interests outside of it, but I keep returning to it. I’m really fortunate to be able to work with great people. I’m a happy guy with my job, so I’m gonna keep doing it as long as they’ll let me.”