humor, personal

Mystery Science Theater 3000

I discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 at the right time.  I was in junior high, and it hit the right funny sweet spot, weird and wacky and nerdy all at the same time, that made it irresistible to me.  Plus, it came on right after American Gladiators on Saturday evening, so I didn’t have to miss beefed-up body builders smashing peons with foam pugil sticks.  Win-win.

I loved many things about the show: the cheesy movies they skewered with hilarious one-liners and non sequiturs of course, but also the concept and characters.  A mad scientist and his henchperson send a worker drone to outer space to see what the effect of bad movies will be on his psyche (it’s all explained in the theme song embedded above).  The jumpsuited everyman creates some robots to keep himself company, and they riff on the bad movies together.

There was something about Joel, the guy in a jumpsuit with the bots, that endeared him to me.  Maybe it was his sleepy eyes, or his laid back persona, or his seeming discomfort at being in front of the camera.  I could relate to his awkwardness, but he seemed to take it all in stride.  Whatever it was, I liked Joel.  I liked him a lot.

And then suddenly, with no forewarning, he left the show in the middle of the fifth season.  His character found a way to escape the Satellite of Love, and poof, no more Joel.  He was replaced by another worker drone named Mike, but it wasn’t the same.  After he left, I didn’t watch the show anymore, except reruns that starred Joel or, more likely, the beloved episodes I had taped to VHS. (In hindsight, my response was unfair to Mike.  But, in my defense, I was a teenager at the time.  I’ve been assured by a few trusted MSTies that the Mike seasons were also great.)

I wrote about it at the time in my journal in an over-the-top and melodramatic way with tons of references to the show, here reproduced exactly with a few comments sprinkled in (two things to note: for some reason I used to write in all caps, a weird stylistic choice, but it does convey the earnestness of my cri de coeur, though the journal entries before and after are also in all caps so that kind of diminishes the effect in context, and also Joel’s last episode, Mitchell, aired on 10/23/93).

10/24

IT’S  TRUE.  THE AWFUL RUMOR IS TRUE.  WHEN I FIRST HEARD IT I THOUGHT “NO WAY,” AND I WENT INTO A STATE OF DENIAL.  BUT NOW IT HAS COME TO PASS.  THE PROPHECY OF DOOM AND UTTER MORONICY HAS COME TO PASS.  JOEL IS GONE.  HE LEFT.  JUST LIKE THAT.  GONE.  IT WILL NEVER BE THE SAME WITHOUT HIM.  SOME LOSER NAMED MIKE NELSON IS TAKING OVER.  [Mike was the head writer on the show.]  NO MATTER HOW FUNNY HE IS IT WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.  JOEL, HOW COULD YOU?  I WAS A MSTIE THROUGH AND THROUGH.  I HAD MEMORIZED THE LOVE THEME THREE TIMES.  I WAS THERE DURING CLASSICS SUCH AS THE SIDEHACKER AND CATALINA CAPER AND EEGAH AND DURING SHORTS LIKE HIRED AND JUNIOR RODEO DAREDEVILS AND THE PHANTOM CREEPS.  WE LAUGHED TOGETHER, CRIED TOGETHER, PLAYED HIDE-AND-GO-SEEK WITH THE BOTS ON THE SATELLITE OF LOVE TOGETHER, ATE CHEESE BALLS TOGETHER , I COULD GO ON AND ON.  YOU MEANT THE WORLD TO ME, I LOVED YOU LIKE A BROTHER AND NOW YOU GO AND TREAT ME LIKE THIS? [I wasn’t actually a creepy stalker; this is a paraphrase of lines from aforementioned MST3K classic “The Sidehacker.”]  WHO’S GOING TO TAKE CARE OF GRETCHEN THE SLINKY?  WHO’S GOING TO CARRY TOM?  WHO’S GOING TO BE GYPSY’S BEST FRIEND?  WHO’S GOING TO WASH THE WINDOWS DURING THE MOVIE?  WHO’S GOING TO INITIATE HEALTH CARE REFORM?  [It was 1993, and somehow I had absorbed something about what was in the political conversation of the day, though I didn’t know anything about health care reform or what I thought about it at the time.  It was a joke, my own attempt at a non sequitur, which now that I’ve explained it, it’s not at all funny, if it ever was.]  WHO’S ON FIRST? [The famous Abbott & Costello routine was also a favorite of mine.] JOEL, DON’T YOU SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME?  I THINK I’M GOING TO HAVE TO GET GAMERA [a kaiju turtle, sort of like a lovable Godzilla in shelled form]  TO KNOCK SOME SENSE INTO YOU.  YOU HAVE TO COME BACK.  YOU JUST HAVE TO.  YOU’RE FROM MINNESOTA, DOESN’T THAT MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU?  [My parents are from Minnesota, and we traveled there every summer to see family.  I was pulling out all the stops, even personal connections.]  YOUR PLACE IS BETWEEN TOM AND CROW CRACKING QUIPS LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW.  I BET YOUR SEAT IS STILL WARM.  JOEL, I’M GOING TO LEAVE YOU WITH THE COLD TRUTH: A COW HAS FOUR STOMACHS.

P.S. MOUNTAIN CLIMBING. [A reference to the classic episode “Lost Continent,” though in that episode they said “rock climbing” over and over.  Oops.]

I’ve been thinking about MST3K lately because Joel recently launched a Kickstarter to revive the show (it’s still ongoing, as of this writing, so if you’re a fan of the show and hadn’t heard yet, go ahead and contribute).  I think it would be great if the show can continue with new characters filling the familiar roles having fun riffing on bad movies.  A new generation could discover the joy it brought me, and the old fans could make more memories.

MST3K has a way of bringing people together; it’s not really a solitary experience, at least it wasn’t for me.  Back in junior high when I first started watching it, I would trade all the best lines on Monday morning at school with a good friend who also liked the show.  In college a friendship started my freshman year with another MSTie who had his own VHS tapes of episodes I hadn’t seen yet.  We would get a whole group of friends together to watch the antics of Joel and the bots on a Friday night (it was at Bible college—there wasn’t a whole lot else happening on a Friday night in rural Georgia).  Later, when I was in grad school, which was often an isolating and lonely experience, another friendship deepened over watching episodes of MST3K.  That friend even made me copies of dozens of Joel episodes for me to take to North Dakota, where I started another grad program even though I knew no one there, so I wouldn’t be too lonely.

I hope it can continue to bring people together and make them laugh.

Long live movie sign.

Advertisements
Standard
humor, personal

Smothers Brothers

Seven years ago, Andy, one of my best friends, was shot and killed in the line of duty as a police officer.  I miss him so much.  Last year I wrote about one of my memories of him.  It helps me to continue healing from his absence when I think of the good times we had.  And since I know some people who knew him read my blog, I want to share some of the pieces of him I hold dearly in my heart.

I have a soft spot for the Smothers Brothers.  When I was in grade school I saw them perform once in Milwaukee, WI, at an insurance convention for my dad’s work.  They were funny and I liked Tommy’s yo-yo tricks.  A few years later a friend let me borrow his cassette tape of their greatest hits.  I thought it was hilarious.  It fit right in with the other funny elements of my youth: “Weird Al” Yankovic, MST3K, D.C. Follies, “Who’s on first?”, Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Jerk (an edited for, and taped from, TV copy).  I liked the Smothers Brothers cassette so much that I told my friend that I wanted to perform some of the routines for the high school Senior Variety Show when we were older.  He agreed, probably figuring I would grow out of it.  When senior year finally came, I approached my friend about our agreement.  I was still committed to doing a Smothers Brothers routine.  He wanted nothing to do with it anymore, mostly I think because he didn’t want to perform in the variety show at all if he could help it.  I hated to let go of the idea.  I had to find someone else to do it with me.

I asked Andy.  I’m not sure why he said yes, but he did.  I didn’t really expect him to.  He seemed to think they were funny routines, if old-fashioned, which made them safe for our Christian school. He was a good friend to agree to the silliness of getting onstage and pretend to be my brother and say ridiculous things.

I listened carefully to my dubbed copy of the tape, stopping to rewind every few seconds, so that I could write down an exact transcript of the two routines I had chosen for us: “You can call me stupid” and the song “Crabs walk sideways.”  I gave him a copy of the routines both on cassette and written out, and he learned them.  I had decided to play Tommy, the goofy and clueless one, while Andy would play his brother Dick, the straight man.  It seemed like the easier part to learn since Andy was starting from scratch.  I could already practically recite the entire greatest hits cassette, I had listened to it enough times.  We practiced a few times at my house and his house, and it seemed like we mostly had it.  Neither of us played guitar, so we sang a cappella.

The senior talent show was held in the gymnasium of the school, a stage on one end with chairs set up on the floor.  A few hundred students and parents gathered in the dark.  Our moment arrived and we gave it everything we had.  We belted out our lines and sang to the cheap seats (that is, all of them).  We were both a little bit nervous to sing in front of so many people, but thankfully it was so dark and with the spotlights so bright in our eyes, we couldn’t see anyone.  People by and large laughed at the right parts, so that helped too.  Afterwards, I could tell, when mostly the parents were telling us that we did a good job, that it was humor from another generation.

Those who know me now may be surprised to hear that I would do something like this.  Though I’ve always been an introvert and somewhat shy, I also used to have a bit of an exhibitionist streak, too.  I liked performing and acting, being someone other than myself.  I liked making people laugh.  I liked being a stranger to myself and my friends.  Something unexpected and wild.  I’m thankful that Andy played along with me for this moment.

Standard