“There’s this comforting aspect of it, to be in a group of friends,” Trace Beaulieu says, about making fun of bad movies, before interjecting, “It’s a mob mentality. Maybe this is how stoning started.”
Even in conversation, the instinct to riff on a topic or a sentence can be too much for the actor, author and, perhaps most famously, evil scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester on the original “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (“MST3K” to the converted). Almost a full 30 years after the show first went on the air, its cast members have continued its mockery of bad film in several different projects (podcasts like “RiffTrax,” the hybrid straight-to-DVD and live show “Cinematic Titanic” and the short-lived “The Film Crew,” to name three), even as the original show prepares for a reboot, set to air on Netflix in, as the show’s theme used to say, “the not-too-distant future.”
Beaulieu and his “MST3K” henchman, TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff), have created a new spinoff with “The Mads are Back,” a reference to the shorthand with which their characters were labeled on the original show. amNewYork caught up with Beaulieu in advance of the “Mads’” appearance at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn on Friday to talk about the longevity of the show’s influence and how it takes love of cinema to deal with the art form’s worst.
Could you have imagined, sitting there with Styrofoam props and puppets in a TV studio in Minnesota in 1988, that almost 30 years later you’d still be making fun of bad films — and that people would still want to see you do it?
No. It never occurred to me. I didn’t think we’d be doing it the next week, let alone that we’d still be doing it. And I’d have thought we’d have run out of bad movies long ago. That is just a volcano of schlock that keeps erupting and covering the earth with movie magma.
One of the hallmarks of “MST3K’s” humor was that it was never cruel. It always felt like the filmmakers could be in the room with you and they could still laugh, even if they occasionally winced, too.
It’s more like a roast. You don’t want to sit through it and just go, “this film’s awful, look at that guy, he’s stupid,” because if you hate it that much, don’t watch the movie. … Especially in the configuration that Frank and I are in now, out on the road and looking at these films again and again — we couldn’t travel with someone we don’t like. We love these movies, and we want to point out their silliness, their flaws, but also have a good time with them. It’s good-natured ribbing.
During any major event, Twitter turns into a horror-story version of what your “MST3K” writer’s room must have been. Has anyone from Twitter ever sent you a check?
I wish I’d thought of that! Let’s sue! [laughs] That’s probably not our style. But Twitter is like a writer’s room without an editor. It’s just a fire hose. When we were writing the show and there were 10 people in the room, everyone’s firing jokes out, we would take all of that and fillet it down to the meatiest jokes. But Twitter, you’re left to your own devices. You’ve got to filter it yourself.