I’ll admit it. It was intimidating to sit across from Trace Beaulieu (Crow T. Robot, Dr. Forrester) and Jim Mallon (Gypsy), two of the creative forces behind a show that got me through college – Mystery Science Theater 3000. When I introduced myself as being from www.collider.com, they asked if I had anything to do with the supercollider in Europe that, if turned on, could end life as we know it. It’s that sort of tangential thinking that made the riffing on MST3K so organic and so funny.
We talk about how MST3K is like coffee, if a show like MST3K could exist today and what movies would inspire their commentary now… and, of course, the end of life as we know it.
Here’s the transcript…but you can also watch the interview as a video clip at the bottom of this article.
NICO FROM COLLIDER: What is it like revisiting it after ten years? The whole Mystery Science Theater phenomenon?
TRACE BEAULIEU: It’s so strange because we stopped doing it and it kind of left our lives but it’s never left the fan’s lives. They’ve kept it alive all this time. It’s really flattering to return to it when there’s this much passion for it.
JIM MALLON: One of the things I’ve enjoyed is just getting back together with everyone after all these years and remembering how funny everybody is. Were you at the panel last night?
NFC: I wasn’t.
JM: There’s someone like Frank [Conniff] who… if he was a guy who came to your house to move a refrigerator, you wouldn’t think twice about it…. And then the funniest stuff just pours out of him. Or Paul [Chapin] who probably in a different life would be a professional fishing guy, don’t you think?
TB: Or he’d be a campaign person for Adalai Stevenson.
JM: Yeah, exactly. It’s very unexpected. So to get the whole band back together and feel that energy is pretty cool. Then to be in front of over two thousand fans, super charged the evening. That, to me, was very cool.
NFC: Is there any chance that energy might translate into a reunion of some kind?
JM: That’s a complicated question. Partly – we would be double casted. Let’s say we got everybody back together to do the show. We’d have two hosts, we’d have two Crows, we’d have Dr. Forrester and his mom trying to rule the world, we’d have two Tom Servos, we’d have two Gypsy’s… I think that’s like what you were saying, don’t cross the streams. There’s sort of a parallel universe thing. We might have a Lost episode on our hands where all of the sudden the convention hall would move eight feet to the one side or something. I don’t know if that is particularly possible, but it’s an interesting idea.
TB: We could do both casts and overlay them and the viewer could dial the cast member they wanted to see…
JM: That’d be cool.
TB: …like a make-a-face kit.
NFC: With Blu-Ray technology, you could pick which character you wanted to listen to.
TB: And you could get other people to do us.
JM: Yeah and this could all be put on a, what do they call it, a blog?
TB: It’s something like that. A blog… or a log…
JM: You could real-time blog it and it would be good.
TB: It sounds too hard already.
NFC: I think there’s about a billion fans that would help out. So if you’re looking for help just put a little note up on the internet and you’ll have a response.
TB: On Craig’s List.
TB: Looking for Mystery Science cast.
JM: A billions a lot of people. I think we should look at that number. I think there’s three hundred fifty million people in the United States and I know we have fans…
NFC: China? Big in China? Come on.
JM: I’m thinking Canada. You know there’s very few people in Canada. This is one of those not-known facts. How many people do you think there are in Canada? Just take a guess.
NFC: Twenty-five million?
JM: No. 327 people. I thought… millions.
TB: They’re clustered in the urban areas.
JM: They run it with a skeleton crew. They do a pretty good job.
TB: It’s a really well run company. Company? Country.
NFC: What was the genesis for the voices of Crow and Gypsy? Where did those come from? Was there an inspiration?
TB: Originally Crow was a very staccato, machine, more classic robot… It got kind of hard to speak that way. It was hard to riff like that because it was locked into one intonation. I think as we did it, I got tired of doing that. (Jim laughs) The voice changed a lot those first few seasons from KTMA to Comedy Central. Comedy Central, right?
JM: Comedy Channel.
NFC: It was originally Comedy Channel and became Comedy Central.
TB: It was a little bit different in that first season than later when I just went I don’t have the energy to maintain this so I’ve just got to do closer to my own voice which is kind of a cross between my voice when I’m excited and a school girl.
JM: Josh [Weinstein] did Gypsy on KTMA, what little she showed up, and he did it as an inhale. I was concerned when I took over Gypsy that I would be permanently damaged and sound like… who’s that guy on Kotter that sounded like that?
JM: Yeah I was concerned I would end up –
TB: In an iron lung.
JM: Then again the writers in those days gave Gypsy one or two word statements like “My stars!” or “Oh!” so there probably wasn’t the danger. I went to falsetto because Gypsy was female. Although I was noticing in one skit, the other bots threw a shower for her and she asked why, was she pregnant, and she didn’t think so. I think it was Tom that said, “Well, you’re a girl” and she mumbled under her breath, “Well, I think I am.” The falsetto and raising of the voice high roughly parallels the difference between the sexes, between humans where men’s voices tend to be lower and women’s voices tend to be higher. I know that’s probably far more technical then you were looking for, but that’s the evolution.
NFC: It’s okay. We’re on the Internet.
JM: Oh. Then they can Google it if they don’t understand.
TB: Porn. Knob. Porn!
NFC: Do you think a show like Mystery Science Theater could be created today with studio pressure and that sort of thing?
TB: Cable has changed so much that we had so much freedom and we were really left alone. Now cable TV is just as restrictive as network, I think.
JM: Plus it’s really fat. When we were kids, cable was like your finger. Maybe a pencil. Now the bandwidth in there…
TB: A pipeline.
JM: That’s an excellent question. I think there’s a couple things to consider. If this show was ever pitched. Here’s what we’re proposing to do. It requires a lot of imagination to envision what this concept could be. The problem is studio executives don’t have that kind of imagination and they just don’t. If you do, you can’t become a studio executive. I don’t think… I think they would’ve smiled a lot, nodded a lot, got us Diet Cokes and waters and said, “Sure, folks, we’ll think about it.” I don’t think it would’ve gotten out of the gate.
TB: It’s hard enough to describe after we’ve made it. Well, we take a bad movie, there’s little guys at the bottom of the screen –
JM: We’re in space…
TB: When you see the show, you get what it is, but it’s almost impossible to describe to somebody.
JM: The other thing is today you kids what with your digital camcorders and your iPod-Phone things have this thing called your YouTube so if someone comes up with a neat idea on Monday, by Friday 350,000 people have seen it and they’re on to the next thing. I would suspect that the fate of Mystery Science if it were done today, it would’ve been a neat thing that somebody did… there’d be fifty copies right away… there would’ve been the glut of doing that… and then everyone’d go back to porn. I don’t think the show would have had the… it’s like a fine cup of coffee really. You’ve got to let it drip through the grinds and get the flavor. Yes, you can take the cup out and, if you have a better coffee maker, it will stop the flow and not spill, and I’m speaking metaphorically, it will not spill all over the kitchen table of your imagination. The coffee won’t taste as good because what you’re getting is the first drips which I’ve got to believe are stronger, because that’s just logical. When you get a whole cup of coffee, or a pot, then you’re getting a more even – help me here, I’m grasping a little bit. Anyway, the point is –
TB: We made really good coffee. (laughs)
JM: We bought a Bunn machine, remember that?
TB: Oh, yeah… Coffee was our culture.
JM: The Bunn E-Matic. I don’t know if you’ve seen those. You normally can only find those in restaurants. Sort of your roadside restaurant.
TB: It’s the professional coffeemaker. Dedicated water supply.
NFC: Oh yeah.
JM: They call it Bunn for short but the full name is Bunn-E-Matic.
NFC: That should’ve been another bot on the show.
JM: Not a bad idea, actually. There’s probably still time.
NFC: You probably needed a coffee machine.
JM: Anyway, in a nutshell, there was something about the quaint period when we made the show that allowed it to happen which, you’ve got to wonder, how many Mystery Sciences are falling through the crack today because of these kids with their instant YouTube Google?
TB: They consume stuff and then it’s digested and then it’s gone. So we would be gone already.
JM: You wouldn’t be sitting here… filming us…
NFC: So the universe would end as we know it had it tried to happen today?
JM: Just like that accelerator.
TB: Yeah. Don’t start the accelerator. Please.
JM: In Europe.
TB: It’s going to end the universe.
JM: Touch that thing on the whole world will fill up with grey goo and it’ll be over.
NFC: Better than Grey Goose? Grey Goose would’ve been okay.
JM: Grey goo, not Grey Goose.
NFC: Is there a movie that, since you stopped doing the show that you wished you had a shot at… or when you were doing the show that studios would’ve give you permission?
TB: There’s new stuff all the time. Van Helsing a couple years ago. Open your paper… or open your browser. Any movie. The Hulk, a couple weeks ago.
NFC: The Hulk a couple years ago?
TB: The Hulk a couple years ago AND The Hulk a couple years from now when they remake it again. When will you learn?