My love of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been one that has endured since I was a wee-lass visiting my grandparents in Pardeeville, Wisconsin. I remember being around nine or ten-years-old and seeing an old "scary" movie while flipping channels and these little shadows at the bottom of the screen cracking jokes. I couldn't watch the show in the living room at their house, so I had to sit in the kitchen and watch it on the small TV, but I remember how cool I thought it was.
Fast-forward to 1997 and a young Windows 3.0 user has just used the coolest new version of AOL to profile search people who are into writing. Enter: my now husband. In the early years of our relationship, we talked about Mystery Science Theater and it became something that we shared. He always likes to tell the story of how we were both fans of the show and how I was lucky to watch it in the early years. Many of our special relational moments have MST3k involved. One of the most popular moments was one Christmas when I was able to get all of our family and friends to chip in and buy DVD copies of every MST3k episode ever made! Essentially DVD bootlegs, because they weren't being released on DVD like they are now. I was working at Blockbuster Video and I was hoarding white 2-DVD cases from when we transferred the DVDs to the Blockbuster boxes. I also had only some minor help from my sister-in-law somewhat helping to format the covers so that I could have them printed on card-stock at Kinkos.
Christmas arrived and all the DVDs were loaded into the cases, but. . . the covers were never finished. I gave Ray the template that I had been tweaking based on the little my sister-in-law gave me and was disappointed that the covers were not finished. Being thrilled with his gift, he took to creating all of his own custom covers for each pairing of DVDs with his own summary write-up and graphic images. His covers were amazing. (Bitter chick note. . . my sister-in-law always tried to claim credit for the covers, when she did nothing more than SCAN a release MST3k DVD cover to use as a template. They were that awesome, made by my husband.)
My family also used to rag on my husband for a personal project he was investing his free time in where he was writing and rating every MST3k episode ever! With many stops and reboots, he finally turned it into a webpage. I've linked to it before: www.mst3kjournal.com
It's a long task and I always kept hoping that one day he could publish it, but he always falls back on this negative assessment of the demand of this kind of niche work. I have my own theories about this stuff, but it's not my work and all I can do is praise it and encourage him to NOT be all down and out about it.
As we've gotten older and moved around, we've had our MST3k moments, but none were as influential as our attendance at Cinematic Titanic in April 2012. They had a two night event of live riffing at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee. It was here Ray was able to actually meet some of his favorite people from the show, without feeling all awkward and fanboy like he would at a convention. We met Trace Beaulieu (Crow-T Robot and Dr. Forrester) and bought his newly published book, Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children. He was amiable and quite fun to talk to, especially because we were talking about our daughter and he had all sorts of fun wisdom to share about children. We met Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester) and J. Elvis Weinstein (the original Servo). We also met TV's Frank (Frank Coniff) and, finally, Joel! Omg. . . it was awesome. Ray had them sign his personally created MST3k cover for one of his movies. Joel was really impressed with the covers.
While we had been sitting in the audience, though, I was doing my time as a student teacher with Milwaukee Public Schools. I had a huge stack of tests to correct and, knowing how the waiting game is played, I brought them along to correct while we waited for the show to start. I kept sensing someone watching me and finally a man leaned over and asked me what I was doing. I explained I was grading papers for my third graders. He left and came back with two a Cinematic Titanic DVD and heaped praise on me for being a dedicated teacher. He introduced himself and explained who he was. He was Mary Jo's husband! It was one of those amazing moments for me as a pre-liscensed teacher that motivated and encouraged me.
After the Saturday show, Ray and Mary Jo's husband met up at the bar and talked for a while. He asked about how we met and he encouraged Ray to get his MST3k writing back out there! A year later. . . he posted his personally coded MST3k Journal!
This weekend we went to the Farewell Tour of Cinematic Titanic. The lines were longer. The audience was more intense. My anxiety and awkwardness was in full force. For some reason I am a magnet for weird people. I give off this vibe and they just flock to me. This happened the first Cinematic Titanic we went to and it happened this time on the first night. Loud, obnoxious, distracting, and nowhere near as cool as they think they are. Add the hat that came off every 10 minutes for a head rub. . . awe geez. But I rose above the anxiety and just loved, loved, loved the show. They were riffing The Doll Squad and it was hilarious!
On our way out, I asked if Ray wanted to meet them tonight and he opted out. I mean, we've met them. . . what do we say? Are we just sheep? I feel silly. So we went home. It ended really early, I feel, compared to the previous year, but I don't have concrete stats for that assessment.
We went to the second night and, despite arriving almost an hour early, we were not even close to being the first ones to trickle in. When I go to events at locations I know, I really want a certain seat. I get weird about where I sit. It has to feel right and pose limited social issues (aisle seats, no tall people in front of me. . . that kind of thing). I've always been like that, but couple that with the anxiety and it gets a bit frustrating. We sat two rows up from where we sat the previous night and the people we were around seemed good. . . but oh . . . there were "teachers" behind me. Loud, drunk teachers telling teacher stories about pet squirrels and not knowing the difference between ASL and ESL (American Sign Language and English as a Second Language). South Milwaukee teachers. I suppose the lesson here is. . . don't be a drunk person at a public event and talk about being a teacher while drunk. Sets a horrible image of teachers as being drunk and obnoxious with loose tongues about their students.
Why were they even discussing this issue? Well, because of David "Gruber" Allen, of course! If you are like "who the hell?" please just click the link and see ALL the awesome places where you have seen him on TV and other places. I always remember him as one of the town musicians on the "Gilmore Girls" and also the guidance counselor from "Freaks and Geeks." He played a Sheboygan Nonprofessional Guidance Counselor as one of his warm-up performances at this event. Back to the ASL. . . there is music playing before the show starts and he comes on the stage and for a few songs, he acts them out using ASL and unofficial ASL physical descriptions of the lyrics. It is GENIUS! Gruber is awesome. Why Gruber? I have a feeling it's a Wisconsin thing. Don't quote me on this, but there's an attorney in Milwaukee named David "One-Call-That's-All" Gruber. I wonder if that's where Dave Allen got his Gruber from.
The second night for the Farewell Tour of Cinematic Titanic riffed the movie Danger on Tiki Island. HILARIOUS with a running joke about the wife being horny. Well, a group of people ended up sitting next to us who maybe should have taken an aisle seat farther back when they arrived, because I can't tell you how many times we had to get up during the movie to let them out. One of which was during the time that they had to take the two kids out of the theater, because the movie was getting a little suggestive.
After the rough screening and with our sides splitting, Ray decided he want to go to the signing they were having. And we did. We waited in line. I wanted my ticket stub signed and Ray bought a picture, since in our hurry to leave on that Friday we forgot to grab a DVD to have it signed and they were selling nothing at the table but pictures. As I went through I talked to Trace and we joked about my daughter a little bit. I told Mary Jo that I loved her book that she published. I. . .I didn't have anything to say to J. Elvis, except that he's awesome (in my mind I said "and you're cute!". . .I'm too shy for that to come out). Then there was Frank and I said I enjoyed his humor on Twitter and Facebook. And then. . . Joel. I explained that I had read an article a while back about how he was teaching a riffing course and how I used riffing in my classroom to help with comprehension skills. I was nervous and I said thanks, thanks. But. . . yeah. . . it was awkward for me, because all I really wanted to do was say thanks for all you've done with MST and bringing riffing to an elevated state of engagement.
And it's over. It was a wonderful experience and I'm sad that I don't have this to look forward to next year. The live performances are so engaging and it just stimulates the brain in such a geek way. You have to access all our own knowledge about EVERYTHING to find the humor in their genius and it really makes it absolutely engaging.