The holidays mean time spent with your family of strangers.
Last Thursday, I joined many other longtime fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, for the appropriately Christmas-themed live Rifftrax of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Rifftrax is one of the projects led by Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumni Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy, who do their standard witty commentary on films, both old and new (like the below clip from the Rifftrax of Twilight).
In the early ’90s, while flipping through TV way later than I should have been, I found Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). This is a common enough story for MSTies. It is the origin of the greatest, most formulative love story for so many people. Many fans spent years quietly watching and appreciating this show loosely tied around a man shot into space and forced to watch terrible movies. Lots of people discovered MST3K on their own, and built these deeply personal relationships to both hosts, Joel and Mike. They have their favorite riffs, their favorite movies, their favorite shorts. They have strong feelings about Tom Servo’s voice and Gypsy’s best bit (which is obviously this song and dance from I Accuse My Parents). Mystery Science Theater 3000, and the spin-off projects, Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic, are intimately and intricately woven into fans’ lives.
My love affair may have started because it was one of the few channels my bedroom TV even received (because in order to prevent me from watching TV too late, my parents chose to leave the TV hooked up to an antenna, that somehow got Comedy Central). I might have been glued to the TV because I was a melodramatic kid who really loved the campiness of it all. Whatever it was, I remember forcing myself to keep my eyes open a little longer, and laughing into my pillow until well after midnight.
The crowds that turn out for a live Rifftrax event all feel this level of closeness to the gang from the Satellite of Love. They are the people who whisper excitedly to each other, trying to anticipate what call backs to previous episodes will happen. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a movie that had been previously riffed during Joel’s run as host, and more recently by the Cinematic Titanic gang, is a huge piece of MST3K nostalgia. The fans weren’t just excited like when I saw Rifftrax Live: Starship Troopers in August. These fans had references and songs memorized. To hear a whole new riff, simulcast to theaters across the nation, was both a new chance to hear an old favorite, and also to unite with other fans for something different. It was a chance to whisper “lentils” under your breath and know that someone around you found a fart joke as amazingly nostalgic as you did. It was to rejoice in the fact that this show, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and revived an old Turkey Day marathon tradition (thanks to the Internet), still held significant places in our hearts. We laughed at Bill’s line flubs and felt like we were part of something special. Even the pre-show spoofs of movie trivia/quotes and word jumbles pay tribute to this longstanding tradition of riffing.
The event may have been the epitome of a “you had to be there” moment, and sure there were some whispers about what was missed from the original riff. But for those fans who were there, it was a perfect way to spend the start of the holiday season, watching a “classic” holiday movie, with friends who have been there for the better part of a decade, comforting you through finals, and adding to your movie nights with family, and even lulling you carefully to sleep each night.