Tag Archives: comedy

Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot in the works | EW.com

Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot in the works | EW.com:

MST3K creator Joel Hodgson is crowdfunding a reboot of the show:

Those who he hopes to get involved include past cast members and writers, as well as a brand new cast that includes a fresh host as well as a new mad scientist and new voices for famous wise-cracking robots Tom Servo and Crow. ‘Basically, I’m trying to blend the old with the new,’ says Hodgson. ‘Mystery Science Theater has already refreshed itself once with a completely new cast, so I think it deserves to do that again. The original cast is going to be invited back to write, produce, and do cameos as their mad science characters, and then there’s a new cast with new talent.’

I love this idea because I love MST3K. I wonder how they’re going to translate it for a modern audience. Most of us first-generation MSTies discovered it the way I suppose Muscovites discovered the Beatles during the days of the Soviet Union: a network of freedom fighters sharing dubbed and re-dubbed cassettes. The show was on Comedy Central but in the 90s it wasn’t on every cable system…nor could everybody in their Twenties afford cable, necessarily. Friends of mine and I used to even rent a VFW hall and throw “‘Bot Bashes,” where dozens of fans could gather and see early episodes for the first time.

Most of the classic eps are on YouTube. Some legally (subscribe to the Official MST3K Channel). Some…well, the phrase “Keep Circulating The Tapes” appears prominently at the end of every episode, so I suppose that’s a license to distribute?

I still watch ‘em from time to time. My favorites (Secret Agent Super Dragon, Warrior Of The Lost World, Code Name: Diamond Head12 To The Moon, Mitchell…and those are just the ones I can name from memory!) still hold up. Still, I’m aware that they’re 90 minute shows, and the pacing might seem slow to an audience that’s used to comedy written in smaller chunks.

Joel seems to be on the right track. Us old folk would be happy just to get a Season 11 (same show, same sets, same cast) but hey, we already got a version of MST3K that’s “ours.” I hope the brains behind MST3K succeed in making one for folks who are as young now as I was when a friend first tried, and failed, to explain what this movie show with puppets was all about.

That said? I can’t wait to see Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff performing together again in character. “Doctor Clayton Forrester” and “TV’s Frank” are, objectively, one of TV’s funniest comedy character duos ever. Right up there with Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, and Mr. Bean and the predictable and simple rules of human society.

I’m going to support the Kickstarter because this is totally the sort of project I like to support. Here is a creative work that I want to help get made…not a preorder of a gadget that’s already definitely going to happen. 

(I also really want the tee shirt.)

Here, check out one of my favorite MST3K shorts: a little driving safety film called “Last Clear Chance.” There’s a joke from this one that I will spontaneously think of at least once a month until the day I die.

Amazon Advent 04 – “Artistic Roll Call” (Bill Hicks)


Album Art

Artistic Roll Call

Bill Hicks

Rant In E-Minor

Genre: Comedy

I’m going to wind down my “Comedy (But Let’s Acknowledge Them For Something Other Than Their Comedy)” thread by dropping the parenthetical. Bill Hicks died in 1994 at age 32 and he still looms large. His comedy was so very intense. But his anger wasn’t just a prop; it was a lens that brought a clarity to every thought he expressed and intensified the light he was shining on an idea.

“Artistic Roll Call” is…really something. Mr. Hicks has some rather strong opinions on Jay Leno and the direction that he chose for himself and his comedy. Yes, I know: the thought “Jay Leno is to comedy what Olive Garden is to dining out” is as overplayed today as “Hey, what’s the deal with those tiny packets of peanuts they give you on airplanes?”

It’s noteworthy for two reasons: first, this was recorded sometime just after Leno had taken over the Tonight Show. At the time, he was talking about something that was very much on his mind, as opposed to going to a cheap and easy putdown.

Secondly…oh, wow. Just listen to him. This is an outpouring of genuine anger. Anger that a once-great comedian had chosen to change his comedic voice into a marketable product. Disappointment that Leno had seen any value whatsoever in doing commercials.

And it went even deeper than that! The rest of Hicks’ work makes it clear that this bit also reflected his frustration in our national character. Why did Leno make these choices? Because they work. Broad, harmless humor entertains way more people than the stuff that’s targeted and meant to bruise. Why was Leno shilling Doritos? It was a Sound Business Decision. A big check for not a whole lot of his time, and all the while, it got his face out there in front of people.

I don’t agree with everything Hicks says on the CDs and videos of his standup. He also had a great bit about the JFK assassination: “If you go to Dealey Plaza, there’s a museum on the sixth floor,” he says. “They’ve recreated the so-called ‘sniper’s nest’ exactly the way it was on the day of the assassination. And you know it’s completely accurate because…Oswald isn’t in it.

I’ll go ahead and embed this clip. Warning: The audio isn’t work-safe.

Let’s not get into a long digression about the assassination. To conspiracists, I will just ask “What about the long, skinny package wrapped in brown paper that Oswald brought in to work that morning?” (yes, that really happened) and move on.

I’m also not 100% on board with bashing Leno at least not (holy mother of God) this savagely. True, I haven’t had any use for his comedy since he stopped doing the Letterman show. But being a comedian isn’t like being a company CEO, where you’re well-insulated from the fallout from your decisions. Leno appears to be happy. He gets to work on cars, tell jokes at 11:30 PM, and also do several standup gigs a week. I think the canonical line on Jay’s career comes from Bill Carter’s terrific book about the Late Night Wars II, quoting a producer who acknowledges Jay’s ratings but then says “at the end of the day, though, who would you rather be? Jay Leno…or David Letterman?”

Yes, his material is about offering audiences some distraction, not depth. But Leno doesn’t seem to care about that. So…shrug.

I’m fascinated by the construction of this rant, though. It’s utterly brutal. There aren’t even many jokes in this bit. He just keeps expressing his anger and his disappointment in different and novel ways. We shouldn’t call it a rant. It’s not unfocused, out-of-control rage; the bit works because Hicks is in full control throughout. A great standup comic is just like a great magician. It’s all about maintaining control of the audience. Hicks proceeds through his material, but always with his antennae fully extended and maintaining a sharp, moment-my-moment read on where their perceptions are, and how best to manipulate those perceptions.

And that’s how he avoids turning anger and frustration into a tool towards uncovering greater truth, instead of a catchphrase that lets the audience and himself avoid it entirely. Sam Kinison was funny as hell, but he asked so little of an audience. When he screamed into the microphone, the audience was relieved, almost; it was his signature, on the level of Steve Martin yelling “Well, ex-cuuuuuuusssseeeee meeeeeeee!!!” Late in his career, the scream was a welcome sign that this was all stagecraft. The knives onstage are all made out of rubber and that soon, the curtain will rise again and Caesar will be alive to take his bows.

No such luck with Hicks. I enjoy his performances for the sounds from the audiences as much as anything else. Unified cheers and laughter are rare; usually, the laughter is mixed with discomfort, and there are many nervous silences. During the “JFK” bit, I feel as though Hicks is angry at me. I want to clear my throat and stammer and say “Well, all right, I believe what the government is telling me about the JFK assassination, but I don’t believe everything they tell me. Except when they tell me what kinds of food are safe to eat. And what level of regular maintenance is OK for an airplane. And…”

(Oh, crap.)

“Don’t worry,” he reassures the audience, when he senses that he’s dug himself into a deep hole. “I’ll start telling d*** jokes soon.”

I mentioned earlier that I respect the fact that Leno made his choices and accepted the consequences. The same’s true of Hicks. Leno wanted an audience, to the extreme of completely desaturating his act to an institutional shade of beige. Hicks wanted authenticity, to the extreme of making it hard to create material that would fill every seat in a US theater. Or, pursue any source of income away from the stage of a comedy club. Barring an absolutely stunning statement of theological reversal, Hicks couldn’t have pursued TV (unless it was unsponsored, and aired on a network owned by an independent company).

If he’d lived, I think his decades of onstage sincerity and integrity would have finally paid off. Not because American audience are any more enlightened today. Oh, wow, my head spins just thinking about what he’d be saying about our “Hope And Change” President’s use of drone strikes!

This is an age when you can do almost as well with a small audience of people who absolutely love you as you can with a large audience of people who think you’re marginally less objectionable than whoever’s on the other channel. His access to his audience wouldn’t have been controlled by any large company (a network, a promoter, a record label). He could sell tickets, audio, and video directly to his fans.

And the power of social networks to spread something around to millions of people isn’t compatible with “bland and populist” material When was the last time someone Tweeted a link and said “Oh, wow, you HAVE to see what Leno said in his monologue last night!”?

Hicks seems like a reminder that you often have to keep the faith that a longterm equity investment will eventually pay off. All of the Hicks standup material we have is, alas, all of the material we’ll ever have. The point of view and the voice he had built after 15 years was amazing. And it was strong footing for whatever he would have built on top of it.

32 seems to be an age when many successful creative people get a little antsy and bored, and they start questioning what’s been working so far. They’ve built up a hell of a lot of knowledge and experience. What do they want to do with it? Often, they either try to use those same skills in different ways, or they try to augment what they have by developing a different set of skills.

When you listen to a few hours of Hicks’ released standup, you come away (a) hoarse from laughter, (b) profoundly impressed, and (c) aware that there was some distance between Hicks and the audience. He feels a frustration with the world, and the people in those seats are part of the problem.

Richard Pryor, at the height of his powers, often found a way to quietly suggest — so subtly that you didn’t even think of it until long after — that you and he were there in the room to start working on a solution. Parts of his standup films are genuinely cathartic.

So I wonder what he would have built by age 50. The knowledge that you have an audience can drive you to narcissism. Or, it can drive you towards introspection. Here you have 1000 people who will be hanging on your every word for 70 minutes. What should you do with their attention? What would you like them to be thinking about the next morning?

It’s perfectly fine to send an audience away thinking nothing more substantive than “I definitely got $75 worth of entertainment for my $50 ticket.” One might even make a credible case that people pay $50 to attend a comedy show with a view towards laughing hard. I’m fascinated by Bill Hicks, but the fact that most of the other comedians I love “merely” entertain me shouldn’t be considered a mark against them.

And of course, dying young is the ultimate rose-colored filter. Every brave person becomes a colossus and every talented performer becomes a genius. All because of the feats they never had a chance to achieve, and the works they never had a chance to create. The bizarre dementia of a fan is that we keep expecting great things from the ones we worship, even long after they’ve died.

Preview “Artistic Roll Call” on the Amazon MP3 Store. Anything you buy from Amazon after clicking that link will result in my receiving a small kickback in the form of store credits, which I will then spend on silly and wonderful things.

And yes, I’m quite aware of the dissonance of praising Bill Hicks and then encouraging you to buy things from large corporations. I’m not willing to sell my artistic soul like Jay Leno. But I’m willing to rent out parts of it in exchange for camera equipment.

You’ve Got To Know These Things When You’re King

Wednesdays are, historically, not good days. Yes, it’s called “hump day” but in my case, the hump is actually the gestation sac of one of the creatures from “Gremlins.” It typically bursts out of its egg case in the corner of the ceiling at about 2 PM and leaps on my head, still trailing tendrils of amniotic fluid, and immediately commences to beating and scratching me until it gets bored and gives up…usually at around 5 AM the next morning.

Yesterday was a good’n, though. I filed a column that I was quite happy with and then I headed to downtown Boston for Spamalot Day.

Spamalot Day happens in Boston on every November 19, 2008. It marks the anniversary of the time that Chris Gurr emailed me to ask if I wanted house seats to see the show during the tour’s Boston run.

He plays Sir Bedevere/Concorde/Old Woman in the show and when he offered, I hesitated before replying. Should it be “Yes” or “Holy ****, yes”?

But ever the shrewd negotiator, I deftly concealed my intense desire to close this deal. I counteroffered with “house seats, and we get together for lunch before the show.” I really hated to screw him over like that, but business is business. I have a responsibility to my shareholders.

There was only one choice for the lunch venue: Zaftigs in Brookline, of which you’ve heard me speak so highly in past missives. It’s the default place to take folks who are new in town. The food there is so out-of-this-world that I want to eat there every day…but that’s both financially and medically-contraindicated, so I try to limit myself to just one visit per month.

Still, one must be hospitable, mustn’t one? So I steeled my courage and tucked into a combo plate of blintz, kugel, knish, and potato pancake, a cup of chili, and a turkey pot pie.

Chris ordered the chocolate brioche french toast. There are two big perks to taking people to this restaurant. The first one is: lunch at this restaurant. The second is getting to witness people’s reactions to the cuisine. The chef’s culinary aesthetic seems to be “But you’re so skinny! Let me fix you a plate…no, sit, sit!”

Chris’ reaction to his entree was immediate, reverent silence as his brain shut down all unnecessary functions and put his sensory processors into emergency hi-burst capture mode. Which is by no means atypical.

It was a fab afternoon. In fact, I knew that my parking meter was due to click out soon but I was enjoying the conversation. If I got ticketed…well, hell, I was getting more than $15 worth of entertainment there in the restaurant. It would work out OK.

We parted company after I spent another hour or so showing Chris the many delights of Coolidge Corner. It’s my favorite Boston neighborhood. It features Boston’s best bookstore and movie theater, and a small store so overstocked with piles and piles of merchandise of every possible description that I wonder if doctors don’t bring their patients there as some sort of test for epilepsy. There is such intense detail in such minute quanta in such a small area that any weak synapses will quickly give up and spasm trying to resolve the imagery.

The show was just flat-out wonderful.

“Spamalot” has been on my list since it opened a few years ago. But the way Broadway works these days, it almost lulls you into the same lack of a sense of urgency as you have regarding movies. Hits settle into multi-year runs with new casts, and touring companies are top-notch.

In fact, half-price tickets to the Broadway production were available during my last trip to New York but I opted for another show; “39 Steps” was a small, quirky comedy that probably wouldn’t be around the next time I was in town. “Spamalot,” like “Cats,” seemed to be now and forever.

(Uh, yeah…but a week or two later, they announced that “Spamalot” would be ending its Broadway run soon. And “Mamma Mia!” is now in the theater that “Cats” owned for more than a decade; many regard this as an improvement only to theater patrons with fur allergies.)

Regardless, I knew that I’d be seeing the show at some point in life. So in all these years, I’d never bought the cast album or read a synopsis, so that I could see the show “clean”…or as cleanly as you can see any show that’s based on one of your favorite movies.

I really, really wondered what the show would be like. “Spamalot” has to navigate a lot of problems that the authors of “No, No Nanette” never had to contend with:

  1. Python fans are going to expect to see their favorite bits.
  2. Non-fans are going to expect to understand what the hell is going on without checking Wikipedia every ninety seconds.
  3. At $80 for the good seats, even the fans aren’t going to be satisfied with just a replay of the bits they already know from the movie and the TV show.

That last thing was my biggest concern. I and My People worship at the Church of Python. Weve been attending services since we were little kids. We know when to stand, we know when to sit, we know when to kneel, and when the Minister (of Silly Walks) calls for Hymn 132, we immediately start singing “I’m A Lumberjack And I’m OK.” I went to see Eric Idle’s “Greedy Bastard” tour; most of the audience seemed to be just checking off the lines and the songs as they heard them.

(It’s sort of like going to a concert where the band plays lots of their hits. You don’t so much hear the band playing as much as you hear everyone else singing along.)

But “Spamalot” handles all of these problems beautifully. I couldn’t help but think about the “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” in which there’s a stage show of the events of the Baron’s life that draw from the threads of his adventures, but which isn’t an actual retelling per se.

It was tremendously good, silly fun that kept picking up steam as it went. As a Python fan, I liked seeing “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” done live. As a theatergoer, I had that great experience of spending two or three hours in an entire other place, removed even from seat D-101 (fifth row, aisle, awesome) of the Colonial Theater in Boston, MA.

Annnnd as a big dumb heterosexual male, I enjoyed the fact that at times, there were enough pretty chorus girls in skimpy costumes on stage at once that I couldn’t decide which one to objectify.

I’m saying that you really ought to go see it. Here’s a link to the tour page. It’s in Boston just through the week. Last night, the house was muchly full but I reckon that if you want to find some seats together, you can manage it.

I’ve been asked if “Spamalot” is “family friendly.” That’s kind of a floppy term. I think if you’re okay with your kid seeing “Monty Python And The Holy Grail,” then “Spamalot” will present no additional problems. “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” does indeed include the line “Life’s a piece of s***, when you look at it.” And although the language in the French Taunters’ scene is clean, you might spot a gesture or two from the top of the castle walls. It’s your call but I’d have no problems taking a teenager with me.

(SO LONG AS HE OR SHE DOESN’T TEXT MESSAGE DURING THE SHOW.)

(THE CASTMEMBERS HAVE SWORDS. DO NOT RILE THEM.)

At this point in my narrative, I must reveal one spoiler for the show, so avert your eyes, o lord, if so inclined to enter the theater with a blank slate.

Just as in the movie, the location of the final resting place of The Most Holy Grail is can be found in the living rock of a cave protected by a killer rabbit. The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch dispatches the threat and the answer is revealed in four enormous stone letters.

The knights speculate as to what the letters might mean. “Oi! Oi!” perhaps?

Ah! It isn’t a word at all, sire! It’s a seat number!

D101.

Those of you with excellent memories now realize that this information has a certain relevance to my tale.

“Uh-oh,” I thought.

And sure enough…the houselights were raised and a spotlight snapped on around my seat. Knights and peasants eagerly exited via a set of stairs at the foot of the stage, bounded in my direction…

..and then unexpectedly siezed a man on the other side of the aisle in Row C. The Grail was found underneath his seat and he was hustled onstage, where he received a proclamation of thanks and what appeared to be a rather nice gift pen.

As for me, I was siezed by a heady blend of relief and disappointment, in equal proportions.

The man was wearing an AIDS ribbon. As I enjoyed the presentation and the rest of the show, I imagined that he’d been quietly approached at his seat during the intermission. The ribbon, I supposed, signaled to the cast that THIS was the guy who said it was OK to drag him onstage.

See, I have a bit of a Situation brewing at home. My cellphone was off during the first act and I used the intermission to step outside and check for messages. It all became pretty clear to me later on; the D-101 prop always points to the house seats (likely to be used by someone that someone in the cast knows), they didn’t find me there during intermission, so they just went to Plan B.

So again: relief and disappointment. Relief, because at the moment I looked like I had dressed and groomed myself and left the house in a big hurry after having spent all night working on a column. Disappointment, because I imagined that the Colonial Theater looked really cool from the stage.

(Plus: crap, that looked like a really cool pen.)

I went backstage after the show. I bumped into King Arthur on my way through the stage door. He was fab; I’d love to see him playing the male lead in “Kiss Me, Kate.” He has a real Alfred Drake vibe about him, in voice and presence.

(I’m sure that you know that Alfred Drake originated the role of Fred Graham in “Kate.”)

Chris was, of course, equally fab in his multiple roles and as the Old Woman, he had a fabulous rack; theater tradition insisted that I compliment him on that immediately.

He was nice enough to show me around backstage. What a treat. The Colonial is one of the country’s most significant houses. It’s about a hundred years old and some of the most famous plays and musicals in history debuted here. In baseball, a promising left-hander must spend a season in Pawtucket before pitching at Fenway Park. In Broadway, there was a time when a new production was put on its feet in Boston before moving to Broadway with its final cast and rundown.

We joked about Seat D-101. It wouldn’t have been the first time that one of his guests had wound up onstage. Though he told me that there was nothing pre-arranged about it and that my spending intermission outside on my iPhone instead of inside at my seat had changed nothing. The audience member really is plucked out of his or seat cold.

Maybe I didn’t get the free pen but I did get that other thing I wanted: a view of the Colonial from center-stage:

Center-stage. Can this view ever get old?

Center-stage at the Colonial Theater. Can this view ever get old?

I left the theater with Chris and Sir Lancelot and the show’s wig supervisor and we walked to the T. The weather had dropped from Scenic New England Crisp all the way down to “Brass Monkeys, Beware.” We talked about nerdy stuff (theater and technology) all the way until our trains arrived.

I got home very late and very cold but also very happy.