RIFFTRAX LIFE – THE MST3K REUNION [Review]: The Riffs Fit to Print.



“El Sacerdote” J.L. Caraballo Twitter @captzaff007
“El Sacerdote” J.L. Caraballo Twitter @captzaff007

On Tuesday, June 28th, the culmination of a massive Kickstarter campaign coincided with the Tenth Anniversary of Rifftrax Live, as well as its twentieth live event, and a massive MST3K reunion show. This was the Rifftrax Live MST3K Reunion Show, broadcast live from the State Theater in Minneapolis, and it was the first time the original MST3K cast had been together onstage, performing together, with newcomer Jonah Rey.

From a crowded theater in Union Square, New York, yours truly, “El Sacerdote”, was able to enjoy the evening as well, and to get a chance to see what Rey can bring to the next iteration of MST3K.

Sage, weird, frightening, depressing advice.
Sage, weird, frightening, depressing advice, dad.

The cast wisely stuck to short films this time out (much like their earlier Christmas Shorts special back in 2009), and their zany energy kept the jokes coming at a frantic (for the most part) pace. The usual trio of Bill Corbett, Mike Nelson, and Kevin Murphy opened with a short film about street crossing safety, called A Talking Car. In it, a young boy has a dream wherein a trio of talking cars berate him for having not stopped to check if any cars were approaching before he had crossed a street. It was–as is mostly the case with these safety shorts–creepy and insanely odd, but garnered some good fodder.

Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Jones Nelson took the stage next, with a short film from the 1950’s or thereabouts that featured Darren McGavin (the father from A Christmas Story), and focused on how absolutely fulfilling it is to be a wife that has all the household appliances securely set in her kitchen. While many of their riffs were quite funny, it seemed as though the two performers were not as comfortable on stage as their predecessors. Some jokes fumbled, and their timing were off, and perhaps it was due to lack of experience (while they are both very funny comedians, Ms. Jo Pehl and Mrs. Nelson weren’t originally part of the riffing cast on MST3K, although they were regular performers there. Their comedic energy did not translate as successfully to the stage).

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Following the ladies, Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu took the stage. I’m almost kicking myself for having never seen these two perform together, as theirs was easily the funniest short of the night. Theirs, a 1950’s educational (?) short, focused on the many attempts at what can only be described as an attention-starved high school girl’s attempts to get any–and every–boy possible to go out with her.

Trace and Frank had warned the audience beforehand that the short started off depressing before taking a downward spiral into being absolutely sad. Their chemistry and energy was manic and highly energetic, and the film itself was screaming for Frank, especially, to go “blue” (it was very clear that he was holding back a bit).

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Hot dogs are only 99-cents!

Up next came Jonah Ray and Joel Hodgson. The first host, with the latest addition, and together they riffed on an educational short about hairdressers/barbers. There was no point to the film itself, as it did little to illuminate anything new about either profession, and was blandly narrated. The hairdresser at the ladies’ salon was the focus of many of the riffs, as he looked and moved like Lurch from The Addams Family.

But both Joel and Jonah bounced off each other well, and it’s almost a shame that they won’t be sharing the screen together on the new MST3K. However, this showcased Jonah’s natural comedic timing, and he comes across as a combination of the best qualities of Mike’s comedic chops with the droll wit of Joel.

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Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Mary Jo Pehl, Michael Nelson, and Bridget Jones Nelson (yes. They’re married.)

The night rounded out with the entire cast coming onstage and riffing three shorts together. The first was the revisiting of a Rifftrax short, industrial video from Caterpillar called Shake Hands With Danger, and was squeamishly, hilariously violent as it highlighted typical worksite accidents caused through carelessness, and featured a rather catchy tune to boot.

The last two shorts were the revisiting of Is Corn A Grass?, a bizarre “educational” short about how to create “art projects” using long stalks of grass. This was the continuation of a series of shorts from the late-1960’s/early-1970’s that focused on utilizing everyday mundane objects (i.e. trash) and creating “fun art projects” for kids (with short attention spans). The resulting art projects are at once sad, depressing, and horrifying: perfect for making fun.

The last short was a government short film called Stamp Day for Superman, and was used by the postal service in the 1950’s to sell kids on the idea of buying stamps, stocks, and bonds and thus investing in the economy. George Reeves takes the title role here, and he makes you a believe a man can…jump off a springboard out of an open window, and be rear-projected onto stock footage of the sky. It was played straight, with nothing even close to being entertaining, although there’s a quaint naivete about the whole thing that it makes its charm almost (almost) overpowering its boredom.

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The whole cast takes a bow to a standing ovation.

A highlights reel showcased some of the better jokes through Rifftrax’ tenure, and the night ended with the cast taking a much-deserved bow. There was a wistfulness to the night, one not of nostalgia (we aren’t revisiting old, “better” times), but of adding to those good times by introducing someone new. It also drove home the fact that there will, in fact, be a new iteration of one of my favorite shows (and the favorite of several thousand…if not millions…of others, as well.)

Up next for the Rifftrax crew is a Mothra screening on August 18th, with an encore showing of the Reunion Show on July 12th. Tickets can be purchased here. 4/5 Crow T. Robots.

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