Now while most come on this site for updates and editorials on the next big comic book movie or a review on a comic book, I want to focus on another aspect of fan boyism today: comedy. And there is no other television comedy that has truly represented US than the brilliant Mystery Science 3000. Think about it, it introduced the very concept of “riffing” to the masses. It changed the way we watch movies …especially bad ones. I don’t think Sharknado would have been as huge as it was if MST3K did not exist. After debuting in 1988 the show that combined puppeteering with mocking movies, the two hour show gained a cult following of fan boys of all ages. Not everyone who saw this show “got it” and that was beauty of it. If you understood it then it was perhaps when of the best things you ever saw and since there was a portion of society that didn’t “get” it, it felt like you were in on a great little secret. It went through two male hosts, a few antagonists, a couple of voice actors, two cable channels before it ended in 1999 to the dismay of many. But the damage was done. We were never going to look at film the same way again. And the creators and cast are still doing what they best: riffing movies. The original host Joel Hodgson and assorted cast put together Cinematic Titanic while the second host and head writer Mike Nelson is the mastermind of the infamous riff tracks.
But I think something we all forget is that in between the riffs were some pretty classic sketches known as “host segments.” After ten years of shows and four “host segments” in two hours …they have given us plenty of these sketches. Some were forgettable but the really good ones kept us watching and most importantly, kept us laughing. What follows is what I consider the ten most memorable Sketches in Mystery Science 3000
10) “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”
This was a simple but funny opening to the Hobgoblins episode and showed that the writers can do a delightful gag just out of a song title. The segment is JUST exploring the ever growing outbreak of “accidental turn ons.” And from there Mike and the bots try to fight accidentally turning each other on. A simple gag but enjoyable none the less.
9) Tom Servo’s Theme Song
This is one of those segments that you look back on and realize that the bots do have their own personalities and characteristics. It is on display when the Mads ask that each come up with their own theme music. Tom, being the boastful arrogant one, has had his song in mind since “infancy.” What proceeds is a re-working of Carmina Burana that proclaims the greatness that is Tom Servo. After that, Crow, the smart ass half asses a not as magnificent opus. It is a very chuckle worthy moment that reminds us that the puppets and just randoms. Over the years, they did develop their own traits as displayed here.
8) Joel’s Diabolic Entrance
The difference between Joel Hogdson and Mike Nelson as the “human host” was night and day. Nelson was clearly the host that was more “comfortable” with being on screen and carrying “host segments.” But the creator of the show did have some amazing spurts of charisma in his portrayal of the genius slacker Joel Robinson. This sketch lampooning a scene from Double 007 is by far one of the best. Joel comes out from the theater in a silk robe and stomps around the satellite of to loud suspenseful sixties spy music seducing each of the bots, including cam bot. During this he stops to talk about his “evil plan” but that plays as more an excuse for just another music cue for him. It is really fun to see Joel coming out of his shell and proving that he did enjoy his work on the show and is one of the hallmarks of his time on the satellite.
7) Crow Strips
This segment is enjoyable and memorable because of two reasons: its relevance to the movie they are watching and showing that you don’t need a huge budget to do funny gags. It is practically just Mike and Servo watching two gold sticks that are supposed to be Crow’s legs in a pair of boots. Mike is in disgust while Servo is urging him on. The genius part of this was the fact that most of the joke was left to our imagination. It was up to Nelson, Corbit, and Murphy to describe how unsettling seeing Crow in a bikini was. Add to the fact that Crow is ALWAYS naked (unless for a sketch) and the sketch is even more ridiculous. It is also the one of many sketches that parody the films they watch with this one in question be a ninety sixties burlesque film. And those who know this show know that the sixties have given them some of their oddest riffs. This goes down as one of the best parodies of a bad film from that time period.
6) Mike and Pearl’s Heart to Heart
The Sci Fi Channel years were hit or miss as far as the host segments go. When they moved (were cancelled) from Comedy Central to the Sci Fi Channel …it was mandatory that they have a continuing story with sci-fi elements to fit with the channel. While some of the best riffs came out of this generation (Space Mutiny, Killer Mantis, Hobgoblins) the host segments suffered in favor of telling a “story.” What gets lost because of this is the GREAT performance of Mary Jo Pehl as Pearl Forrester. After the original Clayton Forrester left the show, she took over as the main villain. Despite the “spanning” story they were forced to do, I actually liked her as the villain the most. In fact, she was the only antagonist to get involved with the riffing.
This Particular sketch wasn’t flat out wacky but instead was almost kind of sweet while being a bit quirky. During the time chasers episode, Mike goes outside for some fresh air and runs into his enemy Pearl. The conversation that followed was more akin to two old friends talking over coffee than two mortal enemies. Crow even gets involved playing the part of a child. The “Art” inside joke is even thrown in there. It wasn’t laugh out loud hilarious but one of those surreal moments between two really good comedic actors. And the end “Threat” from Pearl really sent it home. Again, Pehl needs a lot more credit for her work on the show.
5) Lets Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas
I think by now that it is quite obvious that this wasn’t like most shows on television at the time. Sometimes the sketches made sense with the movies …and sometimes they were “Patrick Swayze Christmas.” Not only was it a Christmas song about Patrick Swayzee but it was a Christmas song about Swayzee’s magnum opus Road House. This was a delightful three minutes of crushing bones and Santa steeling from the till. This was also proof that MST3K was a show before its time. Years before South Park and Family Guy were doing random thing with random thing segments, MST3K were doing it better in many instances. The “Lets Have a Patrick Swayzee Christmas” song was testament to that pioneering.
4) Crow’s Guitar Solo
And then sometimes the gags were simple. But this was one of those segments that did “simple” so well. What starts off as a “Get the Puppets in cute outfits” tribute to the Greatful Dead turns into full on spoof of said band. The song begins simple as usual but when Crow, complete with Jerry Garcia Wig, starts “jamming” it goes into Not Funny Anymore territory and then right back into funny as the guitar solo plays right into movie sign. What made this simple gag so funny was its execution. The cute beard, the sound the guitar made, and the reaction from the actors and puppets were priceless in this one.
3) Swing Choir
This one parodied something that wasn’t in the mainstream until many years later but what I really like about this skit was that it used everyone, puppets and humans alike, so well. It begins with the most random Frank diatribe about “waking and baking” and then goes on to give Doctor Forrester some character development about why he is so evil. Here is a hint: its because of swing choir in high school. This escalates into one of the worst but funniest sing off I have ever seen. It pretty much spoofed Glee was a thing. It was the only kind of non-sensical fun you can have on this show.
2) All Pod People Segments
Many consider this episode the first GREAT episode of the series and you can’t really argue it. On top of a great riff session of an E.T rip off, it was complimented by some great host segments. It was everything host segments should be: hilarious and complimentary to the movie they are watching. From smooth sounds in space to a very hilarious parody song scene to ANOTHER hilarious parody of the movie they are watching to the grand finale “Clown in the Sky” the host segments made a great episode of this serious PERFECT!
1) “I’m Urkel”
Many might think that this is a very odd choice to be the number one choice but there is a reason I have placed it as the best MST3K moment. What this segment did was PERFECTLY sum up one point in time in society. With this segment it re-enacted OUR reaction as the human race to a comedic act. In a certain way it was a very meta sketch before meta was even a thing. The host Mike Nelson comes in dressed in high water pants and glasses and just keeps saying “I’m Urkel.” What followed was three sketches that spanned the entire movie re-creating the Urkel sensation. But leave it to Torgo from Manos: The Hand of Fate to sate everybody straight. I feel this is the best work they have ever done because it encapsulated the masses reaction to comedy and how fickle that reaction can be. Somebody says something is funny, somebody else finds it funny, then suddenly the whole room is laughing because someone at some point said THIS was funny. And then once the joke has overstayed it’s welcome, the public denies every finding it funny in the first place. This was a great example of their attitude to network pressures or lack of ratings. They KNEW they were funny. They didn’t need people to tell others they were funny. They knew when people would accidentally click past on cable and stopped or randomly found it on the internet YEARS later; they knew that they had a product that people can laugh with them and that unlike Urkel those laughs would last forever and that they did.