Mystery Science Theater 3000's Kevin Murphy: The Reddit AMA

Former Mystery Science Theater 3000 and current Rifftrax writer/performer Kevin Murphy (best known as the voice of Tom Servo) conducted an Ask Me Anything interview on Reddit earlier today. He's actually not finished yet, and will be back on around 6:30 EST according to his current message on the page.

But we've been following along and--like we did with Community's Yvette Nicole Brown a while back--we've culled through the mountain of text that inevitably forms on those pages to find the high points of the interview for you, including a brutally blunt first question that draws the cleanest, most articulate answer about Joel Hodgson's departure from Mystery Science Theater 3000 that we've yet seen.

Enjoy. The first bit of text is Murphy's own introduction.

I'm Kevin Murphy. I played Tom Servo for nine seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I'm also author of the book "A Year at the Movies: One Man's Filmgoing Odyssey." presently I work with my fellow MST alums Mike Nelson and Bill Corbett on Rifftrax.com. We're doing a live riff of "Manos: The Hands of Fate" in theaters nationwide this Thursday, which you can check out here: http://rifftrax.com/live In the meantime, ASK ME ANYTHING, although maybe not about algebra. I suck at algebra. This is my first IAmA, and frankly I'm more wigged out about this than I am about doing Manos live. Oh and here's proof, over at my Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/kwmurphy
myconoid: So, what really happened to Joel? Aliens? Boredom? Fist fight with YOU?

Kevin Murphy: Joel, God bless him, was always interested in trying new stuff. Also, he had a lot of conflict with Jim [Mallon], making work pretty unpleasant for him. so he decided to start new stuff elsewhere.

jeremiahwarren: Rifftrax are amazing. How do you feel about the people that have pirated them through YouTube?

KM: I'd just reiterate that if you like us, and want us to keep doing our stuff, then vote for us by paying for us. I think we're a good entertainment bargain.

OxGaabe6: Any thoughts on doing an actual tour, riffing a movie live and present in theaters/venues across the country/world? I think you've done them before, but I might be confusing it with Cinematic Titanic.

KM: Yeah, the "Live in Theaters" show gets us to a lot of places that a live-on-stage show could not, small towns, remote towns. And the ticket price is pretty decent.

beevbo: Do you miss being a puppeteer? I think you did an amazing job getting Tom Servo to emote for a puppet who had no eyes and a face that wasn't malleable.

KM: I miss the character - Tom was so damn much fun to perform. I do not miss holding ten pounds of polystyrene over my head.

susaninparis: What's the worst job you've ever had?

KM: I shot training videos for my Dad's Employment agency. I hated that job, hated his business, loved him though.

maxbarkly: Given the changing landscape of media from when MST3K started to Rifftrax now, what are some of the legal and copyright hurdles you've had to go through over the years and have they gotten better or worse? Are there any shows or rifftrax you guys did that you couldn't release due to rights problems?

KM: We almost had the Lilly Tomlin / John Travolta film MOMENT BY MOMENT, and the same with Elvis Presley's CHARRO. But damn if they didn't slip away...

TheBoredGuy: Do you have any plans to write another book?

KM: I'd love to write another. I'm working on a novel, and it's a blast.

filterless: What's your favorite beer?

KM: Right now, my favorite Beer is my local - Surly Furious. It's strong, bitter, brilliant.

fantabulizer: Do you miss doing host segments, especially songs?

KM: Always loved the host segments, and LOVED doing songs. hell yes I miss both.

ProvoloneWolf: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

KM: I wanted to be an astronaut. But I was worthless at math and color-blind, so out the door that went. After that, believe it our not, I wanted to be on TV.

Benkenon82: What is your favorite riff out of all the MST3Ks and Rifftrax?

KM: This changes all the time. I recently saw SPACE MUTINY again and loved it. As for Rifftrax, MUTANT is my current favorite.

mummifiedstalin: When is Rifftrax going to hook up with Cinematic Titanic for a geek explosion?

KM: It would be fun to share the stage with Cinematic Titanic. It'd also be crowded.

PackinSteelCould you elaborate on that banner you received in the mail when you took over to be Tom Servo? You know, the one that said "I HATE TOM SERVO'S NEW VOICE". Any favorite moments working with MST3K?

KM: I still have that banner! Pulled it out at Dragon Con a couple of years back when I did a panel with Josh Weinstein, the Original Tom Servo. Yeah, it was just some person who really hated my voice and best thought it expressed with an eleven foot banner, on perf paper, printed dot-matrix. it's actually one of the few bits of memorabilia I have. And I know, that sounds kinda sick in a Cormac McCarthy way.

haircut_100: In Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders, you laugh a great deal at the jerk newspaper writer spewing flames out of his "mouth" after he cast a spell. Would you say that is the funniest scene you ever saw in a movie doing MST3K?

KM: That movie and its mashed up hash of a plotline was so absurd, everything they thought was scary was instead hilarious.

bunnymud: Do you plan on doing the epic "5 year plan" dialogue in the "Manos" live show. That would put me on the floor.

KM: It wouldn't be nice to reveal what we will or will not include in the show. But this much I can happily say - this riff is a top-to-bottom rewrite, all fresh stuff.

zadocvamp: Will you and Bill and Mike ever come to the East coast anytime soon?

KM: Trying to get there. I'd love us to do a week at a club in NYC, for instance.

Issitheus: I'm curious, which did/do you prefer doing, Rifftrax or MST3K?

KM: At its best, MST was such a family thing, like a group of goofy friends with a stage and cameras and we could do whatever we want. Rifftrax is great in a different way, we can relax into ourselves and pl;ay off each other like a jazz trio.

zombiepete: Do you get along with Mike and Bill as well as you seem to, and how much have you enjoyed Rifftrax as an endeavor?

KM: I don't know if I'm closer to any two adult men as I am to Mike and Bill, and yet we don't do a lot of socializing. the time we spend together is great fun and intense energy and there's this astonishing level of trust and support I feel from them that makes me want to constantly up my game in order to simply keep up. I love those clowns.

yukinonymous: Since you sing so much do you enjoy karaoke?

KM: Only the right karaoke will do. My favorites are "I started a Joke" by the Bee Gees, and Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman."

thestsp: Huge fan! But I've always wondered, is it instinct to start riffing on movies when you go out to see them in a real theater? Also do you shush other people when you hear them talk in a theater?

KM: If someone talks during a movie, I politely ask them to shut up. And no, I don't riff on movies in a theater, but I often to at home.

CranialMass: Did you come up with most of the jokes in a single viewing of these movies, or if not, how many times did you watch them?

KM: We sort of watch them in chunks, repeatedly reviewing scenes, over several days. it's an odd sort of close reading of a text. And quite often the first thing in your head is the funniest, but not often enough, which is why we engage a film for days at a time.

watership: Are there any movies that one of the Rifftrax crew just HATED, but the rest of you loved doing? I just want to know about the pain.

KM: I think that happens quite a bit. Laser Mission simply sat on my head, and the little comic relief bastard in Prisoners of the Lost Universe genuinely did piss me off.

lexyloowho: I used to read the Rifftrax blog compulsively when it was updated, and I have a very odd but vivid memory of you being mentioned as some sort of an "icon" in the bear community. Now I can't seem to find the reference or anything other than bear conservancy websites. Was it all a dream? Are you a grizzly?

KM: Heh heh heh, and grrr. It was a reporter from a gay weekly who informed me that i am "somewhat of an icon in the Bear community." I was flattered.

Hobbitopoly: Love the Rifftrax stuff! What was the worst movie you ever had to sit through when you did MST3K? (My bet is Invasion of the Neptune Men...)

KM: I still think that RED ZONE CUBA tops my MST hate list...

mgroves: Based on some interviews and Wikipedia, it seems like Mike sits on the relatively conservative side of the political spectrum while you and Bill site on the relatively liberal side. Obviously this is a gross generalization, but is it close to the truth?

If so, does it affect your relationships and writing when you know you're writing and delivering jokes that poke fun of each other's own "sides"? Is this even an issue that you've ever discussed? What is/was the MST3K/RiffTrax policy on political jokes?

KM: If anything, I'd call us all engaged thinkers, and I've never based a friendship on someone's politics. You miss out on a lot of good friendships that way. I think of myself as an Angry Centrist. And good humor transcends partisanship.

Tyanazai: Is there a movie that you tried to riff but just were not able to and or will not riff?KM: We've never given up on a movie. There are plenty we screened and then changed our minds, but we've not ever started a move and bailed.

tigerears: Has your work on MST3K or Rifftrax ever got you in to trouble with filmmakers who didn't enjoy the treatment?

KM: Oh, I heard that Joe Dante hated us for riffing on MAROONED, and I think Tommy Wiseau is confused about just what we did with his movie. We didn't steal it, Tommy.

Sasquatch2101: What is the writing process like for a typical track?

KM: These days we divide the film between the five of us writers - Me, Bill, Mike, Sean Thomason and Conor Lastowka - and we just have at it. Then we compile the script and go through it as a group, refining and rewriting, and again when we rehearse for performance.

saucyimp: What made you decide to do Manos again?

KM: Manos was far and away the most requested films when we'd ask people what we should do for a live show. And it seemed like enough time had passed to take a fresh run at it.

jamie79512: Do you guys enjoy doing Rifftrax as much as the original show? It seems like it would require a lot less responsibility, which could lead to more time for the things you guys love doing. And has it given you more freedom for hobby's outside of bashing movies?

KM: It's a different thing, but I do love it. Hell, I still get to riff movies for a living! Rifftrax is a more relaxed thing, not having to shoot and edit and deal with Networks. But Damn, MST was fun.

BillytheTeen: I realize that you guys are straying away from older movies and going to newer, popular movies. Is there any older films that you would still like to riff?

KM: Oh there are lots, and we're starting to do a lot more Video on Demand titles, so expect more. I'd love us to do some more Eighties chestnuts, but those titles are tough to clear.

dkitchIs there any movie you've wanted to do, but been unable to, due to either not being able to find a way to make it funny, or the only way to make it funny being too tasteless?

Difficulty: not "Birth of a Nation" or "Triumph of the Will"

KM: I think of "Amistad" and "Schindlers List" as examples of movies that wouldn't benefit from riffing.

LLBee: What is your absolute favorite movie?

KM: Changes all the time. Though I still love the SHORT version of Cinema Paradiso, and Local Hero, and Young Frankenstein and Dr. Strangelove and Lawrence of Arabia.

Ouisch: Was that a true story about your brother smacking you in the nose with a ski? I think you're an amazing vocalist; did you sing in the school choir as a kid?

KM: Yes, my brother Buzz water-skied right into my face and crushed my right nostril. I had it fixed in 1996. Helped my voice immensely. And yes, I did sing in choir as a kid - it's where I learned my Latin.

jryan103 things...

  1. What's the best performance you've seen in any of the MST3K or Rifftrax film?
  2. I do get a kick out of you being friends with Neil Gaiman. Makes Peter David's old Sandman Mystery Science Theater joke come closer to reality.
  3. Have you ever eaten at McCoy's Public House in Minneapolis? My brother is the manager and I wanted to give him a plug.
KM: I think that Trace, on any given day as Dr. Forrester, could slay me with a look. He was wonderful. And Mike as Michael Feinstein or as Morrisey or Jack Perkins, brilliant.

Neil is a sweet, affable, brilliant fellow, with a sly and goofily English sense of humor.I have had drinks at McCoys! Great bar there. Great place to meet up with friends.

lizardinmycoffee: In MST3K, when you would perform choral pieces as Tom Servo, like Starfighters and Quest of the Delta Knights, who composed the songs and how long did it take you to record all of the parts?

KM: Thanks! Mike and I generally composed all the chorale stuff that Tom did, and then it was just an exercise in overdubbing. I have a lot of harmony singing in my past, so the parts would come together pretty fast. Sometimes we'd use a keyboard as a reference, but we could often knock out a song in a day from idea fo finished concept. We had to, we had a deadline.

tstads20: Will Mike be re-donning his Torgo costume for this upcoming show? If not, can we start a petition for this?

KM: You'll just have to come and see what happens, won't you?

Rowsdower_Rowsdower: IS CORN GRASS???!!!

Seeing Manos on Thursday while vacationing in San Francisco with my wife. We can't wait!

KM: I now think that Corn is a mythical beast from Norse Mythology. Enjoy the show.

spectre377: What's your favorite bad movie? Mine is probably Birdemic, the special effects kill me every time.

KM: Birdemic may be my current favorite, it's so oddly sweet and earnest.

MMX2: I'm a film major. What's the best piece of advice you can give in order to make a good movie (or avoid making bad ones)?

KM: Be honest in writing, efficient in shooting, ruthless in editing. Pay your writers, crew and cast, and be good to them. Stay humble. Think of your audience. Avoid Hollywood.

BaldBombshell: Did you have any puppeterring experience pre-Servo? And how long did it take you to acclimate to being in that sort of position for segments?

KM: I had a Danny O'Day Ventriloquist dummy as a kid, but that's about it. Servo was pretty easy, since I could rest him on the desk and it was essentially head and beak movement. So it didn't take me too long. Trace was very helpful.

PopFreshenmeyer: Is there any television show after MST3k that you have wanted to work on or thought about contributing to, either as an actor or writer?

KM: Oh man, right away I think Arrested Development, anything Ricky Gervais has done, 30 Rock, QI - any of those would be so much fun to work on.

BobaFeta: I have never laughed so hard in my life (tears rolling down my face) as i did during the break scene during "santa claus" when everyone was caroling and the hot chocolate spills onto crow and his eyes fall out and everyone starts screaming hysterically.. was that planned or was that an accident? also, i would like to say i have a mini tom servo doll in my living room that i proudly display on a shelf of fancies.

KM: Crow's eyes falling out was damn near impossible to plan, and when it happened we always tried to roll with it. This is one example when it worked - didn't plan the eyes popping out, but went with it. One time the eyes caught fire, and believe me those ping-pong balls go up fast and bright - I still laugh myself silly today when I see it.

bababastard: I love the riffs of blockbuster movies, but I really, really love the stuff like Birdemic and The Room. I know The Room had a cult following, but where do you find stuff like Birdemic? It's almost as if that movie was made for you guys.

KM: We continue to comb the internets and check in with friends to learn about the latest cultural flotsam, and Birdemic was sort of traveling around the internet trying to find an audience.

casualmat: Do you have a favorite recent riff that makes you laugh out loud every time you hear it?

KM: We recently did a Mexican Luchador film called Neutron Vs the Death Robots, and Mike's utterly senseless translatiosn of "Mexican" to English just slay me.

BromanJenkins: How many Servos do you have at your house?

KM: I have no Servos in my house except for a tiny cellector statuette. It would just be too weird, and he'd start telling me to kill people....