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Mike, Kevin, and Bill from RiffTrax Chat About Live-Riffing Plan 9

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On August 20, 2009 (just three short years before everything smolders to ash in 2012, mind you… so smoke 'em if you got 'em), the charming lads from RiffTrax will be bringing their wisecracking movie commentary skills to the big screen. In fact, a lot of big screens. And they'll be doing it live. In association with Fathom Events, the trio will be live-riffing the classic science fiction gem of a curiosity, Plan 9 From Outer Space, from Nashville's historic Belcourt Theater. The event will be broadcast to theaters all over the country, and tickets can be purchased online.

Blogcritics sat down with Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett – separated by hundreds and hundreds of miles, as well as a flaky Internet connection – for a quaint chat about the event, life in general, and the greatness of The Room.


First off, I was curious as to how you picked Nashville for the location of your first live theater event.

Mike: We are so country, man…

Bill: Kevin is the natural heir to Minnie Pearl's legacy.

Kevin: They call me Garth Murphy, actually… okay, now we'll give you the real answer. Mike?

Mike: The venue and the production company that can do these satellite shows sort of made the choices limited to a few locations. And we just liked Nashville. Especially over L.A. L.A. can go to hell.

You've done a couple of live events on the RiffTrax website, so the transition over to doing the national theater thing, was that something that you initiated? Or did they come to you and ask if you would be interested? How did that come about?

Mike: We went to them actually. We knew of their existence and thought it would be a good way to bring our show to a lot more people.

Kevin: We've gone to theaters, we've done the show live on stage before and it's so much fun. But considering that we spend so much time writing and producing RiffTrax for release, it's nearly impossible for us to go on the road to do a show. So it seemed like being able to do this national streaming event to all these 434 movie theaters was a great way to do a stage show in front of a huge audience, so we're really looking forward to it.

Barring any problems, is this something that you're looking at doing more? Is this where you see RiffTrax going, to more event-driven things?

Mike: Really we'd love to do more of them, but it's just one aspect of it. We like our little place in the online world, so we're not abandoning that, that's for sure.

Kevin: We're building an empire, David.

We're on board.

Bill: Yes, and decide about your loyalties ASAP.

Well, I'm a little bit of a Luddite, and my next question is, is Twitter evil?

Mike: It's too small to be evil.

Or is it just the mark of evil men?

Kevin: Ooh, wow.

Mike: UPC codes are evil, let's keep our focus here. Those are the mark of the beast.

Bill: That's right, those lead directly to the black helicopters.

Kevin: I don't know what to do with this one I have tattooed on the back of my neck though.

That will get you a free coffee.

Kevin: Oh good!

Speaking of evil, Plan 9 From Outer Space… sell us real quick on why we would want to watch that with you.

Mike: Tor Johnson's neck folds; that alone. The splendor of those in HD. You can see micro neck folds

Shouldn't that have been on the movie poster?

Bill: We only have so much room, my friend.

Kevin: And we have two, perhaps three, Bela Lugosis in the movie. So that's very exciting.

Bill: I've counted four at one point.

Now is this going to be different content from the releases you've done in the past, the RiffTrax DVD version and Mike's solo outing on Legend Films?

Bill: Well, every time we go through it, we give it another run through, and it's based on jokes we think worked or didn't work. Especially in a live setting. Sometimes you have a little less room for laughs. Sometimes if you try to get too subtle with an allusion in a live setting, it falls a bit flat. But yeah, the original three-riffer script is the basis for the performance, but it always changes somewhat.

Kevin: Think of when Dizzy Gillespie would do "A Night In Tunisia." It's different every time he did it, but yet it's the same tune.

Bill: Exactly.

I think about that a lot, actually.

Kevin: You should.

Bill: Put it on your Dizzy Gillespie blog.

Plan 9, with it's reputation as a bad movie… obviously you guys have watched much worse, I mean let's be fair.

Mike: Yes.

Bill: Nah, let's not.

Well, Coleman Francis films on their own, that's taking bad to another level.

Kevin: Well, now we're getting back to evil again, I think.

Bill: I actually think Plan 9 is charming in its own way. It has a reputation, and I know it's been called the worst movie of all time, but as an experience it's incredibly enjoyable. I think we make it more enjoyable. But to me the really bad, the really painful movies are the ones where your eyes just bleed, and you want to run away. I've never felt that way with Plan 9. It's a lot of fun.

Kevin: There's an earnestness about it that's really endearing, and I think that helps it out quite a bit.

It seems that over the past year, there's been an accelerated pace of releases for the Mystery Science Theater universe, both with the live events, RiffTrax, and DVD releases from you guys, as well as the Cinematic Titanic releases from most of the other alumni. Do you think this keeps that legacy alive and going in the public consciousness?

Kevin: Well, speaking for myself and working with Bill and Mike, it's a hell of a lot of fun, it's something we're really good at and enjoy doing, and we have an audience for it, so I'm delighted to continue to do this. And because we've gone online, I think we've gotten ourselves a whole new audience of people who didn't even start with Mystery Science Theater, and for me that's very gratifying.

Bill: Yeah, I love and miss Mystery Science Theater. I have nothing but fond memories. But I have to say it was kind of nice at Comic-Con this year when we were doing our signings – and we did a live event there too – but unlike two years ago, people were coming up to us with less Mystery Science Theater stuff and more RiffTrax stuff. And it's become an off-shoot and a brand of its own, and we're pretty pleased with that.

With the content that you put out, because you split between new release films that you make RiffTrax commentaries for, and these older, classic films, do you find yourselves enjoying or gravitating towards one more than the other, or is it nice just to do both?

Kevin: I think it depends on the movie.

Mike: Yeah, each has its strengths, obviously. I think the new movies are a case-by-case. One of the problems with new movies is how damn long they are. I don't know when the editors got kicked out of the scene, but they used to be able to make a crisp 85-minute movie. It was delightful. Now they just go on and on.

Kevin: Given that, Twilight was sweet candy for us.

I did watch that recently with a friend and it… it had it coming. It was therapeutic.

Kevin: Definitely, it was fun.

Bill: I think to answer your question, I like doing both. I think one without the other, at this point for me, would feel like something is missing. I would add that we also do these shorts, like we did on Mystery Science Theater, and that really peppers it nicely for me. I love doing those; they fit my attention span a little better. And they're often a nice little window on the America of a few decades ago.

Kevin: They're like our jalapeno poppers.

That actually segues nicely, and I apologize in advance but I do have one serious question here…

Kevin: Oh God, hunker down, hunker down…

Because a lot of the content that you mine – you mentioned the shorts, and Plan 9, and some of these other titles that you release on disc – you deal with a lot of works in the public domain. I was curious what your take is on the remix culture at large, and also copyright reform and orphaned works. Or if you even think about it that much.

Bill: Probably less than you…

Mike: Yeah, probably a little less. Although, I'm slightly distressed by how copyright just keeps getting extended into eternity, when clearly it was never intended to. And yet as someone who writes on my own, I'm torn between both. I don't want my stuff freely available, I don't want my RiffTrax stolen, so… it's a complex issue.

Kevin: Generally, we don't alter the original film, or the original content at all. We're simply adding a commentary to it, and I don't think it necessarily damages anything. If at all, it enhances the desirability to own the thing. Take for example, The Room. I don't know if you could say that sales spiked because of the RiffTrax, but I imagine it didn't hurt things.

I would agree with that. We were enjoying The Room just the other night. It's, uh… it's difficult not to.

Bill: I just have to say in response to that, "Oh, hi, David…"

"Oh, hi, RiffTrax… Mark is my best friend."

Kevin: "Don't worry about it…"

Mike: "You're doing a good interview with us… What a great idea!"

This would be an appropriate time for the Wiseau swirling logo to come up. Again.

Bill: "In a few minutes, bitch!"

Well, is there anything else you'd like to add or let people know about?

Mike: "Oh David, don't plan too much, it may not come out right…"

Bill: "You look sexy in a red dress, David…"

Mike: Sorry, you've injected Wiseau into the conversation.

Kevin: Don't get us going with Wiseau.

Mike: With the live show, I would be remiss not to mention [our co-hosts] Veronica Belmont, Jonathan Coulton, and the lovely and talented "Lowtax" as well.

Kevin: I hope people come out because it's gonna be a lot of fun. And as much fun as it is to watch a RiffTrax at home, it's ten times more fun to see it in a crowd.

Thanks so much for your time, guys.

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