Lisa Condit spoke with Nate Begle about Mystery Science Theater 3000, his career, the cast of the show and more. Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Then tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.
Lisa: Thank you all for listening to Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre. This is Lisa Condit and I’m here with Nate Begle, who is one of the stars of the exciting Mystery Science Theater 3000 LIVE: The Time Bubble Tour. Welcome, Nate!
Nate: Lisa, thank you so much for having me! I’m super excited to talk with you.
Lisa: Well, I’m super excited to talk to you, too! I truthfully didn’t know much about Mystery Science Theater 3000 until I started doing my research. Then, I realized that everything about this is intriguing, smart, funny and entertaining. I would love it if you could give people who are also not familiar with MST3K a quick overview of what the show is all about and how you ended up going on tour.
Nate: Amazing! There’s quite a long history, the show has been around for a while. As a fan of the show since it’s been around, it’s always so great to hear people say, “I was not really familiar with this show.” We have three types of people that we’ve noticed on the road – people who are hardcore, die-hard fans of the show since the beginning like myself; the casual fans, the people who are like, “Oh yeah, I remember seeing or hearing about that back in the 90’s. I always thought it was funny!”; and the people that completely missed it on their radar. Across the board, people who have come seen our show live all love it, regardless of if they’re hardcore fans or they’ve never seen it in their lives before now. It’s been a pretty amazing experience. Mystery Science Theater 3000, or as it’s colloquially known to the fandom, MST3K, was a show that came on the airwaves back in 1988 from a local KTMA station in Minneapolis and created by the great Joel Hodgson. The story is, a guy was captured by evil scientists and shot into space and forced to watch bad movies to break his brain in hopes that they can control him. It’s their way of world domination.
Unbeknownst to said scientists, this guy that they shot up into space is quite a crafty little inventor. While he was alone marooned in space, he took a bunch of parts from the spaceship and created robot pals to keep him company, thus basically saving his sanity. The robots sit in the theater and watch these really bad movies with him and they crack jokes throughout the movies to keep him sane.Nate Begle
Nate: I think that’s a universal thing where everybody can say, “Yeah, I do that!” When we watch something bad, we have to crack wise about it to keep ourselves from going down the drain mentally. It was on the air from 1988 in a local station and it became super, super popular. This little new channel that was starting called the Comedy Channel, which would eventually become Comedy Central, was looking for programming. This show was running about 2 hours long so they were watching a whole feature-length movie. It’s one of the first shows in history, and maybe the only, to get picked up because it was too long; they needed to fill programming space on the channel! Once it hit the Comedy Channel, it became one of the first shows on that and it became popular nationwide and more people fell in love with it. It ran from 1989 to 1999 when it went to the Sci-Fi channel and went off the air. The fans have stayed true to the show, even though it has been off the airwaves, [the fans’] love never evaded for it. Cut to 2017 when they start a Kickstarter to bring the show back, and the fans came out in the masses and quickly became one of the quickly funded Kickstarters at the time. Then, boom! The show went to Netflix for two seasons until Netflix decided not to renew it. Season 13 is in the works and it’s going to live on its own platform.
Lisa: That is incredible! Such a story of the shifts in entertainment. This was originally cool and funny before cool and funny was even a thing.
Nate: Absolutely, for sure. It was very cleverly written; a lot of the jokes are super clever – the references they would make. Still till this day, I think that’s why audiences really were drawn to it. I am included in this group, but I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with a lot of people where the show means a tremendous amount to them. For the most part, the average answer is that when they first came across the show they go “Wow, this is speaking to me! Like they made that joke for me! I’m the only one of my friend groups that gets this joke!” There was a lot of that, and I think that gave it the extra push of this show that’s gaining so much importance to a lot of people.
Lisa: Well, as I’ve been digging into what this show is all about, I’m struck by how constantly clever everything that I discover is. You play the role of Crow T. Robot, so I’m reading about Crow and by the way I also love the fact that there on the Satellite of Love, that’s the location where they’re forced to watch these horrible movies which I just think is fantastic.
Nate: Yep, they named the satellite the “Satellite of Love” which is a nice little sly reference to, do you know who?
Lisa: Tell us!
Nate: To Lou Reed! A nice little Lou Reed nod.
Lisa: Oh my gosh, how did I miss that? See, my mind was in a totally different place and that’s the wonderful thing, you’re getting us to stretch and think creatively about what all these references are. I’m sorry I wasn’t quite quick enough to pick up the Lou Reed reference.
Nate: No apologies necessary! Again, that’s just another instance of how there’s random references, really niche references sometimes. People are like, “Wow I get that joke! I got that reference.” We’re all like Captain America in the Avengers saying, “I understood that reference.”
Lisa: Well, I also love the story behind Crow’s name and how in one of the episodes, Joel stated that Crow was an acronym for something pretty funny: Cybernetic Remotely-Operated Woman! Crow’s middle initial stands for The. In episode #K19 “Hangar Eighteen,” Joel stated that Crow was an acronym for Cybernetic Remotely-Operated Woman, giving Crow a brief identity crisis until Joel revealed that he built Crow specifically for this joke on him. Wow!
Nate: That’s a deep cut from the KTMA days that even I was not aware of. You just gave me a nice little schooling of lore. I was totally not aware of that, that’s so funny! I’ve had so many conversations with Joel about that and he’s never brought that up to me. I will say, that’s kind of a full-circle moment. You just blew my mind with that joke. The performers of Crow T. Robot, historically up to this point, have all been male performers – Trace Beaulieu, Bill Corbett, Grant Baciocco, Hampton Yount and myself – and for this tour, we’re doing the show as you would see it on TV but live on stage. The robots – spoilers! – are puppets, and they really brought them to life on stage, Joel really wanted Crow to walk around. The last tour we did, The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour, [Joel] wanted Crow to ride a unicycle or a pogo stick. Tom Servo can fly around in the show, but you never really see him flying around until the Netflix series. They wanted to fly around on stage, so we achieved that through some stage illusions and some puppetry elements. On the road, we’re touring multiple, almost 50 or 60, cities and it’s always a good rule of thumb when a show goes on the road, that performers have a swing or understudy. Our swing and understudy for this show is named Kelsey Brady, a phenomenally talented actor, puppeteer and vocalist. She is the swing/understudy for both the Emily Connor character and the Mega-Synthia GPC character, and also Crow T. Robot. She is officially the first female performer of Crow T. Robot, a nice little full-circle moment!
Lisa: That was a full-circle moment, I love it! Tell us a little bit more about the robots that are helping Joel maintain his sanity because you mentioned a couple, but there are some people, like myself, who weren’t familiar with Mystery Science Theatre before digging in.
Nate: Joel created these robot pals and they all have their own unique individual personalities. My character, Crow T. Robot, is a golden robot that has a bird-like look to him. His beak is made out of a bowling pin and he’s got a lacrosse net for hair. He’s a lovable, wise-cracking robot and he does a lot of impressions. He’s snarky and he’s got a little attitude, he thinks very highly of himself. There’s also Tom Servo, and if you just looked at him, you’d say “Oh, he’s a gumball machine. He’s a flying gumball machine with arms!” He is described as a 12-year-old trapped in a pompous operatic character’s body. He’s a giant 12-year-old so he’s very sensitive, and he’s the singer of the group and he has a lovely baritone singing voice. The other robot that was originally in the show was named Gypsy, and she was the one that ran higher functions of the ship and kept the ship flying around while they watched movies. Her name has now been changed to GPC and she is a little bit more compact now. She used to be huge, people used to mistake her for a vacuum cleaner because she has a giant tube that comes out of her and winds all the way around the ship. She’s travel-sized now, for the series and the live show. She has been increasingly getting a bigger role in the show, which is great. She would only really pop up in between the movie segments.
For those who haven’t seen the TV show, the episodes are kind of broken up into 20-minute segments. It would be 20 minutes of the movie, the host and the robots watching the movie, then there would be little breaks with host segments which were little comedy sketches in between movie segments.Nate Begle
Nate: Most often in the original series, you only saw GPC in those segments. Now she’s a lot more heavily involved and we’ve got her riffing, which is the term that we use for the jokes during the movie, they’re called “riffs.” When we say “We’re riffing on the movie,” that’s what we mean. For people who may not be familiar with the name of the show, we describe the show like, “Have you ever turned on the TV at 2 A.M. and seen an old movie playing with a silhouette of theater seats and a body with two little weird characters next to him? That’s it!” They’re like, “Oh yeah!”
Lisa: If you’re ready to laugh the night away with us, come on down on February 3 at 7:30 PM to see Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Time Bubble Tour. We’ve been talking with Nate Begle, one of the stars of the show. Please visit TheHanoverTheatre.org or contact the Box Office at 877.571.SHOW (7469) to get your tickets today. Thank you, Nate!