Celebrating 30 Years of Mystery Science Theater 3000

By an interesting coincidence, I am exactly as old as one my favorite shows: Mystery Science Theater 3000. This show has had a huge influence on me, particularly when it comes to developing my sense of humor and appreciation for the obscurer side of the entertainment world. Now, as the show turns thirty years old, I explore a little bit of why it was so important at The Federalist:

Part of it is, of course, simply the humor; a group of very talented, very funny people reacting to some of the strangest and poorest films ever made. The Best Brains developed a distinct style of comedy, blending encyclopedic knowledge of cultural and entertainment subjects with clever wordplay and precision timing. They generally didn’t simply override the film, but carefully matched the gags to the events on screen, so what was said and what was happening came together to form the complete joke.

As the letters the cast used to read at the end of each episode demonstrated, the show made many, many people happy, and gave countless viewers a smile when they needed it most. That alone is worthy of commendation. But the show probably wouldn’t have found the audience it has if it weren’t for another factor: the jokes are not just funny, they’re often extremely smart, playing on cultural reference points that most of the audience won’t even get, but those who do will laugh twice as hard.

This doesn’t just appeal to the viewers. It also serves as a kind of cultural time capsule. Part of the MST3k “formula” was the writers’ vast knowledge of cultural and entertainment subjects. Since each episode was so long—about 90 minutes—each probably averaged well more than 100 individual jokes. These ranged over nearly every subject imaginable, from history and religion to politics and pop culture.

Thus, in a single episode, we could have references to “Gilligan’s Island,” Oktoberfest, the Clarence Thomas hearings, Batman, the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, the Vietnam War, “The Great Race,” the Nuremberg Trials, the Nativity, “Twin Peaks,” and Jimmy Durante. Very few viewers would get all the esoteric references on a first viewing, and many would be inspired to seek out the reference. So the attentive MST3k viewer would find himself exposed to a whole host of cultural, entertainment, and historical touchstones that he might never have known of otherwise. To watch a single MST3k episode is to receive a crash course in American culture of the 1990s.

Read the rest here.

A Christmas Concert

Merry Christmas to you all!

I beg leave to present for your enjoyment a brief Christmas concert made up of some of my favorite Christmas songs. Most of these are classics, but a few are more on the quirky side.

With that said, let us open with one of those classics: the great Bing Crosby sings Good King Wenceslas. What more needs to be said?

For our second number, we have a light-hearted romantic classic going out to all of you who are either spending Christmas with your loved ones or who may be secretly pining for someone who warms your heart. I present Let it Snow, delightfully performed by the super cute Isabella Garcia-Shapiro:

I think we need a bit of comedy to brush off all the warm-fuzzies that we got from that number. With that in mind, I offer a nice little song for all those who are spending tonight in public houses and other liquor-serving establishments: A Patrick Swayze Christmas, performed by Crow T. Robot, Joel Robinson, and Tom Servo.

That seems like a good segway into the darker side of Christmas: the people who simply can’t get into the mood. With that in mind, here is You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch, performed by Thurl Ravenscroft:

Building on that jolly number is a chilling little song offering warning and opportunity for the Grinch-like sinner. I present Marley and Marley, performed by Statler and Waldorf:

Returning a bit more to the serious side of things, here’s a melancholy number by a man who needs no introduction. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you A Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley!

Staying on the melancholy note, but striking a more hopeful strain is Burl Ives singing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s defiant song of hope in the midst of tragedy, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, reminding all of us who are suffering, lonely, and without hope that “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.”

I think that’s enough doom and gloom: let’s move into the glory of Christmas with a memorable rendition of Silent Night from the 1999 version of A Christmas Carol. The visuals are a little distracting, but the point they convey remains powerful, as we see poor men all across Christendom lift their voices in joy on this night of nights:

Our penultimate number is a gorgeous rendition of the triumphant Hark the Herald Angels Sing, performed by a flash mob (I couldn’t find out where or when, but it hardly matters).

Finally, let’s close out with my personal favorite: O Come All Ye Faithful, performed during Christmas Eve services at Westminster Abbey in 2013. Let the sounds of hundreds of faithful voices singing in one of the most beautiful churches in Christendom and the wellspring of the British Crown fill your hearts with the joy and love that comes from God as we welcome Him this Christmas night:

A Merry Christmas everyone!