It’s a good time to be a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan. This year has seen a reboot of MST3K on Netflix, a visit from Joel Hodgson and that whole gang at Phoenix's Orpheum Theatre in July, and now, Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff – a.k.a. Dr. Clayton Forrester and TV’s Frank, a.k.a. “The Mads” – are on a movie-riffing tour of their own.
Alamo Drafthouse will host The Mads Are Back! on Friday and Saturday, October 20 and 21.
In case you never watched the sketches, the Mads consist of MST3K's Deep 13 villains Forrester (also the orig Crow T. Robot) and TV’s Frank. They're the two mad scientists forcing Joel or Mike and the bots Tom Servo and Crow to watch terrible, B-if-not-lower movies under the guise of experimentation from seasons two through six (and season seven for Beaulieu). Making fun of these extremely bad movies was the only way the subjects could survive, and the results were hilarious.
During The Mads Are Back! events, Beaulieu and Conniff will riff on a different movie each night (Walk the Dark Street on Friday, and The Tingler on Saturday). A question-and-answer session will follow, as well as meet-and-greet opportunities. Tickets are $26.95 per show.
Phoenix New Times recently got a chance to speak by phone with Beaulieu and Conniff about the live tour, the devotions of fans, and dicking around.
New Times: What’s the creation story behind this tour?
Trace Beaulieu: We used to do a live tour with Cinematic Titanic, which was Frank and myself and J. Elvis Weinstein, Mary Jo Pehl, and Joel Hodgson. The live performance of movie-riffing just really appealed to us, and when Cinematic Titanic was no more, we really wanted to keep performing.
Frank Conniff: Yeah, so we got some opportunities to perform as a duo and we grabbed it, and now we just can’t stop doing it. We’re going out touring almost every weekend now.
During the movies, will you be riffing as Dr. Clayton Forrester and TV’s Frank or as Trace and Frank?
Beaulieu: You’ll have to take us in our raw form as Frank and Trace.
Conniff: We don’t have the rights to the characters, so it’s just us, but there’s a lot of us in Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank. So you’re kind of getting the best, or should I say, the worst of both worlds.
Beaulieu: We’re not as evil as the mad scientists are, and I’ve never killed Frank in real life. Not yet.
Are you doing the same two movies per two-night tour stop, or working through a lengthier list?
Beaulieu: We’ve got about six films in rotation, and depending on which town we’re in, we will never repeat a film – like when we come back to Phoenix, we’ll have two new films for you.
Conniff: We’re doing Tucson the night before Phoenix, so there’s a possibility we might be doing three movies in Arizona.
You’ve chosen the venues based on fans’ suggestions, correct?
Conniff: A lot of them, yeah …This whole endeavor that we’ve been doing – The Mads and performing live – it’s been very grassroots. There’s no big Hollywood booking agency involved with it. Its all based on what fans want and what we make happen ourselves.
Beaulieu: We will go anywhere that our fans demand it. We’ll even stay home if they demand.
You’ve both have had busy careers aside from Mystery Science Theater; why do you feel like you’ve returned to The Mads?
Conniff: We’ve done a lot of other things and continue to do other things, but the appeal of Mystery Science Theater has just been so enduring. We never thought when we were doing it back in the ‘90s that it would have such long-lasting appeal. And if anything, since the show ended in like 1998 or 1999, its popularity has only gone up. And the demand for us to do this kind of thing has only gone up. And just speaking for myself, I was part of the show like 25 years ago, but I just love that people are still into it and I love how much people love the show and I love being associated with it and getting the laughter and the kind of warm acceptance from the fans is just irresistible to me.
Do you feel like devotion from fans now than when the show was actually airing?
Beaulieu: I think there’s a finite group of people who have always liked the show, it’s cultish to use a word. It’s a special group of people who are attracted to this type of comedy, and I don’t know if it’s grown since the early days but we’re certainly more aware of it because we get to meet people now.
Conniff: And the internet has been a big part of it for sure. Once the show was over with, people on the internet were still devoted to us, still talked about it all the time, still put out posts, and also the show became very available to see on the internet. Like I said before, the popularity of it, I think partly because of the internet, has just increased over the year, and we’re the beneficiaries of that. Very happy beneficiaries of that.
Beaulieu: Our fans are the best. They keep us going. The only reason we’re doing this is because of the fan support.
What are your feelings toward your character renditions on the reboot?
Conniff: I went to see the live show in New York, and it was a lot of fun, and Patton Oswalt has been a friend of mine for over 20 years and I think he’s great, so as my character I think he’s doing a really good job.
Beaulieu: I haven’t seen the show, but I just know that since my character’s name was Dr. Clayton Debra Forrester that there was an element of feminism that probably Felicia Day can capture better than I can.
I always loved how Trace would call everyone “bubbe” during the MST3K sketches. Where does that come from?
Beaulieu: That was just one of the weird and cute catchphrases that we kept assembling for those characters.
Conniff: We liked any time we could use a phrase like that. We just went with it. We never gave stuff a lot of thought. If it amused us, we did it. That was all there was to it …I would call Forrester “Steve” every now and then, and people always ask me, “What's the reason for that?” And the truth, the God-honest truth is, there is no reason for it.
I remember this vividly: Mike Nelson wrote a sketch and he just had me call Dr. Forrester Steve and everybody laughed and we don’t know why we laughed, we don’t know why it was funny, but it went into the show. And that was kind of the spirit of how we did things.
Just dicking around I guess?
Conniff: Yeah. It was 10 years of just dicking around.
Trace, will there be Dean Martin/Gregory Peck/Ronald Reagan impressions?
Beaulieu: Well, you never know where those pop up …We’re doing a Bela Lugosi epic in our current tour and so I to do a little bit of his voice. Um, I’ve never really considered myself an impressionist. I think what I do is approximations.
Conniff: But I have to say, Trace, he is a talented impressionist. It’s a talent I wish I had. I have absolutely no talent for it whatsoever. But I really enjoy when Trace does impressions.
Do you feel like you could sit down and watch a movie on your own time and not go to town on it?
Beaulieu: Oh, absolutely. We do that all the time. We would prefer not to have to participate with the film. We’re constantly looking for great movies, that why we do this [Movie Sign with the Mads] podcast …We love movies. We don’t hate movies.
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Conniff: And working on Mystery Science Theater only made me appreciate movies even more. When I’m watching them, I don’t want anyone to start talking. And also, riffing is really practiced, and it’s only fun when there’s more that one person there. In a group of people it’s really fun, and I’m frequently just alone by myself.
Beaulieu: When you’re alone it’s not riffing, it’s complaining.
The Mads Are Back! tour hits Alamo Drafthouse on Friday, October 20, and Saturday, October 21. Movie starts at 8 p.m. See the Alamo Drafthouse website for tickets and more information.
Push the button, Frank.