The GENRE ONLINE.NET Interview – MST3K’s Mike Nelson
By Mark A. Rivera
Mike Nelson is best known for his role on the Peabody Award winning series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” where he also served as Head Writer. Mr. Nelson is also a published Author and Standup Comedian. Mr. Nelson has a very relaxed, but professional attitude and he was blessed with a face that makes one want to laugh at his witty and at times sarcastic sense of humor. While “Mystery Science Theater 3000” is more or less history with the exception of Rhino Home Video’s DVD releases of select episodes, Mike Nelson continues to work and comment on movies in both books and on select DVD titles released by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment that include “Reefer Madness” and “Night Of The Living Dead” as well as other projects. Rhino Home Video’s seventh “Mystery Science Theater 3000” DVD box set will debut at retailers on and offline on Tuesday, April 19, 2005 and Mr. Nelson granted me the opportunity to speak with him about the show and more this past week.
GENRE ONLINE) Before your role as one of the creative staff at Best Brains, what did you do? Were you a standup comedian or comedy writer? How did you get involved?
Mike Nelson) I was a stand-up comedian and I had worked with all of the guys at MST in one-way or another. Josh Weinstein was a friend with whom I worked quite a bit and he recommended me for a job helping them type up their scripts. I should add that I “supplemented” my lavish stand-up income with a job at a TGI Fridays restaurant.
GENRE ONLINE) Was there any nervousness about how the fans might react when you took over the show from series creator Joel Hodgson?
Mike Nelson) Some, but as I was still consumed with the writing of it and had been there for every shoot since the beginning, I had a pretty good sense of how it would go. I was excited and a little nervous of course.
GENRE ONLINE) Between broadcast television, Comedy Central, and SCI FI, was there ever any differences between how Best Brains wanted to produce the show and how the network wanted the show produced? Was there a difference between how you were treated between the respective broadcasters?
Mike Nelson) There were always battles, some small, some large, but that’s to be expected when someone else is footing the bill. Luckily for us, we produced the show in Minneapolis and being flyover territory, most of the executives visited once and never again, so we were pretty much left alone. There wasn’t a ton of difference between the networks. It first aired on KTMA, a UHF station in Minneapolis where Jim Mallon and Kevin Murphy worked.
GENRE ONLINE) Some of my favorite episodes were when films like “Gamera” or a “Godzilla” flick was the focus of the jokes. Unfortunately these have not been released on DVD in the States. Is it a home video rights issue? Who decides what episodes will be released on home video?
Mike Nelson) It’s all up to Rhino and the folks who hold the rights on those movies. I’m afraid I’m out of the loop on rights issues and whatnot.
GENRE ONLINE) I also loved “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.” To this day I cannot watch “This Island Earth” without remembering some of the jokes and laughing. Have you ever gotten feedback from fans or colleagues that felt you were too harsh?
Mike Nelson) We mostly got that feedback from journalists at the time the film came out – but those who actually watched the movie again had to admit that it wasn’t nearly as good as they remembered it from when they were ten.
GENRE ONLINE) I personally enjoyed your commentary on the Fox DVD release of George A. Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead,” but I have to admit I felt that while your observations were valid, I wondered if you had ever listened to the commentary by George A. Romero on the Elite Entertainment laserdisc or DVD?
Mike Nelson) No, I haven’t.
GENRE ONLINE) Romero and those involved are good sports about pointing out the film’s shortcomings. Any news if the MST3K movie will be re-released on DVD by Universal?
Mike Nelson) I doubt it. They’ve never fallen over themselves to promote the movie.
GENRE ONLINE) Is there any chance of a special “MST3K” reunion episode with you, Joel, Trace, and Frank? Perhaps straight to DVD?
Mike Nelson) Well, in the past I’ve thought it was possible, recent events make that highly, highly unlikely.
GENRE ONLINE) If you could choose a recent film for MST3K, what would it be? Many fans ask why were not some more recent films criticized on the show since there is no shortage of bad movies being produced by mainstream Hollywood.
Mike Nelson) A statistically large majority of Hollywood films could benefit from the MST treatment. It would probably be easier to tell you which films wouldn’t work. And the reason we didn’t do recent films was entirely a rights issue.
GENRE ONLINE) What are your latest and/or upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Mike Nelson) I have a book coming out with Abrams called “Happy Kitty Bunny Pony” which is the first of a series. I’ll also be doing some promotion with The Film Crew for the Starz and Encore networks. I’m working on an animated film and hope to have some news on it soon.
GENRE ONLINE) As an author, do you approach writing a book with an eye that it will not be something already written by other people in the field or do you just follow your gut and go with it?
Mike Nelson) Of course you have to pay attention to close parallels, but I’ve never worried about particular themes or treatments of a subject as pretty much everything has been done in some way or another. You just have faith that yours will be appealing to people as well.
GENRE ONLINE) Do the cast and producers of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” receive residuals for the repeats that air on television or only for the DVD/VHS sets? Has MST3K helped make you financially independent?
Mike Nelson) The show isn’t on in reruns anymore, and yes, the producer, I believe does receive residuals for the DVDs.
As regards my being financially independent from the MST, as soon as I think I’ve stopped laughing at that question, I’ll start laughing again and can’t seem to stop. (In other words, no. Not in the least.)
GENRE ONLINE) Is there anyone else in the field that examines cult films either from a humorous, serious, or a bit of both perspective like Cult Film Guru Joe Bob Briggs or Creature Features Author John Stanley whose work you like?
Mike Nelson) I’ve tended to focus on the less than off the beaten path films and guys like Joe Bob Briggs are into the deep cult films more than I am. So I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with their work.
GENRE ONLINE) What advice would you give to aspiring writers, filmmakers, and even comedians since your profession has in many ways enabled you to do all of these things and more?
Mike Nelson) Get a job in the restaurant industry. It will allow you the flexibility you need and you can always scam some soup by putting it in a coffee cup. Oh, and try to work with puppets as soon as you are able.
GENRE ONLINE) Is there a really good genre film you can recommend seeing that is new or a new genre film you’ve seen you can recommend avoiding?
Mike Nelson) Even though I haven’t yet seen it, I feel confident that one should take care to avoid seeing “The Amityville Horror.”
GENRE ONLINE) Best Brains has resisted the lure to move to Hollywood or New York and while I imagine Minneapolis is important to you because it is your home, where your family and friends are, and whatnot, for you personally what makes being based in the Midwest ideal over the East or West Coast?
Mike Nelson) There is definitely an advantage. The Midwest makes people funnier, as you have to develop a sense of humor to overcome the bleak, endless winters. And self-deprecation comes easy because for many months out of the year we wear goofy hats to keep our ears from freezing.
It is to our tremendous advantage too, that people from either coast think we all live in small shacks out on the prairie with no electricity and only goats for companionship. The complete ignorance of people from Manhattan and L.A. about the other 99% of the country allows us to sneak up on them when they’re not looking, as they don’t view us as any kind of a threat. We can make fun of them while they condescend to us and they never seem to notice.
Thank you again to Mike Nelson for granting the interview and big thanks to Debra Stolberg at Rhino Home Video for making it possible.
© Copyright 2005 By Mark A. Rivera
All Rights Reserved.
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