Q&A With Mystery Science Theater's Frank Conniff
Riffing, or the public addressing of snarky comments during the screening of a particularly bad movie, has become a recreational pursuit enjoyed by many. At Culturephile, it's our duty to acknowledge the originators of this comic practice, namely the cast and crew of the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which began its life in modest fashion at a cable access station in Hopkins, Minnesota, and eventually went on to worldwide fame on the Comedy Central Network (1988–99). Three of the mainstays from the show, Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, and J. Elvis Weinstein, along with comedian Dana Gould, will be live-riffing the classic sci-fi stinker Plan 9 From Outer Space this Friday at Bagdad Theater, as part of Laughter's The Best Medicine, a fundraiser for local nonprofit the Vital Life Foundation, that provides support for patients and employees of longterm care facilities. We had a small window to interview Conniff, who played assistant mad scientist, TV's Frank, on MST3K.
Culturephile: How did you come to be involved in "Laughter's The Best Medicine?" Is the Vital Life Foundation a group you have a connection with?
Frank Conniff: Jessica DeNardo (from the Vital Life Foundation) is a friend and she asked us to do it, and we love Portland, so all of us instantly agreed.
The last time you came through with Cinematic Titanic (a movie-riffing crew made up of MST3K alums) you announced to the audience that you were "gay for Portland." Have you pursued this or is it still a long-distance relationship?
Alas, it is a long-distance relationship, but I am still as gay for Portland as ever.
Logistically, how difficult is it to take a movie on the road and make sure all the cues are ironed out?
WIth Cinematic Titanic, it's scripted and it's a matter of rehearsing, but with Plan 9 with Dana Gould, it is all improvised. We've already done it a couple of times and we all seem to instinctively know when to chime in with a riff and when to hold back when someone else is about to riff.
How do you know when you've found a movie that's worthy of the MST treatment? What's the key ingredient?
A movie that is bad yet is also somehow watchable and has a story that can be followed.
Does the continued enthusiasm of Misties (hardcore Mystery Science Theater fans) sort of freak you guys out? We're not as obsessive as Trekkers are we?
It doesn't freak us out in the least, we only wish there were a lot more of them because then we would be rich!
Will the classic Mystery Science Theater format ever be resurrected or have we seen the last of Dr. Forrester, TV's Frank, and the 'bots?
Shout! Factory (a music/DVD/home video entertainment company) has explored the idea of doing new episodes direct to DVD, but so far nothing has come of it and I don't know if that's ever going to happen.
Do you have any new projects that you're involved with that you can share with us?
I am currently a writer and performer on Viewpoint with John Fugelsang, which is on the Current TV Network every night at 8pm. I also write and perform every week on the Jimmy Dore Show, which is on the Pacifica Radio Network and can also be found at jimmydorecomedy.com. I also have my own podcast called Podhouse 90, an anthology series of original radio plays written by yours truly and can be found at FrankConniff.com/Podhouse 90.
Finally, what's you're all-time favorite "so-bad-it's-good" movie? Perhaps one that you've already lampooned or one that would be a dream come true?
A movie from the sixties called The Oscar with Steven Boyd and Elke Sommers is my all time favorite bad movie.