The Rifftrax gang, consisting of hosts Bill Corbett, Mike Nelson, and Kevin Murphy, are ready to bring their patented brand of cinematic humor back to audiences nationwide when Rifftrax presents Tommy Wiseau's atrocious drama The Room May 6th and 12th. I've been fortunate to talk to Mike and Kevin in the past, and can finally say I've talked to all three when Bill sat down to talk about The Room, bad movies, and the limits of good taste.
There you go! You've got the trifecta now.
I guess we have to start with the immortal (and accusatory question): Why subject yourselves, and others, to The Room? Is this the Manos of our generation?
We're just weird enough to enjoy it! I think there's a reason The Room became this cult hit, it's almost Rocky Horror status. It's weird in such an entertaining way, and I don't feel that way about every bad movie. It's so fascinating [you ask] how did this happen, and how did every choice turn out to be wrong?
And, really, everyone was expecting you guys to do it. It is the zeitgeist of bad movies currently.
Absolutely. And there's something really cool about it, too, in that most of the really bad movies we've done - Manos, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Birdemic - have some sort of sci-fi, fantastic, or horror element. This one is just a straight-up attempt to make a relationship drama that goes so badly wrong. It's sort of epically hilarious.
I talked to Mike last year about Godzilla, and he mentioned some movies that are so obviously terrible are harder to riff because they make fun of themselves. Was it hard for you to riff this considering it's already successful at being terrible?
Yes, it's a little tricky because it has such a momentum on its own as a cult classic. On its own, without our yammering over it, it's just hilarious. Now that enough people have seen it in its pure form we add a little bit of another level of funny. We had a trial run of it at Tribeca Film Festival last month and a lot of people in the theater knew The Room, and still seemed to enjoy it anyway. We're ready for one more level of commentary.
Other than Tommy Wiseau's uncomfortable sex scenes, what can fans expect that might be different from the previous live shows?
There will be a short. We like to do that as a little appetizer before all our movies. And we did an MP3 version of [The Room] a couple years ago, so we have rewritten it. The sex scenes we had a bit with our robot, Disembody-O, that's been thrown out because it wouldn't work on-stage. Beyond that, we try to take a fresh approach whenever we do something again, so I'd say about 75% of the script is new, maybe more. There are a couple jokes we had to keep in because they were so funny.
I'm hoping you guys decided to keep the Britney Spears joke because that was the best line in the original MP3.
Honestly, that was the first thing I marked to get rid of. I said it and felt awful after that.
True. At the time, it was so easy to make fun of her.
Juliette Daniel, the actress who plays Lisa, she's a young person and I felt terrible after it. Someone asked her if she listened to the Rifftrax of The Room, and by all accounts she's a sweet person, and she said "I had to leave the room. I was starting to feel bad." I was like, Corbett, you bastard, you!
Someone did ask, when you guys are doing these live shows with the script in front of you, do you need to orient yourself throughout by looking at the running film?
We do a pretty meticulous script, because one of the things we try to do with Rifftrax, and hopefully succeed, is do better than if we saw the movie and started to make commentary, improvising it. We could come up with funny stuff on the fly, but we try to time it well so the movie has a fighting chance, and we're not bulldozing over the movie and its dialogue, and change up the jokes with different points of view. We have a very detailed script in front of us. That being said, once the thing is going we throw stuff overboard, improvise when we need to. The audience will tell us what they like and don't like.
I've asked both Kevin and Mike this, so I need to ask you to round it out. What's your "riffing" process like? How do you prep yourself?
First thing is the script. What we typically do is divide the script numerically into chunks, each of us concentrates on doing a first draft of a particular section, and at some point in the process we smash it all together in a Google doc and go over it together, marking stuff that sounds similar and try to make it flow seamlessly, that takes up the most time. Even when we get to Nashville to do this riff on Wednesday we're gonna concentrate on last-minute stuff we've marked. From there it's pretty easy and that's when the fun part starts, when we go on-stage, introduce ourselves, kid around, and get into the riff.
Do you prefer the live shows or the audio commentaries where you can kick back?
I have a slight preference to the live shows because we joke. It's not like we're road comedians doing 40 weeks a year, so we don't get tired of that. It still seems fresh to me. I have a theater and comedy background and I love to be in a room with a live audience, it's so much fun and feels less insular. That being said, if I did those 40 weeks a year it'd feel a little enervating after awhile, and then I'd crave the studio a little more.
There's a marked emphasis with the live shows of doing more post-'70s films and blockbusters as opposed to the '50s-'60s films Mystery Science Theater 3000 was known for. How do you guys balance doing films that you know will get butts in seats versus a film that would be great fun to riff but doesn't have the name recognition?
That's a great question and we're always trying to find the right approach. And you're right, we do have to make sure, we've learned, that it's a movie enough people know or feel they want to know. It's been an elusive formula, honestly. As many people who've said that statement, there are plenty who say, "We don't like the old stuff. We want Godzilla with Matthew Broderick." We tried that and we got enough people, but we thought it'd be huge. And then some little squeaker like Jack the Giant Killer, from the '50s or early '60s, can do that and it's a huge hit. We're a little puzzled. We do know we have to nail down rights or own the movie or have it be in the public domain before we do anything. At Christmas we are doing an old and obscure film called Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny, so if you want obscure and weird that'll do it for you.
Is there a dream movie you haven't riffed yet?
If I had any white whale at all, it'd be Billy Jack from the early '70s. I grew up with it and I loved it. It's a weird hybrid of hippie message, but the guy is a half-breed Native American, karate guy. There's a lot of violence in it. I loved it as a kid, I thought it was meaningful and awesome, and it combined my love of social justice and violence. I revisited it recently, as an adult, a couple years back, and said "This isn't very good. This is terrible." So I'd love to honor it and get some revenge on it by riffing it.
And conversely, is there a film that's untouchable to you or is everything fair game?
There are films like that, but it's not because of their quality because we've done movies that we're fans of. We've done The Lord of the Rings series, we all like that; Raiders of the Lost Ark...
You did Casablanca as well?
We did, simply to make that point; it's not always about it being a terrible movie. That is a movie that's classic and we all love it, and we're gonna do a humor track because it's less about being a bad movie. That said, really high comedies don't work for us because they're trying to get a laugh and we draw attention away. Then there are movies like Schindler's List or Hotel Rwanda where the subject matter...we'd seem like monsters. Even if they're not the best renderings, and Schindler's List and Hotel Rwanda are great, we don't want to draw away from the fact that there's a real-life tragedy and we're dancing around being a goof.
So then, essentially, the Rifftrax motto is "Everything's fair game unless it veers into bad taste."
Yeah, we try.
At the same time, can you sit back and watch a movie, or are you in Riff mode all the time?
I can, actually. I love being absorbed in a good movie and enjoying myself, and shutting up for my sake and the sake of those around me. I have no problem doing that if It's a good movie I see at home or in a theater. If It's something that's kind of a stinkburger, even at home, I start yammering, just a force of habit and my wife has to say, "Okay, you're not on duty now."
Mike said last year that Michael Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be a great riff someday. Is there a movie you've seen this year or even last year you could envision receiving the Rifftrax treatment someday?
We have done some Marvel movies, even The Avengers which I really liked, so maybe this Age of Ultron? Even if it's still good we could score a bunch of jokes. It's different than something like The Room where you're saying this is the worst film. With The Avengers your point of view is different for the jokes.
And my last question is the age-old query: Why do people love being entertained by bad movies? Whether it's MST3K or Rifftrax, why do people plunk down their money to watch something so awful? I say It's because of you guys but I'd love to hear your interpretation.
I'd love to think it's all about us, my ego would love that, but I don't think it is. There is something about a certain kind of bad movie that's a delight. Part of it is simple human curiosity - how did this come together? How did enough people decide to get together everyday and think they were making something good? And part of it is mean-spirited, hubris, like "What a bunch of dopes." But there is something exquisite about something like The Room where every choice is so off and comes together to make this weird thing. That said, there are plenty of bad movies that are no fun at all, and those are the ones we reject. That's the overwhelming majority of what we get is "No, that's no fun. It's tedious and technically terrible and we can't imagine having a good time with this, even with our commentary."
Well, Bill thank you so much for helping me fill out my Rifftrax Bingo card! I feel very accomplished.
And I will definitely be at The Room on the sixth.
Great, we hope you have a great time!