With the help of fans through Kickstarter, all the past cast members of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Jonah Ray, the new guy from the upcoming new Netflix series, gathered at the State Theater in St Paul, Minnesota on June 28 for the 20th Rifftrax event, which coincided with Rifftrax’s 10th anniversary. The reunion was broadcast by Fathom Events across the country in theaters to the delight of many who couldn’t attend in person.
After the introduction, the Rifftrax guys (Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett) went first, making fun of “The Talking Car” (1969), an odd traffic-safety short that finds a young boy who learns lessons in his dreams from talking cars. The jokes were okay, but made for an underwhelming start.
Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson took the stage for “A Word to Wives” (1955), an old short that shows off the conveniences of a then-modern kitchen. One wife has them, another wants them, and after going away for a couple days, her husband (Darrin McGavin) wants them as well because he’s so helpless in the kitchen, as all men were in the 1950s. Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu teamed up for another short for the ladies from the same decade, “More Dates for Kay” (1952), which demonstrates on how a young go-getter can try to get dates with the fellas at school. Both duos were very funny, even more so than the RiffTrax hosts had been, but they demonstrated they were up to the task with “Shake Hands with Danger” (1980), a classic industrial film about safety on a construction site that the trio made even funnier.
The past and future collided as Ray and MST3K creator Joel Hodgson appeared together to riff on “Americans at Work: Barbers and Beauticians” (1959), a short by the AFL-CIO. Ray did well alongside Hodgson, boding well for the new series. In a very nice gesture, Rifftrax writers Sean Thompson and Conor Lastowka were brought out for a moment in the spotlight, which led to a clip reel showing Rifftrax greatest hits.
“Riffapalooza” was announced and the entire gang took to the stage to take part riffing on “Stamp Day for Superman,” a short that found the cast of the TV show promoting the purchase of U.S. Treasury bills. The riffs came fast and furious. Instead of ending on a high note, they continued on with an encore of the bizarre “At Your Fingertips: Grasses” (1970) where kids made weird-looking crafts out of grass and the question was posed: “Is Corn Grass?”. Understandably, Ray’s contributions were limited during these final two shorts, as he likely understood the fans, and possibly he did as well, wanted to see the gang, reunited for the first time publicly, have at it.
Surprisingly, since I consider myself a big comedy fan, I never watched MST3K and the only Rifftrax event I attended previously was Sharknado 2 during Comic-Con 2015, which only saw me get through about 20 minutes before checking out. And yet I found this reunion very funny in spite of the limited laughs from the shorts that bookended the event and without any of the nostalgia many fans likely brought. It’s too bad they will be going their separate ways afterwards, but hopefully there will be more team-ups in the future.