Before discussing the unique style of the comedy of ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000’, I want to pose two questions: Since the films featured on the show were already written, should the jokes not be seen as “written” so much as “added on” to the already laughable dialogue and absurd plots? Also, should the jokes be considered “writing” if the responses to the visual cues come so naturally?
Though it is true that the writers of the show watched the b-films multiple times to tighten up the timing and hone in on the best jokes, the writers (particularly Joel Hodgson) often utilized visual cues to create ironic references to other people, places or things. I’ve always found it funny that Hodgson was originally a prop comic who appeared on Letterman and Saturday Night Live before starting MST3K. His background of incorporating visual “stimulants” to produce comedic effects definitely helped shape the show’s famous and wholly unique style of comedy.
This inclusion of performance to coincide with writing came not only from Hodgson, but from the other writers as well—often acting, designing the sets and other backstage production in the show as well as writing for it. In an interview with Frank Conniff, ‘T.V.’s Frank’ and writer for the show, Conniff stated that while he believed his main ambition was to write for television, the performing aspect definitely played into the style of his writing. Trace Beaulieu’s art direction in the show immediately set up viewers for the type of sets found in b-movies Joel and the ‘bots would be wise-cracking about.
In trying to answer the question of how to consider the “writers” posed above, I find that the word “writing” does not do justice to the comedic styling of the show. The jokes were written in advance (after the early improvised KTMA-cable station days) in order to avoid improper timing, but these “add-on” jokes did more than make fun of the films—they gave new meanings to them. In referring to a character who resembles Elvis for instance, the “writers” do away with that character’s usual lack of depth and give them a new role as imitator, thereby creating more ironic humor and meaning to the film’s absurd plot and writing contribution. In essence, they are not adding jokes to the films so much as re-writing the films completely.
Let me know in the comments your thoughts on the writing of the show, whether you agree with me or not and/or anything else you find interesting about the writing of the show.
Here is the link to the interview with Conniff: