Kevin Murphy on Rifftrax writing, Weird Al and This Island Earth

Tonight Rifftrax successfully funded its fifth Kickstarter. The former Mystery Science Theater 3000 team was seeking $250,000 to riff Samurai Cop, a selection of shorts featuring Paul F Tompkins, Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson and a super secret mystery movie that they can’t reveal the name of until the Kickstarter ends.

I got to interview Tom Servo himself, Kevin Murphy, about the Kickstarter. My article is up on Cityview now, but I did hold a few questions back for this blog.

This is the second time I’ve interviewed Kevin, the first time was back in 2008.

I asked him about the writing process for Rifftrax:

“We divide the writing into chunks. Each of us takes a chunk and spend many, many days trying to make it funny. Depending on the film, it can be really challenging. But a film like Samurai Cop offers so many opportunities for silliness, it makes the job easy.

“Once the script is merged, Mike (Nelson) and two of our younger writers, Conor (Lastowka) and Sean (Thomason) give it a once over to make sure everything is meshing so we don’t have echoes of jokes. It’s freaky how often we come up with similar jokes for the same moments. In the case of Samurai Cop, we had to monitor how many times we referred to his hair and how it was constantly changing.

“It’s amazing how cohesive it all ends up. We all know each others’ writing so well that it ends up seeming like one voice, rather than a bunch of voices. I don’t know if it’s by design or just osmosis, but we all know how it works now.

On writing for live shows vs. VOD releases:

“There’s a lot more back and forth for live shows. We can’t pack them with as many jokes, because people can’t hit rewind and play the lines over and over again if they miss something. The live shows are like starting a train with no breaks at the top of a hill and it just keeps going until we get to the end. We don’t want people to stop laughing just to hear the next joke, so we try to make them as impactful and satisfying as we can.”

Years ago I interviewed Weird Al and asked him how often people make song suggestions. In the spirit of that, I asked Kevin how often people say “You know what you should riff?”

We get it a lot. And by the way, Weird Al is one of my gurus. I love that guy and what he does. But there are a lot more songs out there than movies, believe it or not, and there are a lot of movies out there. But we get it all the time, and it’s actually helpful. It’s how we learned about things like Birdemic, The Room and Miami Connection. It’s fun for us, and most importantly, it gets our fans involved.”

So I followed up with my own “You know what you should riff?”, This Island Earth. It was the film riffed in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, but the studio cut the film to be shorter than a regular episode of the show, cut jokes that they thought the audience wouldn’t get and reduced the number or riffs compared to the rapid-fire pace of a regular episode. Rifftrax has revisited some classic Mystery Science Theater episodes, in some cases including scenes that were cut from the broadcast for time. My point? I want all of TIE riffed.

“I think it’s a great movie for us to do, because it has so many big, goofy characters in it and big, goofy moments. It’s sort of an action film and it looks great. I don’t know if we could do it, it would depend on the rights, but I’d love to take another crack at that.”


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