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Interview with Mike Nelson
With Lando da Pimp

Mike NelsonMike Nelson is one of the funniest comedic writers today. As a performer and head writer on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike has watched some of the worst films ever made. Since the end of MST3K, Mike has written three books.

His first book Movie Megacheese discussed how and why such movies as Patrick Swayze's Road House failed. Mind Over Matters, Mike's second book, is a collection of more than fifty essays from Radioshack to Meat. His latest book Death Rat is his first novel. Mike took the time to answer some of my questions about MST3K, movies, and his future projects. You started out as a stand up comedian. How did that lead to writing Mystery Science Theater?

Mike Nelson: I met Josh Weinstein and some of the other guys from MST while doing stand-up. They were doing the show locally and had just signed on with the start-up Comedy Channel network. Josh thought I would make a good writer for them, so he stuck out his neck and suggested me. Luckily, the guys agreed and took me on. How were the movies that you watched chosen? For example, where in the world did you find movies like Puma Man, Monster A Go-Go, or Time Chasers?

Mike Nelson: They were all "screeners" that we got from many different distributors. We had people from the network who basically contacted every distributor and said, "Give us your worst." And that's what we got.

MPb: A number of the cast members from MST3K left the show to pursue other projects. Why did you decide to stick with the show? Was it your love of puppets?

Mike: I stuck with the show because I loved it. I always looked at it as Kirby Puckett looked at his job playing center field for the Twins. It's what I seem to do well, I get paid a reasonable living and I like the people I work with. Why would I change jobs?

MPb: Was there anybody else considered for the role of host after Joel? And what can you tell us about the transition?

Mike: Yeah, there were a number of others considered - a lot of local people. They were good, too. But I think, in the end, it was my Machiavellian scheming that got me the job. No, wait. Actually, I auditioned, and everyone seemed to like what I did, and since I was already in the building they said, "You've got the job." It was difficult during the transition, but luckily, I was so busy doing my normal Head Writing job, that I didn't have time to dwell on the heat that came down.

MPb: To me, MST3K's mission was to tell Hollywood to stop making stupid movies. Do you think that if the show continued, your point would have eventually been made?

Mike: No.

MPb: In the Blockbuster special you got the opportunity to make fun of the movie Titanic. Is there one movie you really wanted to riff on but couldn't get the rights to do it? Are there any recent movies that fit into that category?

Mike: There were plenty of movies we wanted but couldn't get. Moment by Moment with Lily Tomlin and John Travolta and Baffled with Leonard Nemoy. And as for recent movies, I'd say 85 out of every 86 films would easily qualify for the show.

MPb: You wrote a lot of the music for MST3K. Any plans to make more? Perhaps under the name Sex Factory?

Mike:No, no new music plans. Mostly because I'm not very good.

MPb: Now that MST3K is over, do you think many of the people (and movies) you guys raked over the coals throughout the years see it as somewhat of an honor to be part of such a cult phenomenon? Meaning, is Joe Don Baker hiding in your bushes with a tire iron?

Mike: I felt that except in cases like Mr. Don Baker, we really didn't hack on the movie as much as things in general. Many of the movies were just jumping-off points for our somewhat bizarre collective sense of humor. Although, yes, you're right that Joseph Donald Baker is hiding outside my house right now. The problem for him is that I can see him easily.

MPb: In 2004 the Sci-Fi Channel contract to show MST3k episodes expires. What are the chances of another channel picking up the series? What about the Comedy Central episodes?

Mike: I don't think there's much of a chance, especially if you're referring to new shows. As far as the old shows, they get pretty tied up with film rights.

MPb: In your book, Mind Over Matters you wrote an essay about RadioShack's quest to find out a person's personal information. Did they ever contact you about this? And have you gone into a RadioShack since?

Mike: I haven't had to go to a RadioShack for some time, because I have all the wire nuts I need, for the time being.

MPb: Please give us your opinion about the following "diva" movies:

  1. Glitter
  2. Swept Away (2002)
  3. Crossroads

Mike: I am proud to say - especially since I am a mature male of 38 - that I haven't seen any of them. [Note: I'll remedy that as soon as I can. It's only an oversight on my part that I haven't.]

MPb: Why was the site, shut down? Do you have any future plans to bring it back?

Mike: TimmyBigHands was simply taking up too much time and not making enough money. Money is, unfortunately, a requirement in my life.

MPb: You are always asked about bad movies. What are some movies that you actually like?

Mike: Casablanca, The Elephant Man, Local Hero, My Favorite Year, A Hard Day's Night, Life is Sweet, It's a Wonderful Life, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Crackers.

MPb: Your new book is a novel. What can you tell us about it, and why did you choose to write it as a novel? And, do you ever see it becoming a movie of the week?

Mike: Yes, Death Rat! is the story of an aging writer of history novels who attempts to sell out by writing an adventure novel about a giant killer rat called.... Death Rat! Unfortunately, he can't sell it because he's too old, so he makes a deal with a young, lantern-jawed actor to play the part of the writer. The actor sells it as a work of non-fiction leading to all sorts of shenanigans and monkeyshines.

Why a novel? Because I had had the idea banging around for some time and in fact, tried to get the writers at MST to come in on a scheme like that the aging actor tries to pull off. And yes, I'd love to see it as a movie, in SENSURROUND.

MPb: Any future plans to work with your fellow MST3K cast members?

Mike: Yes, and soon. Hopefully, I'll be able to unveil the projects soon. (Hint: it is not a birdhouse factory, nor is it a whaling expedition.)

MPb: Finally, Millionaire or Playboy? Why?

Mike: Millionaire. Because it makes a good pet bird name.

MPb: Thank you for granting us this interview.

Mike: Thank you, and donít forget that Friday is casual day.

Check out our own Essential Mystery Science Theater 3000 top ten episodes list.

Visit Mike's official site
and the Official MST3K website on Sci-Fi Channel or The Official Mystery Science Theater 3000 Fanclub

For a signed copy of Mike's books, click here
Also visit Harper Collins

Here are some pictures of Joe Don Baker

All characters and likenesses are copyright their respective owners. Images © their respective owners. This article is © 2003 and may not be reprinted without permission.

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