For ten years I was head-writer, 5 years host of the Peabody Award-winning "cow-town puppet show" known as MST3K. I've authored a number of books, some of which people have even read, written for magazines, newspapers, and websites.

Five years ago I started Along with Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett (my cohorts at MST), we make movies funny.

At least we think we do.

Happy to answer your questions.

EDIT Verification!

Comments: 1897 • Responses: 49  • Date: 

ducttapeearth351 karma


tallrob94 karma

WHY WHY WHY!?!? answer or i'll cut you up with a coat hanger...

MikeNelson471 karma

Because their hearts are full of hate!

squidsicle290 karma

Hi Mike! It"s hard not to notice that the camp has been divided. On one side there is you, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett doing On the other side is Joel, Trace, Frank, Mary Jo, and J. Elvis doing cinematic titanic. My question is this...I have several white dress shirts where the collar has become yellowed. Should I throw them out, or is there any way to remove those stains?

MikeNelson229 karma

That is a good question, and it pains me to say - do NOT throw those shirts out! Mrs. Stewarts Bluing, my friend. Get to know her, she's a shirt saving miracle woman.

jaymatteo263 karma

If you are really Mike Nelson, please answer the following question accurately.

On July 16, 1978 did you meet a girl named Margaret Anderson in Daddy-O's Oyster Bar located in the south wing of New Orleans International Airport? She was on her way home to Winnipeg. You were on your way to a Battlestar Galactica convention in Loisville. You bought her a drink. You stared passionately at each other and, in that heated moment, decided to have sex in the handicapped toilets. You would go your separate ways and never speak again.

Answer me this: What was the answer to the crossword clue in the New York Times puzzle she asked you for help with?

Are you my father?

MikeNelson169 karma

Hm, Daddy-O's sounds familiar. As does "Battlestar Galactica convention". But seeing as I've never provided a correct answer to a single crossword puzzle clue, it can't be me.

Sheldy13236 karma

After graduating from College I moved to Montana in 1990 to live with my Dad during a record snow storm and was battling severe depression and messed up on medication. During those dark days one of the only things that kept me going was MST3K, partially because it was like I was hanging out with friends. Thanks for being there for me.

MikeNelson278 karma

My pleasure, hope all is better now.

ducttape36217 karma

i love you mike. that is all.

MikeNelson176 karma


That is all from me.

For now...

18-24-61-B-17-17-4211 karma

Wow! This is the last thing I expected to see on here today.

Thanks for over a decade of wonderfulness with MST3K! You guys (along with Mel Brooks and the Monty Python boys) helped to shape my sense of humor into what it is today. I used to love riffing on the speakers at assemblies and pep rallies during high school and college in hopes that it would be as awesome as your material. My main reason for getting Netflix was the fact that there are so many MST3K episodes on instant play.

Some questions:

  • How did you tape the episodes? Was is one shot through the whole movie watching process? I've never understood how you were able to remember all of the trigger points for the jokes without missing any or making it appear as if it was edited. The physical movements of all of your characters always matched up perfectly with the audio.

  • While working on MST3K, did you ever wish you could get into more R-rated material? There are limits to what can be shown on basic television (even more so in the 80s and 90s) so you must have missed out on some real gems.

  • Did you ever want to do an episode that would have been completely inappropriate and in bad taste just to push the envelope? Possibly something along the lines of Philadelphia or something of that nature. A movie that is meant to be dramatic and emotional but instead you would make light of the seriousness of the film's content?

  • Has writing for / starring in MST3K ruined movies for you? Are you able to watch a movie for the sake of watching a movie or are you doomed to always riff on it?

  • Have you ever thought of riffing on a live play? You would essentially be part of the play, but the plot of the play wouldn't be custom tailored to your riffing. Say a Hamlet on Broadway with you guys doing your thing into microphones. Something sort of along the lines of the insanity of seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show live. That's always a hoot.

Thanks for all the laughs and thank you for taking the time to do this AMA. This is why we all love you.

MikeNelson178 karma

How did you tape the episodes? Was is one shot through the whole movie watching process?

Yes, we mostly taped the shows straight through, just watching a monitor on the floor. The silhouette was just a cut-out piece of insulating foam.

While working on MST3K, did you ever wish you could get into more R-rated material?

Not really, I think it helped make us more creative to have those boundaries.

Did you ever want to do an episode that would have been completely inappropriate and in bad taste just to push the envelope?

I don't mind doing "serious" things, you just have to be very careful not to come across as a jerk.

Has writing for / starring in MST3K ruined movies for you?

Not at all, if anything it gave me a greater appreciation of how hard it is to make a good one.

Have you ever thought of riffing on a live play?

Does Turn Off the Dark count? If so, then yes.

rchase140 karma

Regardless of verification, I'll just say thanks for all the laughs. Not only did you entertain me for so many years, but your work has been instrumental in the geekification of my three teenage step-daughters as well. They still toss out Rowsdower quotes now and then, having loved "The Final Sacrifice" as younglings.

So a question:

How many times do you have sit through those movies during the writing process?

MikeNelson194 karma

Thank you!

We don't really watch a movie over and over, we only watch it 4 or five times, but we do it very, very, very slowly each time, stopping as we try to come up with the jokes. Probably 80 man-hours of watching the films to get a script, I'd guess.

tokomini65 karma

So was it all scripted? I was of the opinion that some of it was just improvised banter.

MikeNelson138 karma

Very, very little. But that's how it was written, so really it was our job to re-create that.

directorguy93 karma

Any jokes or sketches on MST that got cut because they were too controversial?

also, you are a god; Rifftrax is the greatest invention since MST3K

MikeNelson168 karma

Yes, we once were told the show would be sued out of existence if we made fun of Orville Redenbacher. Seriously.

Also, doing the feature film was tough, lots and lots of our jokes got scrubbed, mostly for legal reasons.

jpease81 karma

Are you able to make a decent living now with MST3K royalties/Rifftrax? I worry about you, Mike! Please say you're ok!

MikeNelson255 karma

Well, luckily most people aren't diligent about getting all the Border Sauce out of those packets. With 3 or 4 hours of scrounging, you can get a decent meal!

Nichidani74 karma

How did you feel about the pressure of replacing Joel? Were you worried at all that you wouldn't be received well simply because you were not Joel?

MikeNelson262 karma

I was so involved as head writer it never occurred to me to worry about that.

Actually, when the hate mail came in we took a perverse pleasure in trying to find the worst. I found it funny because I had never been as passionate about anything as some of these people were about their puppet show hosts. In fact, when we changed the color of the jumpsuit, we'd get death threats. On the internet, that's entirely commonplace, but back then, remember, people were taking pen in hand, purchasing stationary and stamps for those death threats! That's committment.

cityeng74 karma

Where you as high filming the MST3K episodes as I was watching them, [5-8]?

MikeNelson171 karma

No, but all our interns were, so that's probably where you picked up the vibe.

terriblehuman70 karma

Holy crap, Mike Nelson, my childhood would not have been nearly as funny without you. In nerd circles, it's Kirk Vs. Picard, and Joel Vs Mike. How does it feel to be a GOD?

MikeNelson127 karma

I'm the god. I'M THE GOD!

terminallyCapricious69 karma

what was the Satellite of Love constructed out of?

MikeNelson170 karma

A wooden, 2x4 frame, plywood, and thermoformed pieces of plastic.

Well, and love, of course.

ravenwebb60 karma

First off, I LOVE MST3K and Rifftrax. Thank you so much for all the work you put into it. You truly do make those movies awesome to watch.

What was your favorite movie overall, before and after "making them funny"?


MikeNelson91 karma

I really liked Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. even though it's one of the worst and weirdest things you'll ever see, there's something mesmerizing about it.

infectmadagascar59 karma

I'm actually a Brit, so sadly I didn't discover MST3K until it was already long over, but it didn't stop me from falling in love with it and being "that weird girl who only talks about some American comedy show from the 90s" to my friends for a while.

Did you guys ever get any weird fanmail at MST3K? Actually you know what, I'm sure you did so I'll rephrase: what's the weirdest fanmail you got?

MikeNelson99 karma

Wow, good question - 'cause we got some weird fan mail. Someone sent us their bloody molars. Another sent us horrible, revolting pornography ("Hey, guys, thought you might enjoy this!") It was when people showed up at your house, that's when it got strange.

That said, the vast majority of people wrote funny, often touching stuff. I don't know what it was but many people over the years have said it's the only thing they could share with their dad or mom or what have you. I'm very glad of that.

Virus_With_Shoes55 karma

In your opinion, which is worse: "Manos: The Hands of Fate" or "Plan 9 from Outer Space"? edit: I'll throw "The Room" in there as well.

MikeNelson129 karma

Hm, tough one. They all have their strengths (weaknesses...?) Let me answer it this way, The Room wasted the most resources (he spent a ton on that) so it's the worst dollar for dollar.

begone_oxymoron50 karma

San Diego Comic Con 2011, will you be there?

MikeNelson163 karma

In a slave Leia costume, yes!

thexhatchet48 karma

I cant fathom how many times you watched Birdemic... I would rather watch the Coleman Francis collection than that cinematic abortion again.. how did you survive? and does it make the movie watchable?

MikeNelson96 karma

FWIW, I loved Birdemic. I can still watch it all the way through. I know that doesn't speak well of me, but there it is.

karcass44 karma

I will never recover from that time you were Captain Janeway.


MikeNelson48 karma

Understood. I wish I could say that you will heal in time, but that would be an utter lie.

littlelion2k44 karma

I'm sure you get this a lot (assuming you actually are the fabulous Mike Nelson), but I am a huge fan. Many, many happy hours have been spent watching RiffTrax and MST3K.

Anyway, my question is: how many times did you typically have to watch a movie in order to get the correct joke density? Did most of the riffs come out on the first watching, or were others added on later watchings? Also, what would you say is the worst movie you had to watch over the years?

MikeNelson183 karma

Thank you. See my comments above about the writing process, but as for the worst movie I've had to watch, it's easy: Transformers 2.

rutteh43 karma

I originally started getting into MST3K (and subsequently Rifftrax) only a few years ago and I must say it's become one of, if not my favorite TV show/internet series of all time. But I have to ask what have been your favorite movies to riff on from both eras? My personal favorite is Space Mutiny.

MikeNelson64 karma

From MST I liked Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders, and Rifftrax, as I already mentioned Birdemic and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. Oh, and Road House, and Over the Top.

LippyTDB39 karma

Are you going to write another novel? I found Death Rat to be fantastic, and occasionally find myself laughing as I remember the flash camera in the car, and the Saturn only having dent-RESISTANT panels.

MikeNelson69 karma

Stay tuned for some exciting news...

BigMcLarge-Huge37 karma

First of all, thank all of you guys.

Second of all, tell Kevin he inspires me to sing in public all the time.

Third, tell Bill he is the funniest man in the world!

Fourth, your head isn't that big.

The only question I really have is this: how do you do the riffing? Is it one big sit-down or multiple recordings and do you edit extra jokes in after the main viewing? It just seems so amazing how high the jps (jokes per minute) can get.

MikeNelson44 karma

I can't tell Bill he's the funniest man in the world or his head will get bigger than mine, and I'd like to retain that title.

As for the recording, we do it all in one shot, but obviously we're working off a pretty tight script. We'll go back and adjust things, do re-takes, on the fly, but usually only a very few things.

vg_it_throwaway34 karma

Mike, if this is actually you, we (a large group of friends and myself) get together weekly and watch old episodes of MST3K on shudder... VHS. We love you that much, we willingly become Neanderthals for a few hours to enjoy your presence and humor. I'm trying to get the ball to swing around and get everyone into the rifftrax thing, but it's slow going. Maybe if they were available on laserdisc?

MikeNelson36 karma

Laserdisc, best format ever. It was just so dang big and heavy, you really got your money's worth. (I just threw my very expensive disk player out a few years ago because literally no one would take it, not even as a doorstop.)

pcpmeltsfaces34 karma

SILENCE! (is golden) SILENCE! (is golden) oh, Manos: the Hands of Fate...

you've forever made a smart ass movie commentator out of me... thanks for that. :/

i've never listened to a rifftrax, which is your all-time favorite?

MikeNelson62 karma

I really like the Twilight riffs - here here and here, they're the most popular. And the Star Wars, here, here, here, here, and here - with Chad Vader! - and here. Oh, and the Holiday Special.

CopiousLoads32 karma

How long did you really have hockey hair.

MikeNelson35 karma

When I was 16, 17... It was a bad couple of years...

PatrickSwayzeXmas32 karma

With the advent of readily available broadband and user friendly file-sharing protocols, what are your thoughts/opinions on "circulating the tapes" today? Thanks for all the laughs.

MikeNelson23 karma

Well, the whole "keep circulating the tapes" thing came about before I joined the show, and obviously that came from the perspective of a tiny, local TV show that was ad-supported and wanted to spread the word so they'd be even more ad-supported. (and the ads traveled along with the tapes, too)

Rifftrax is a whole different animal - our only revenue is paid downloads. "Circulate" those and we have no revenue and obviously no means to make Rifftrax.

Yes, I know that makes me worse than Hitler.

TipMcVenus31 karma

Why did you guys choose Mitchell (my favorite episode) for the switch episode with you and Joel or was it just chance?

Also, what was the decision process and overall experience like for the move to you from Joel?

" guys watch Joe Don Baker movies?"

MikeNelson50 karma

As I recall, it was pure chance.

And the move was relatively smooth. Obviously, he was missed, but we always had the movie riffing as our backbone.

aZookeeper30 karma

Will you guys be doing any more Rifftrax Live events anytime soon? Being able to watch what is essentially MST3K in a movie theater has been one of my top movie-going experiences of the last few years. Seriously, love those damn things.

MikeNelson34 karma

Thanks. We've got no live shows on the books, but we intend to do at least another this year.

myfavoritewordis30 karma

I babysat for you once back in the day and it was amazing, your kids were great. When you asked me to babysit a second time I didn't make it, and you obviously never asked me again. I just want you to know it's one of my biggest regrets...

MikeNelson42 karma

Seriously?! You could do it now, but they're 18 and 16 so the need is somewhat lessened.

TimDave30 karma

Do you, Bill, and Kevin ever hang out outside of RiffTrax?

And how is your relationship with Joel, if there is any at all?

Also, thank you for the laughs. My friends and I watch your Riffs almost daily. The one for The Room is possibly the funniest thing I have ever watched.

MikeNelson65 karma

Do you, Bill, and Kevin ever hang out outside of RiffTrax? Yea, we've been friends for years, and it probably helps that they're in Minneapolis and I'm in San Diego (they fly in for recordings), that way they don't have to see my ugly mug every day. It helps keep the spice in our relationship (wow, nearly made myself ill tying that...)

Rowsdower30 karma

Was anyone in particular behind all the progressive rock jokes in MST3K?

MikeNelson39 karma

cough Kevin cough

ApokalypseCow30 karma

Your work on Iron Man turned a really good movie into a really good, HILARIOUS movie. Thank you.

Oh, and any chance we'll see the return of the "SLEEEEEEEEEEP!" meme from the show? That always got a chuckle from me.

MikeNelson61 karma

My pleasure - and I believe we have a "SLEEEP" in our Karate Kid III riff.

theblindone29 karma

Have you guys ever gotten any legal threats or take down notices off any of the Rifftrax?

MikeNelson51 karma

No, we're in the clear because we only sell them as MP3s so you roll your own. The video on demands are all PD, or we've bought the rights.

knuckles_the_echidna24 karma

First off: holy crap.

Secondly, thank you. My father and I shared a bunch of time together watching your show. He absolutely loved it and the memories of us sitting together on the couch laughing our asses off will live with me forever.

A question (since this is an AMA): are there are personal favorite episodes for you to do? Any movies that really stuck out in your mind as absolute garbage?

MikeNelson36 karma

My pleasure, I appreciate the comment.

I've mentioned others here, but I can't let the Coleman Francis movies off the hook. Frank Conniff loved those things, but they made my heart sink.

Random_Tangent23 karma

Exactly how much money am I going to have to chip in to get a Riff of Eyeborgs going?

MikeNelson41 karma

You couldn't afford it.

RupertDurden22 karma

How many fish can you name?

MikeNelson85 karma

I don't know, but I DO know this: this is where the fish lives.

33fan22 karma

What's your favorite Stone beer? I've been to the movie nights and enjoy your stuff.

MikeNelson54 karma

Thanks! I like the Ruination Ale. A lot.

frid21 karma

Did you guys sit in front of a green screen of was the film actually projected in front of you?

Did you read the script from a prompter or notes?

MikeNelson28 karma

Yep, green screen. We had a small monitor.

We had full scripts. The puppeteers sat on tiny chairs below the seats.

thehigheredu20 karma


MikeNelson36 karma


Well, in the local TV days it was "mostly" improvised. They're fantastically talented guys but there was a LOT of down time. We realized pretty early on that we could improve the hit rate drastically by writing it.

And none of the episodes on cable was ever improvised, it was written from the start.

[deleted]20 karma

How did you go from working at TGIFridays to working on the show? What gave you the inspiration?

MikeNelson46 karma

Well, it was probably my early success with flair that gave me the confidence. (Actually, I had an experience eerily similar to Jennifer Aniston's in Office Space).

But, really, it was the fact that I was doing stand-up and really, really didn't want to do it anymore.

WoodElephant20 karma

do you or any of the guys still do stand up? if yes, how is it treating you? and if no, do you miss it at all, and would you consider doing stand up again? also, thank you for being a major part of the single greatest television show in history.

MikeNelson48 karma

I never enjoyed stand-up all that much, to be honest. Too much doing the same thing over and over again night after night while being hit by beer bottles. That said, it's great training - there's nowhere to hide.

Just try to do it behind chicken wire, Roadhouse Style.

mindvault18 karma

Hey Mike,

Are you going to write more like "Mind Over Matters"? Love your work, of course.

MikeNelson59 karma

No plans right now for more books. To be honest, I'm a little sour on the experience because the editor who brought me on left and the guy that took over hated my writing and didn't get what was funny about it. Now, that's a completely legitimate point of view. But probably not from THE EDITOR OF MY BOOK!

rowsdower72616 karma

What's classier, a full denim outfit or a mustache + mullet combo?

MikeNelson51 karma

You're asking the wrong guy because really tight cargo shorts and a flannel shirt tied at the waist is pretty much my daily outfit.

tylermac115 karma

I've been a Rifftrax member for over 2 years. Absolutely love it! My friends and I have Rifftrax parties quite often. Also have every MST3K movie in my Queue on Netflix.

What has been your most enjoyable Rifftrax to record?

edit: P.S. Say hi to Bill and Kevin for me!

MikeNelson35 karma

Not being flip, but I have to say that all the shorter movies are the most fun to record. Seriously, it's tough to keep momentum up for the very long movies. Don't understand the trend towards longer and longer films.

For that reason, among others, Maniac is my fav.

Say hi to Bill and Kevin for me!

I will to Bill, but Kevin...? I can't. I just can't... (kidding!)

avalose11 karma

Why Hopkins, MN?

MikeNelson30 karma

Trace's brother had office space in Hopkins. Plus it was close to a really good Chinese buffet. Sometimes Frank would make us leave the office before 11:00 so we could get there when it opened.

Punkndrublic10 karma

How much ya bench?

MikeNelson16 karma

I'm throwing up a lot of iron these days, reverse pyramid, 8 reps to failure. (Actually, still trying to get to 4 girl pushups.)

ishadow7 karma

Is Bonesaw ready?

MikeNelson15 karma

He'll be ready in threeeeeeeeeeeeeee minutes!