Monday, June 15, 2009

The Affirmative Power of Mystery Science Theater 3000

Once upon a time, there was a sad little 12-year-old who thought she was a weirdo. She thought this only because that seemed to be the general consensus of most of her peers. She didn't like sports. She didn't like shopping or makeup. She didn't laugh at the same things other kids laughed at. She did like birdwatching, books, coloring, writing stories, and postmodern absurdist humor; but none of this really helped her social standing. As she entered junior high, she had the feeling that there might be something wrong with her, and that there was no one else in the world who could possibly understand her.

Then one fateful day she happened upon a strange program on Comedy Central. It looked like a terrible science-fiction movie, but at the bottom were figures in silhouette, saying things. Wonderful things. Ridiculous, smart, silly...WEIRD things. And this 12-year-old girl had an epiphany. "There are others!" she thought. "It's okay. You ARE a weirdo, but you have company..."

Thus began a love affair with a television program that admittedly may have gone a little too far back in middle school, but whatevs. Even with the distance of years, I think it's fair to say that Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) had a pretty dramatic effect on my life. Not being all that socially savvy, I formed friendships based on whether or not people also enjoyed the show, which was a pretty good move, as I'm still friends with most of those same smart, silly, weird people nearly 20 years later. I first dipped my toe in journalism by publishing a monthly newsletter with my friend Kathryn, and we even scored an interview with the star Mike Nelson, which was (and still is) pretty badass. I even saved all my babysitting money to go to Minnesota with my friend Melissa for a convention, which was strange, but at the time the coolest thing I had ever done.

I mellowed a bit in high school, but always had an affection for the show. I've been really, really lucky to meet some pretty cool people in my day: I've shaken hands with Bill Clinton, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Bono at a work event, I got the autograph of the guy who played Cousin Larry in Perfect Strangers. But one person remained elusive...MST3K creator Joel Hodgson.

Ah, Joel. The object of a fervent, multi-year teenage crush. The Buddha of my youth. Some kids worshipped rock stars, or athletes, or Nobel peace prize winners, or astronauts, or some damn thing. I worshipped a puppeteer in a red jumpsuit. But he all but disappeared after leaving the show in 1993 (incidentally, his last episode aired on the same night that the Phillies lost the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays. October 23 is a historically terrible day). Surely, I thought, I'll never meet him. Bono, sure. Clinton, meh. But Joel Hodgson? Lost to the mists of time...

But last week, destiny threw me a freakin' bone. It happened that Mr. Hodgson, and some other original cast members, were engaged in a very similar project to MST3K, but for legal reasons, had to call it Cinematic Titanic. But it's essentially MST. They show a bad movie. They make fun of it. And they were going on tour. To Philadelphia. Holy balls. I was six kinds of excited.

So me and John, my friend of nearly 20 years who has seen the MST obsession in all its stages, went to the Trocadero, plunked down $38 a ticket, stood in a rainy line, and prayed that it would still be as good as we remembered. And by god, it was. I laughed harder than I laughed all year. I snorted. It was an awesomely nerdy time. And then they announced that you could meet the cast in the lobby. Booyah.

I couldn't help it. I hugged every one of them. I enthused about how much fun it was, how good it was to hear their voices, how they needed to come back as soon as possible. And when I came to Joel at the end of the table, I told him how much his show meant to a little 12-year-old who thought there was no one who would ever get her. "Oh, yeah?" he asked. "Where is she?" "SHE'S RIGHT HERE!" I replied, and then I hugged the crap out of him. It was so undignified. It was so awesome.

So it might not be the most esteemed of choices of childhood heroes to have, but it's mine. And if you ever wanted to see what the happiest girl in the world looks like, check it:

We can cross that one off the bucket list. Rock.