The topical humor behind MST3K


My favorite show of all time is Mystery Science Theater 3000. The oddball show about a man (Joel and later Mike) shot up into space and forced to watch bad movies with only his homemade robots as his companions. Despite the silly premise, it was extremely clever and had some of the wittiest writing of its time.

To this day I still watch MST3K on DVD and laugh uncontrollably. Much to my surprise it still holds up extremely well due to one important rule the writers made sure to stick to: Avoid topical humor as much as possible. This golden rule kept the jokes timeless, making sure MST3K had a long shelf life long after it went off the air.

Sure, there were a few topical jokes here and there, but they were able to use the movie itself to create their best riffs.

I noticed this while watching MST3K the movie a few months ago for the first time in a long time. Created with the intention of reaching a larger audience, the writers took to a different type of riffing and included a higher ratio of topical jokes in order to resonate with the current theatrical audience. Because the jokes were current (and the world moved much slower back then) people were familiar with it and so it was easier to make an instant connection. This unfortunately created a slightly shorter shelf life for the movie. Sure, it’s STILL funny but I was surprised by how many of the jokes took me a moment to get because they were based off current events from almost 20 years ago.

Time has shown that the humor of the TV show has a long lasting appeal that can still please any old fan, and potential new fans who pops their head into the room and wonders why is someone laughing at an old movie with those “annoying” shadows down in the bottom.


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