Interview with Trace Beaulieu of MST3K and Cinematic Titanic

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The conclusion to our two-part exclusive interview with Trace Beaulieu, formerly of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and now with Cinematic Titanic

Read yesterday's part one here.

Crow T. Robot enjoying the latest issue of mental_floss magazine

Trace Beaulieu's older brother, Bryan, built a special house back in 2005. In fact, it's the only one of its kind in the United States.

Kara Kovalchik: Your brother designed and built a very Earth-friendly hydrogen-powered house in Arizona. What can you tell us about it?

Trace Beaulieu: I don't know a lot about the ins and outs of it. Solar panels... I think it was meant to have a hydrogen generator, but, it's very unique. He was trying a lot of different systems on this house. Kind of an experiment. Just a really interesting project. If you go online, you can see pictures of it. I've been there, but I'm not a desert person. I'm more of a water person. Bryan loves that area. He was going out there quite a bit, and just fell in love with it.

KK: So you prefer Minnesota?

TB: Yes. I missed the lakes. I'm heading back there in a couple of hours. We're pretty rural, about an hour east of Minneapolis, right on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border.

KK: And your wife helps you there with fulfilling Cinematic Titanic orders?

TB: Yes! She's also been home taking care of our chickens. We have about eight of them. They're egg-layers. We're not gonna eat them.

KK: Although your characters sometimes lapse into the typical Minnesota accent, you don't seem to have one yourself, even though you grew up in Minneapolis. Why is that?

TB: I don't know what happened to it. I may have consciously tried to not do the Minnesota thing. It leaks through occasionally. We pull it out quite a bit [for the show].

KK: Have you ever seen the huge twine ball?

TB: (laughs) I have, yes. I know where it is.

Beaulieu as mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester on MST3K.

Cinematic Titanic includes the talents of several MST3K alumni: Joel Hodgson (Joel Robinson); Frank Conniff (TV's Frank); J. Elvis Weinstein (Clayton's assistant Dr. Erhardt and the first Tom Servo); and Mary Jo Pehl (as Pearl Forrester). All served as performers and writers on the show.

KK: Does each writer perform his or her own jokes during the show?

TB: No, the lines get divided up and then get assigned based on who would pull the line off the best. Sometimes we get our own lines, and sometimes we get others', and it's a big blend of voices that way.

KK: The Cinematic Titanic show used to employ silhouettes that were different than the classic MST3K ones. Do you still use those?

TB: It's just us on stage with iPads with our scripts on them, and some music stands.

KK: Wow, not even paper scripts?

TB: We can carry every movie we've written with us now. In some theaters, it's "audience choice," so we might not know which film we're going to do until a few days before. And we don't have to carry three-ring binders with us, or a filing cabinet of scripts. Now, we hit the ground very lean and mean. We've got our movies on hard drives, and our scripts on iPads, and we're very modern!

In contrast to so many 1990s comedy shows that went well into "dirty humor," like South Park and Beavis & Butthead, Mystery Science Theater 3000 always kept its foot planted just this side of rudeness. This decision, which continues with Cinematic Titanic, allows the group to attract audience members of a surprisingly young age.

KK: In some cities, you're riffing on two different films in an early and late show. Should we expect more bawdy humor further into the evening?

TB: We try to stay in a PG-13 range. Sometimes, we'll get excited and stray over. We'll "cross the blue line," as they say in hockey. But the second movie we're doing, Doomsday Machine, has got more adult themes within it, so... Still, we still have little kids come to the show.

KK: So it's safe for youngsters?

TB: I would say that it's a parenting decision. If you know your kids well enough, and they can handle it... A friend of mine brought his young daughter to our show in Davis, California, and he asked her very thoughtful questions beforehand. She's a very bright kid. Most of these kids that are into MST are pretty bright, and pretty worldly, too.

KK: Speaking of kids, on MST3K, it always surprised me that so many of the fan letters Joel read were from little kids who'd draw the robots with crayon. It seemed like the humor would be beyond them. What was that like?

TB: It was terrific. I mean, for a show that we thought would just go away, to still be around after 20 years and to still be garnering some young fans...

KK: That has to feel good.

TB: It does. Not all of us are getting paid for those MST episodes anymore, but (pause) our karma bank account is quite healthy. We're also lucky in that it doesn't affect our lives all that much. We can walk around in normal life, and if I'm not dressed as Lincoln or Dr. Forrester... We're famous in the building that we're performing in, but as soon as we hit the door, we're just folks.

For sale at the show, and available at tracebeaulieu.com, is one of Beaulieu's newest ventures, a book of children's poetry titled Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children.

KK: Tell us about the book.

TB: That was a great deal of fun. About half of those poems were just lying around in the drawer. And I contacted [zombie artist] Len Peralta to do the illustrations. I really wanted to work with him. There was another book I had approached him to do, but then I thought, "Let's see how we work together." I fleshed out the other half of the book and Len did these fantastic illustrations. And it's been so much fun.

KK: Will we get a preview at the Cinematic Titanic show?

TB: Sure, I'll read them on stage. Mary Jo and I have done book readings together, since she's got a book too. And it's just been a lot of fun. There'll be copies for sale at the show.

KK: It's something you published yourself?

TB: Yes. It's a real mom-and-pop kind of publishing venture. Like anything else I've done, I'm more of a "Let's just do it!" attitude. And everyone would say, "Oh, publishers aren't buying that kind of book." And I'm like, "Well, I just want people to buy it."

KK: A lot of people are selling millions of copies of self-publishing books.

TB: Yeah, and I'm selling hundreds! (laughs) One day, it'll grow, but I'm very happy with the response it's gotten. It's earned great reviews, and people are finding it on its own just like how MST grew. That was something we just did instead of selling it to somebody. We could never have sold that to somebody. Some concepts are just too hard to sell.

As if performing live, building sets, raising chickens, and writing books weren't enough, Beaulieu also creates his own pieces of art. He hopes to display and offer a selection of found art works and sculptures, when he can find the time.

KK: So you're still into creating art from found objects?

TB: Yes, I am. I just got my studio back in shape to be able to work in it, so, what I need to do is get them up on my Web site. I'm terrible at that kind of thing. We spend all our time doing fulfillment. Katy, my wife, is embroiled with Cinematic Titanic. That's all we do!

KK: Do you just want to make art, or is it a business for you?

TB: I have sold some pieces. I had an art show when I was living in Los Angeles eight years ago. Now, it's just I make it for my own pleasure, and I don't ever have it any of it on display. It's all in boxes. I need to get it up on the Web site. It's stuff that people really need to see in person, though. Maybe this'll be all be found after I'm gone.

KK: Aw, don't say that.

TB: The stuff I do is really kinda tech-looking, if I can use that word in the four-letter form.

KK: I read that your dad once brought you a champagne basket that he'd found on the roadside.

TB: Yeah. I had people for a long time finding things that had been smashed on the road. My niece still does that. She lives in California, now, and she'll come back and say "Hey, I found this on the ground, and I thought of you." Maybe this is the motivation I need to get that stuff on the Web, although it's much better to view it in person.

Cinematic Titanic is scheduled to perform in Royal Oak, Michigan (outside of Detroit), on Saturday, February 25. They'll be showing Astral Factor at 7pm, and Doomsday Machine at 10. Visit cinematictitanic.com for more details.

KK: Tell us more about the show.

TB: Dave (Gruber) Allen does the opening act, and we invade his space to do a little bit of our own shtick. Depending on who's available and who's at the show, sometimes we have guests drop in. I don't think we'll have any in Michigan, but Dave is great himself. He anchors the show. You might remember him from Freaks & Geeks [as guidance counselor Jeff Rosso].

KK: Does anything fun happen before or after the shows?

TB: Merchandise will be available, and we'll meet fans. We do a short meet-and-greet between shows, but the staff needs to turn over the theater. So we ask that if you're going to both shows or just the second show, that you come to the second meet-and-greet afterwards. That would be best, so we can meet more people. But as long as people are there, we'll be there.

KK: I would imagine people would be there all night. Don't fans throw themselves in front of your tour bus like they do for rock singers?

TB: We have a bad tour bus driver. They're not throwing themselves; he's just a bad driver.

KK: Trace, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me, and good luck with Cinematic Titanic.

TB: This was fun! Thanks.

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February 23, 2012 - 10:00am
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