Get ready for a robot roll call! Since Mystery Science Theater 3000 first made its debut on a local Minneapolis station nearly 30 years ago, it’s been refit for a variety of media—including a feature film, a book, and live riffing events. Now the beloved sci-fi series, which pokes fun at some of the best worst films in the cinematic universe, is getting the comic book treatment.
Earlier today, Dark Horse Comics—the publisher behind Frank Miller’s Sin City—announced on its blog that it has partnered with the funny folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000 to produce both a new comic book series as well as a line of MST3K-branded products.
Though the show debuted in 1988, it still maintains a rabid fan base, as creator Joel Hodgson proved in 2015 when he launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring the series back and create a line of merchandise—and promptly raised more than $6.3 million from fans.
Netflix, which will stream the reboot, has yet to announce a firm premiere date for the new series (which will see Jonah Ray take over hosting duties), but production began last year, so a 2017 air date seems likely.
While details on the new comic book series are also very limited, Dark Horse’s vice president of publishing, Randy Stradley, can hardly contain his excitement. “I first encountered the show in 1992, and immediately fell in love with both the concept and the characters,” Stradley said. “I began inquiring about the license in 1993, and now—a mere 24 years later—we have Comics Sign!” Here’s hoping both the new show and the comic book series drop in the not-too-distant future.
Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.
1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.
Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.
2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.
In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”
3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.
Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.
4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.
Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”
5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.
Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.
6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.
World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.
7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.
Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.
8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.
With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”
9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.
Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.
10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.
Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”
In the late 1980s, comedian Garry Shandling was a recurring guest host on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. His work didn’t get him Carson’s chair, but NBC was impressed enough with his hosting abilities to offer him David Letterman’s seat when Letterman left Late Night. Ultimately, Shandling—who passed away unexpectedly in 2016—decided against taking NBC’s reported $5 million a year offer, forcing the network to famously go with a "30-year-old unknown comedy writer" named Conan O'Brien instead.
When CBS offered Shandling its own 12:35 a.m. slot soon after, the comedian realized he wasn’t someone that wanted—or needed—to be on TV every night. Instead, Shandling co-created The Larry Sanders Show with Dennis Klein, an HBO series that deftly parodied late night talk shows. Here are 15 things you might not know about the groundbreaking series, which debuted 25 years ago.
1. GARRY SHANDLING GOT THE IDEA FOR LARRY SANDERS FROM HIS PREVIOUS SHOW.
Concurrently with his guest hosting of The Tonight Show, Shandling starred in Showtime’s It’s Garry Shandling’s Show from 1986 to 1990, where the comedian played himself, often addressing both the studio audience and the camera directly. In an episode where Garry was a guest on a morning talk show (“Take My Girlfriend, for Example”), he realized that there could be a whole other show told from the television personality’s point of view.
2. JEFFREY TAMBOR MADE A DESPERATE MOVE TO GET THE ROLE OF HANK KINGSLEY.
After having what he felt was a good audition, Jeffrey Tambor found himself uncharacteristically calling Shandling hours later, saying that he really wanted to play his sidekick. Shandling told him that calling after an audition is exactly something Hank Kingsley would do.
3. ALBERT BROOKS'S DEFENDING YOUR LIFE GOT RIP TORN THE ROLE OF ARTIE.
Executive producer Peter Tolan thought lawyer Bob Diamond, the character Torn played in Defending Your Life, was similar to what they were looking for with Larry Sanders’ producer character, Artie. When Torn and Shandling first met, Torn wouldn’t read the script until the two first had some idle chatter.
4. THE "HEY NOW" EPISODE WAS ACTUALLY THE FIRST EPISODE WRITTEN AND PRODUCED.
When The Larry Sanders Show was on Netflix, “Hey Now” was correctly listed first. But when it originally aired on HBO, it was the last episode shown in the first season. Shandling credited Dennis Klein as the person who came up with Hank Kingsley’s classic Ed McMahon-ism.
5. THE CINEMATOGRAPHER SHOT ON ROLLER SKATES.
The talk show-within-the-show scenes were shot on four video cameras, and shown once a month to a studio audience. The scenes outside of the talk show were shot on film with three cameras in operation at once, with cinematographer Peter Smokler backpedaling on roller skates to shoot the walk-and-talks up and down the studio hallways.
6. THE ACTORS GOT TIRED OF CLEANING UP THEIR LANGUAGE.
Up until the halfway point of season two, actors would record a second take of finished scenes without cursing, so someday it could be shown in non-cable syndication. But they eventually grew tired of the extra work, leading to messier edits down the line when it was broadcast on IFC and Bravo.
7. EDDIE MURPHY WAS THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY THE GUEST ON HANK KINGSLEY’S HOSTING EPISODE.
The part in “Hank’s Night In The Sun” ended up being filled by Cheers star George Wendt.
8. JEREMY PIVEN LEFT THE SHOW TO STAR IN P.C.U.
Jeremy Piven, who played Sanders' head writer Jerry, was written off the show in the early season two episode “Larry’s Birthday.” Piven received Shandling’s blessing to leave. When his movie career didn’t get off the ground, he co-starred on the sitcom Ellen.
9. JANEANE GAROFALO LEFT LARRY SANDERS TO JOIN SNL.
Mary Lou Collins (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub) was promoted to the role of booker when Janeane Garofalo's Paula character was written off the show. Garofalo lasted less than one season on SNL, and later admitted that she regretted leaving Larry Sanders.
10. DAVID DUCHOVNY’S ATTRACTION TO LARRY WAS DUCHOVNY’S IDEA.
11. SHANDLING WROTE THE JOKES MAKING FUN OF HIMSELF.
In the series finale, “Flip,” Sean Penn rips on Garry Shandling to Larry Sanders—which is the only time Shandling is ever referenced in the series. (Penn and Shandling had just worked together on the film version of Hurlyburly.) Shandling toldThe New York Times that he is the one who wrote the jokes about himself, as ''Nobody can write better jokes putting me down than me ... I know how to destroy myself."
12. DAVID LETTERMAN THOUGHT IT WAS VERY REALISTIC.