Bill Corbett makes fun of things for a living.
For example, one part of Corbett's job requires him to remark, in response to Lando Calrissian's "Empire Strikes Back" line to Han Solo, "You've got a lot of guts coming here, after what you pulled, " that "Lando just sat through '[Indiana Jones and the] Crystal Skull.'"
Corbett's held this most unusual job for five years now, not counting his time on the cult classic television series "Mystery Science Theater 3000," which ran for ten years on Comedy Central and what was then the Sci-Fi Channel, with a devoted fanbase who tuned in for every episode. RiffTrax, a project of three former cast members from the series - Corbett, Michael J. Nelson and Kevin Murphy - recently celebrated its anniversary of commenting on both Hollywood's biggest hits and lesser-known turkeys.
RiffTrax and the other MST3K offshoot, Cinematic Titanic are wildly popular at places like Dragon*Con and San Diego Comic-Con.
"Many geeks are film buffs, and they recognize cheaply made and/or badly written films when they see them," said Brian Henry of MST3KInfo.com. "Movie riffing, especially the intelligent riffing done by MST3K, RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic, is an opportunity to take control from the film makers and turn those poorly-made movies into hilarious, crowd-pleasing entertainment."
As Corbett, best known for playing Crow T. Robot and "Brain Guy" during "MST3K's" later years, explained, “We just kinda started doing this not knowing it would go anywhere, and it just seems to keep growing and growing."
Seeing that there was still a demand for this sort of thing, not to mention the fact that they loved doing it, Corbett and crew have been riffing on blockbusters like "Lord of the Rings," "Avatar" and "Harry Potter." There's also, of course, still time for obscurities like "Planet of Dinosaurs." RiffTrax audio recordings can be synched up to play over any movie the trio decides to mock.
"That was one thing that people really wanted us to do on 'Mystery Science Theater,'" Corbett explained. "We wanted to do ‘Titanic,’ but we could only riff the moments we got on the press kit [for an 'MST3K' Oscar special]. People would go crazy and say, ‘Why don’t you do the whole movie?’ And the answer was, we would get crushed by the movie studio and we can’t afford it!"
Now that they've found a way to do it, Corbett said that one of his favorite riffs is a certain popular vampire movie saga. “I love doing the ‘Twilight’ movies. They take themselves so seriously, and they leave such great big pauses to get our jokes in," he said. “I kinda like our riff for ‘300’ too. I enjoyed that in particular, because it was so macho."
However, he's not looking forward to the possibility of taking on "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."
“The ‘Transformers’ movies really sit on your brain. They move along in these quick shots that don’t make a whole lot of sense."
The RiffTrax guys, did, however, commit to a commentary for "Logan's Run" at their Comic-Con panel this year.
The geek audience that loves RiffTrax hasn't always warmed up to what they're doing, though. "When RiffTrax riffed 'The Dark Knight,' some people were deeply offended," said Chris Cornell, Henry's partner in running the website. "That attitude always seems so silly to me. They're not drawing a moustache ON the Mona Lisa. They're just drawing a moustache on a drawing pad nearby. They're not hurting the original. They're just offering their own observations on it. I think when you feel you need come to the defense of a movie, it's time to step away from the computer, get outside and go for a walk."
As for a possible reboot of "Mystery Science Theater," with all of the puppetry and makeup that would entail for Corbett, he said, "When the show was taken off the air, it was really hard, we were having a great time. My fear is we would do a lame version of it and it would just not match up to what people remember."
Even if Crow has been retired, professional movie heckling is here to stay.
As Cornell put it, "One of the most common comments I saw on our site was: 'It's a great time to be a MSTie.'"