Nerds, geeks and cheesy-movie enthusiasts alike flocked to Zoellner Arts Center on Thursday, Oct. 10, for Mystery Science Theater 3000 LIVE: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour.
The show is a live adaptation of the TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, known to its fanbase as MST or MST3K. The series, ranked in 2007 as one of TIME’s top 100 TV shows of all time, features a host and his robot puppet companions, who are forced by scientists to watch bad movies. To keep themselves sane, the group makes snappy commentary poking fun at the films and occasionally breaks to perform skits and songs.
During the live show, host and series creator, Joel Hodgson, and his robot friends Crow and Servo watched the 1986 film, “No Retreat No Surrender,” which follows Jason, a teenage boy who is trained in martial arts by the spirit of Bruce Lee so he can defeat Ivan Kraschinsky, a Soviet martial artist played by Jean-Claude van Damme, in one of his first major roles.
Throughout the viewing, Hodgson and friends poked fun at Jason’s infatuation with Bruce Lee, complete with teary-eyed visits to his grave, the obvious use of stunt doubles, a cringe-worthy rap performed by Jason’s best friend R.J., and the fact that Bruce Lee’s character is not, in fact, Bruce Lee.
The show itself relishes not only in the cheesiness of the movies it mocks, but its own cheesiness as well, taking every opportunity to make meta-jokes about the limitations imposed on its skits by the laws of puppetry.
Andrew Cassano, Zoellner Arts Center’s administrative director, said he is a “huge fan” of the show and was excited to bring it to Bethlehem.
“I first started watching it back when I was in high school in the early ‘90s, when they were on Comedy Central,” Cassano said. “They’ve been doing the (live) show for a little while, and when we were putting the season together, we got contacted about the show being on tour, so we took the opportunity to put it up.”
A show that will crack a childish joke one moment and make a Star Trek reference the next, attracted an audience of diverse ages.
Kathleen and Dave Aiello came with their young sons Peter and Jimmy Aiello, at Jimmy’s request. Jimmy Aiello said he has been a fan of MST3K for the past two years, and found it through the series’ Netflix reboot. It was Jimmy Aiello and his family’s first time seeing the live version.
“I knew it existed, but I’d only ever really watched over people’s shoulders,” Dave Aiello said.
He credited his son for getting the rest of the family into the show.
Self-identified nerd Jack Kelly, ‘23, said he got into the original ‘80s and ‘90s run of MST3K through his dad. Kelly said he didn’t realize the show did live touring performances, but he learned about it, from posters in Zoellner.
“I like how dry the humor is,” Kelly said. “I think you kind of have to be (a nerd) to enjoy this type of thing, you have to understand why making fun of bad movies is funny. Not everyone understands the appeal in watching a bad movie.”
As announced by a commemorative plaque brought onstage at the end of the show, this live tour will be Hodgson’s last, but MST3K fans are hopeful new Netflix episodes will be on the way once the live tour ends.