This week, we're interviewing funnyman Cole Stratton, fan favorite riffer at RiffTrax Presents, and co-founder of SF Sketchfest with Janet Varney, which appears in Night of the Shorts.

RiffWiki: I'm going to start this interview by pretending to insult you. It's going to be hilarious, trust me. Ahem… Lets start by getting to know you a little bit better, MAGGOT! Tell us your life story, but don't be all day about it, damn you. AND BE FUNNY! We're not paying you to bum us out, for crying out loud!

My life story is pretty much everyone’s – boy is born in Michigan, boy moves to California, boy becomes boyish man, boyish man moves to San Francisco, boyish man starts comedy festival with womanly woman and manish man, boyish man moves to Los Angeles, boyish man does lots of improv and things, boyish man grows a beard to try to be manly man, bearded but still boyish man gets caught in weird paragraph constantly referring to himself in various states of manhood in the third person. Third person is bearded boyish man as well. Please send help.

RW: What was it that made you want to become a writer and performer of funny things?

Growing up, I was super into movies. I like to say I was raised by HBO, thus my obsession with 80s flicks. My bedroom wall was plastered with movie posters I got from a local video story, as well as giant cardboard standees – I had them from Broadcast News, Willow, and, coincidentally, the first movie Janet and I first riffed, Dirty Dancing. I always knew I wanted to do something performance related – I did a lot of theater, and when I was 12 I took my first improv class, and I was hooked. Been doing it ever since.

RW: Do you remember how exactly you became aware of Mystery Science Theater 3000?

I used to watch it when I was in high school and they aired them late night on Comedy Central (I remember the ads with the then unknown Patton Oswalt and Blaine Capatch telling you to watch ‘em). My friends and I would have slumber parties and watch, and then go to things like comic book conventions the next morning. Yeah, I was super cool. I always wise-cracked at movies when they were on TV as well, so I totally got it.

RiffTrax w Mike Nelson - Daredevil-102:06

RiffTrax w Mike Nelson - Daredevil-1

RW: Same question, only with RiffTrax.

A few years into running SF Sketchfest, we got Mike, Kevin and Bill to come to the fest and do what we called a “MST3K Symposium.” They had just started up Rifftrax, so the following year we had them come and do a live Rifftrax of Daredevil, and it was amazing. We kept bringing them back nearly every year, and still have them quite often.

RW: How did you come to be a RiffTrax Presents riffer? Did you tryout, were you solicited, or is there some other crazy circumstance that led you getting the gig?

Mike actually wrote me and Janet asking if we knew of any comedic writers who might have been interested in doing some writing for them, since we run SF Sketchfest (along with David Owen). They were pumping out content pretty fast then, and writing is a long process, so they were looking for a few people to write some movies for them. We recommended a couple of peeps, but also asked if they would consider us for it. Mike had us each write a sample – the last twenty minutes of the Nicolas Cage version of “The Wicker Man.” We wrote them separately, then compared them just for fun. Our samples were sufficient, and they hired us to write most of the first Harry Potter for them (everything after the first half hour). We wrote it together and had a lot of fun doing it. The guys changed some jokes and tailored it to them, but a lot of what you hear we wrote. After that, Mike asked if we would be interested in writing and recording riffs of our own, and we jumped at the chance.

RW: You and Janet Varney have a really great comedic chemistry in your riffs. How did you two find each other, and what compelled you to become riffing partners?

Janet and I met in college at SF State – we both ended up being a part of a sketch comedy group called Totally False People, along with our other fest founder David Owen and a great comic actor named Gabriel Diani (check out his film The Selling, which we are both in as well). All of us really loved writing and performing together, but Janet and I had a really special connection there. When the Rifftrax thing presented itself, it really gave us a great avenue to expand our writing partnership and have fun. We both stay pretty busy so we haven’t been able to do them as frequently as we would like, but I’m happy to say that we are working on a new title now which we will record in a month or two.

RW: One of the things I really like about RiffTrax Presents, is that not only does it shake things up a bit as far as a variety of styles, but it also provides a mechanism for movies that RiffTrax has chosen not to do themselves to become part of the "riffing canon," for lack of a better term. Is there an entry that you're particularly proud of that you would like to point to as what you would want to be considered your "riffing legacy?"

Dirty dancing rifftrax sample-001:16

Dirty dancing rifftrax sample-0

Hmmm. Well, we have loved riffing goofy 80s films. All of them have been really enjoyable. Dirty Dancing was great fun cuz it was our first. My favorite might be Jaws III, cuz its just so terrible, and we wrote a fun intro for the movie where we had Mike be Captain Quint introducing the film.

RW: How do you and Janet go about choosing what movies you want to riff? Is it committee meeting, are you commanded to riff certain movies by a decree from on high, how does all that work?

We basically put together a list of things we want to riff kind of in order of preference, then we let Mike and the powers that be let us know what we should do. Sometimes its based on title availability – the ones that are on Netflix streaming, for example, tend to get more downloads then ones that aren’t. I think our next one will be a V.O.D., which is pretty cool.

RW: How does the writing process go down? Do you guys write together, separately, what? How long does it usually take to write and record a riff? Does it go smoothly, or can it be a pain?

Rifftrax Presents! JAWS 3 Sample-002:28

Rifftrax Presents! JAWS 3 Sample-0

We usually divide up the film into 10 minute chunks, alternating, to write on our own, since our schedules are pretty tough to sync up sometimes. Sometimes we write sections together, but often we get together and run through the sections we’ve drafted and then work on fine tuning or changing jokes, or tailoring them towards one of us. Usually takes a month or two to write them, and then the recording (which we do down in San Diego near Rifftrax HQ) takes a couple of hours, depending on how well the riffing is going, with a short break in the middle someplace so we can stretch and eat red vines.

RW: Is there a particular movie that you would like to riff one day, but just for whatever reason, you haven't gotten to yet?

Oh yeah, quite a few. The one we are doing now we’ve been wanting to do for years. Personally, I really want to do Young Guns. One day I’ll make it happen!

RW: I'm going to ask you to make some "picks." 3 of your own riffs that you think are the best, followed by 3 full length "Official" RiffTrax.

Of our own riffs, I think our best are Footloose, Jaws III and The Lost Boys. Though I love all of ‘em. Of the official Rifftrax, I dig Road House, Over the Top, and the first Harry Potter of course, since we wrote a lot of it and it signifies the start of the great adventure for us!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Trailer HD02:20

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Trailer HD

RW: And if you could force Mike, Kevin and Bill to riff a single movie of your choosing, which would it be and why?

Oh, man. I think I’d make them riff The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. That movie feels like forever and is ripe for a riff down.

RW: Thanks so much for talking to us, we really can't thank you enough it. Is there anything on the horizon you'd like to let us know about? Any place we can go to partake of your comedic wares in exchange for legal tender?

I do a lot of shows at the Westside Comedy Theater  in Santa Monica, CA, so look for me there. We also are ramping up for our 14th Annual SF Sketchfest this coming January 22 – February 8, 2015. And check out my podcast, Pop My Culture!

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