RiffWiki: So the standard first question in these things seems to be "Do you remember how and when you first became aware of Mystery Science Theater 3000?" THRILL! But I guess it's a good thing because this is the logical starting point for people who were inspired by MST3K and aspire to be like it. Do you have a vivid recollection of how you learned about this show that hasn't been on the air in 15 years? Were you a viewer during the original run, or did you come into the fold afterwards, like so many of us?Rikk: I’m unfortunately late to the party. I wasn’t able to enjoy MST3K while it was airing. I grew up in a very rural area and my folk’s weren’t willing to spring for cable. I had 13 channels of basic television. It was Home Improvement & Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reruns for this guy.
I would occasionally catch a snippet of it whilst at a friend’s house I used to jam with closer to town. We were aspiring musicians and my visits there were usually about learning to sing and play guitar. Not much time for Sci-Fi Channel breaks but I was vaguely aware of the show. I have little memory flashes in my head of seeing Mike & the ‘bots while someone was racing through the channels.
It wasn’t until many years later whilst watching the colorized re-release of “Night of the Living Dead” someone had loaned me that my MSTie flame would be finally ignited. I had a developed a serious penchant for DVD audio commentaries and this copy happened to have a solo riff track from one Michael J. Nelson.
I thoroughly enjoyed Mike’s track and traced his name back to MST3K. Soon after followed a massive MST3K binge. It was difficult to track down every last episode but I managed. I probably don’t need to tell you it was a real bummer once there weren’t any more to watch for the first time.
RiffWiki: Same question, only with RiffTrax.
Rikk: I discovered Rifftrax at roughly the same time I became fully aware of MST3K. I believe at the time they had only just recently launched.
RiffWiki: ICWXP is arguably the most successful (or at least the most popular) riffing show that doesn't directly involve any MST3K alumni. I know there's a story about how you were inspired to create ICWXP. Do you want to give us the reader's digest version of that?
Rikk: Thanks for the kind words!
The next pit stop on the road to ICWXP was getting my mitts on the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. I’d already gained some video production knowhow producing music videos for my own and other local bands and the episode guide uncovered the simple genius of the silhouette effect and other priceless little gems.
Riffing flicks was something that came pretty natural to a friend of mine and myself and I’d started to discover fan-projects like “Mystery Fandom Theater 3000”, “Media Center Theatre 3000” and “Mystery Spatula Theater 11”.
I began to entertain ideas of producing our own one-off riffing show but I didn’t want it to be such an on the nose a nod to MST3K. I’d seen some “tributes” or “homages” that were even just straight up calling themselves “Mystery Science Theater 3000”.
I didn’t wanna do that although seeing all those efforts gave me reassurance that doing this sort of thing wasn’t completely bonkers (just a bit a bonkers).
I started to sketch up drawings of characters and I had this pretty convincing tactical uniform lying around from a proof-of-concept video I’d shot for a zombie show called “CORPS”.
RiffWiki: Let's talk about the similarities between MST3K and ICWXP, as well as the differences. Long story short, the similarities is that they both involve a young man who is somehow trapped in a theater-like environment who is forced by a malevolent entity to watch bad movies with his robot companions for some reason. Could you expand a bit on how you feel ICWXP is like MST3K, and how it is different?Rikk: I feel, or at least hope, that it catches that warm “you’re watching a bad movie with three of your most hilarious and best friends” vibe MST3K had. It’s my opinion that the movie segments are much more rich for the viewer if you really connect them with the riffers during the live action or “host segments”.
The main contrasts between ICWXP and MST3K stem simply from our personalities. When I first came up with the notion for it there was absolutely no thought given to being marketable or pandering to anyone’s tastes but my own.
I’m quite the metal head so we get a big, chunky, pounding theme song. I have a fairly dark sense of humor so you’ll hear jokes a little grimmer.
The MST3K alums are also about twenty years our seniors. I’m always trying to make sure we strive for that gold standard of cleverness delivered by our predecessors but being kids of the 80’s and 90’s there’s also the occasional fart joke. I’m not bragging.
RiffWiki: What ultimately led to the circumstance of Mike Nelson giving his blessing to the project? Or at least that's my understanding of the interaction. Am I right, or is there more to it than simply that?Rikk: Rifftrax’s producer at the time, Josh Gemma, reached out to us. After we were finished wetting ourselves and opened the e-mail, we were delighted to find that it was an invitation to be among the first iRiffs (though, they weren’t calling it that yet).
We agreed and later worked up the courage to ask Mr. Nelson for a blurb. He was kind enough to oblige. Whew.
A few months later we were featured in big photo article in The Kansas City Star. Mike once again was awesome to take the time to correspond with the author of the piece and further threw us some glowing comments.
I’ve actually never spoken with him but I hope one day I can shake the man’s hand and say thanks. His thumbs up did a lot to win over skeptics and make ICWXP a hugely rewarding part of my life.
RiffWiki: Lets talk about the characters just for a bit, and I want to start with the Rick character. Rick (the character, but I can't imagine you two are incredibly different in personality and temperament) carries himself in a very high-and-tight manner, not unlike a dedicated Non-Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. Or at least that's how I see him, as I spent my 20s in the U.S. Army. Were you every involved with the U.S. Armed forces, whether it be enlisted, ROTC or you had a family member that was heavily involved with it? If it's not any of these things, why do you think your character comes off this way?Rikk: “Rick” is definitely not a stretch for me to play, though I’m performing as myself in a pretty irritated state of mind.
We always have a bit of a laugh over his attitude. If it were really me, I think I’d be having a blast with a whole mysterious movie theater to some robot buddies and myself… at least until the food ran out.
I’ve never served, though I have tremendous respect for those who do or have.
I think Rick comes off as high-and-tight because he’s almost always playing the straight man while the bots play the goofball. Rick’s Abbot, they’re Costello.
He’s more or less intended to be the audience’s connection to normalcy and to act somewhat like you’d expect a solider to given such wacky circumstances. He finds the bots irking and wants to get back to fighting to win back the world. He doesn’t want to be there and takes it out on the robots from time to time.
I’m a lot goofier in real life. I think the real me would be acting just as silly as the bots [laughs].
RiffWiki: Onto the bots. For anybody who can't be bothered to dig any deeper about the show other than reading the description on the DVD case, it would seem that those guys are just lazy stand-ins for Tom Servo and Crow. But, of course, we know better. Topsy, Johnny and Flux all have unique personalities and create a very interesting dynamic that is not at all like Mike or Joel's relationship to Tom and Crow. Were there external inspirations for these guys, or do the performers tend to define their personalities? Did the casting drive the creation of the characters, or was it vice-versa?
Rikk: [laughs] That’s awesome to hear. I’m glad they don’t come off as Tom & Crow clones once you get past the robot thing.
I’d say it’s a three-part mixture of appearance, writing and voice actor personality.Topsy naturally came out looking cross, so I wrote him as slightly antagonistic. The voice actors we’ve had for him all had the talent to dig into those parts of their personalities but Nick Evans nails it and gives us the complete package. Cylon ended up with friendly features and Zach Legler’s voice suits that perfectly. I started writing him as the “nice one” to balance out Topsy’s impishness. Flux came out looking very aloof and too-cool-for-school so he’s a bit hard-boiled and withdrawn. Jason Chaffee’s great at that sort of delivery. I’ve always told our puppeteers / voice actors to just be themselves. When we were having auditions, a lot of guys would try to do over-the-top cartoony voices and I wasn’t digging that. The bots already look like Happy Meal toys so I wanted their voices to sound like just some dudes [laughs]. Zach naturally pitches his voice up but other than that, the guys are just using their regular speaking voices. I think that adds to the comedy of the characters. I can’t say any of them were originally inspired by anyone I’ve known. They’ve gone through their own genesis to become both unique characters as well as mixtures of their voice actor’s personalities.
RiffWiki: There are very few riff shows that actually have a continuing storyline. Even MST3K didn't have THAT much of a continuing storyline. ICWXP has a distinct, dramatic story arc that is incredibly uncommon for the medium. Is there a long term plan for the series story, or do you handle it a season at a time?Rikk: Yeah, while I know some folks balked at the notion of a story arc on MST3K (Best Brains included) I really appreciated the Sci-Fi years. I’m a total sucker for ,“To Be Continued…”, so I thought we’d try our hand at telling a story.
There was always a lot of chatter on our forums about possible backstory so it didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to show them more. Our fan base doubled as soon as we started doing it, so while I know a few folks out there still aren’t completely onboard with it, I’m ultimately glad we took the plunge into sci-fi adventuredom. It sure seems to set us apart for better or worse.
We’ve got the ending to Season 2 all plodded out and should we manage to survive into a Season 3, we know what that’ll be like as well.
I have a file on our production machine positively stuffed to the brim with ideas. There’s a lot you can do with these kinds of characters.
RiffWiki: Can you talk about the future of ICWXP? What's the current status of production and what can we expect in the near future?Rikk: Sure. I’ll be honest. It’s a smidge murky right now.
We’ve been at this for six or seven years and last year we were finally getting shopped around to the likes of Adult Swim, AMC and FX. Never our goal from the beginning to make ICWXP our careers but we certainly were all for seeing if the show could make it on the air in some form or another. It would sure beat flippin’ burgers.
The entire time we were biting our nails over what would have to happen to our riffing segments because of obvious legal concerns and we wanted to reach out to Best Brains first and foremost but we weren’t in control. We had to stand firm that we wouldn’t allow ICWXP to be turned into a reality show too. Can you imagine?
We got a lot of positive feedback from the networks but in the end we heard the same thing across the board – “too niche for tv”.
So that was that. We took special care not to get our hopes up but it was still disappointing nothing came of it of course.
Flash-forward about a year and some of us are gearing up to move away to bigger cities with some actual opportunities and the cost of producing the show even with tremendous fan donations is now just overwhelming. Regardless, I refuse to skimp everyone out of an epically hilarious ending to the storyline we’ve set in motion.
So right now the plan is to finish up Season 2 and give our fans the biggest, maddest most satisfying finale we can. We’re only still here thanks to them. We’re riffing a full-length movie once again and we’re hoping for some pretty mind-blowing easter eggs in Episode 206.Following that, we’d like to do another movie review episode if possible and personally I’d like to go back and do two more of the cheaper, simplistic season one episodes. That way we’d have six entries in boths seasons and bring balance to the Force.
If we truly have to strip down, there’s the notion of a version of the show subtitled “The Ludivico Files” that would be just riffing à la Cinematic Titanic. As heartbreaking for me as it would be to see the host segments go, it costs virtually nothing to produce the movie segments and it would be preferable to dropping off the map entirely.
If not or in addition to, I’m working on a new sci-fi comedy that would recycle some of the same characters into a new universe. It got its start as ICWXP Season 3 but it’s gone through many permutations and turned into a whole other animal now.
It would be sort of “Red Dwarf” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” meets a much more humorous “The Walking Dead”. Hopefully it’s not the peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich that it sounds like and actually works [laughs].
If things turn out to be all rainbows and gumdrops and we can dive into a proper Season 3, there’s plenty of plans in place for that as well like I said.
I know it sounds a little bleak at the moment but it has for us before and things can completely turnaround in a heartbeat. We love doing this show and we’ve all grown attached to the characters. Writing in the ICWXP universe is a criminal amount of fun and the fans are just spectacular to us (as well as insanely patient).
I want to keep doing more. It’s changed my life, no question. Because people watch ICWXP, I’ve gotten to keep having absurd, childlike levels of fun into my early thirties.
RiffWiki: I'm gonna ask you to make some "picks" here. 3 of your own riffs, 3 full length RiffTrax, 3 episodes of MST3K and 3 iRiffs other than your own.
Rikk: You got it. For us, I recommend “Bloody Pit of Horror”, “Soapy the Germ Fighter” and “Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory”. As for Rifftrax, I really enjoyed “Super Mario Bros.”, “Troll 2” and I dug what they did with a fresh pass on “Manos: The Hands of Fate”. “The Final Sacrifice”, “Werewolf” and “Tormented” consistently crack me up when it comes to MST3K. I recommend anything done by Josh Way’s “Fun With Shorts” or Noah Antwiler’s “The Spoony Experiment”. While they’re not on iRiffs, Master Pancake has been kicking bad movie butt for many moons before live audiences down in Texas.
RiffWiki: And lastly, if you could choose one movie for Mike, Kevin and Bill to riff that they have not yet, which would it be and why?Rikk: Easy. Zardoz. Although I hear Mike won’t touch it [laughs]. It’s just so bewilderingly strange it opens up a lot of comedic possibilities.
RiffWiki: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. If there's anything else you'd like to say, or if you'd like to tell our readers where they can find your work, feel free to do so here. Again, thanks for talking to us.
Rikk: Hey, it’s been my pleasure. There’s no real advertising budget for us, so anytime someone gives us a platform to discuss the show it’s just beyond awesome. Can’t wait to see more from RiffWiki and to everyone who’s made this incredibly rewarding chapter of my life possible – a gargantuan, mountainous and sincere thanks from the entire cast & crew of ICWXP! Here’s hoping we can keep at it! You can springboard to all our social media and nab all our episodes on DVD or VOD from ICWXP.com!