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RIFFWIKIINTERVIEWS-STwed-01

This week, we're taking on Sean Thomason, writer for the one and only RiffTrax.

RiffWiki: Lets start with a little you-time… which now that I think about it would basically be the entire interview, but whatever. Tell us a little bit about your dang self.

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Sean Thomason: I like to spend all my me-time talking about myself, so this works out perfectly! Let’s see. I grew up in a small Appalachian mountain town in Southwestern Virginia - to answer the stereotypical questions: yes, people DO wear shoes there, and yes, there is moonshine in mason jars. Then I went to the University of Virginia, worked in a psychology research lab for a couple years after that (even got my name on a paper, so I can and do refer to myself as a “published scientist” in conversation at parties). Then I moved to Los Angeles to seriously pursue comedy writing, which was what I always really wanted to do. Hm, this is turning into a résumé, people love reading résumés, right? I like hanging out at Balboa Park here in San Diego, breakfast burritos, non-breakfast burritos, nerdy board games like Settlers of Catan. I live alone, no pets, just me and a Wendigo action figure and a bunch of old movies and books. Oh, and as anyone who follows me on twitter knows, I wrote most of The Wire.

RW: Do you remember what it first was that made you want to be a writer and to create things with your brain?

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ST: It’s hard to remember exactly because it started so young. I was definitely an indoor kid, spent a lot of time watching sitcoms I was too young to really understand but enjoyed nonetheless. Also got pretty obsessed with comic strips like Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County (which was full of 80s political stuff I really didn’t understand). My only sibling is 12 years older than me, she went off to college when I was 5, so I spent a lot of time alone making up long elaborate stories and acting them out with my toys, writing and drawing cartoons, that sort of thing. I always loved jokes and telling stories, everyone in my family is funny and my parents encouraged me to read a lot and be creative. Once I realized that the people on TV weren’t just naturally hilarious and making it up as they went, that these people had writers coming up with the funny stuff they said, I decided that was pretty much the best job there could be. I wrote some short stories in high school that did well in contests, and my high school drama teacher gave me the chance to write and direct the senior play, which was huge for me and my confidence. It was a comedy and luckily the kids at my school laughed instead of running me out of town.

RW: What was your first experience with Mystery Science Theater 3000? Did it have a significant impact on you?

"Where oh Werewolf"01:49

"Where oh Werewolf"

ST: It absolutely did. I must have first seen it around ‘91 or ‘92, when I was 10 or 11, probably stumbled across it on a Saturday morning back in the early days of Comedy Central. Again, lots of references I didn’t understand (I remember asking my dad what “The Paper Chase” was and why they kept mentioning it) but I got enough of the jokes and loved the feel of it: the funny, loose, sharp but still friendly style. My family used to watch it together, and we had VHS tapes full of Turkey Day marathons. Along with The Simpsons, SNL, Kids in the Hall, Seinfeld, it was definitely one of the shows that shaped my sense of humor, and I think that’s true for a lot of people my age.

RW: Same question, only with RiffTrax.

ST: I first came to know about RiffTrax fairly early, when Conor contacted me about auditioning to write, which I will talk about in the next answer! It’s a two-fer!

RW: How did you come to actually be involved with RiffTrax as one of its writers?

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Conor Lastowka and I knew each other at UVA - we both wrote comic strips in the daily college paper, and we liked each others’ comics. We lost touch after college, and then one day in 2007 he found me on FaceBook, said he’d been working with Mike at RiffTrax for a little while and they were looking to audition freelancing writers, he wondered if I was interested. I was, of course, VERY interested, both as a longtime MST3K fan and as a writer person with a day job in L.A. in search of cool writing employment. They liked my audition, then I freelanced on projects they sent me for the next year or so, and then one day Mike called me up and asked me if I’d like to move to San Diego and write full time. As I recall I played it pretty cool, after squealing like a 12 year old girl at a One Direction concert, and said yes. Been full time five years now, happily.

RW: How is the workload divided between you and Conor in San Diego and Mike, Kevin and Bill up in Minnesota? It seems like a fairly unique way of conducting business.

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It probably is fairly unique, but it works for us. We divvy up the movies and shorts into equal sections among all us writers, write our sections individually, then bring it all together for a review day. That’s where Conor and I go through the compiled script, marking and changing things like repeated jokes and references (this happens a lot, and sometimes unexpectedly, like for some reason 3 of us will make different Peter Frampton references in a movie about a murderous robot cop) and also working running gags into the script. Then the guys do another review and rehearsal in Minnesota, then we do a final round of rewrites, then the recording session. We’ve gotten good at collaborating using Google Docs (or Drive, or whatever the hell they’re calling it this week) and Skype for group review sessions. Working remotely like this would’ve been impossible in the pre-internet era, but then, so would RiffTrax.

RW: I can imagine the writing process can be pretty harsh, what with 22 – 24 original riffs and 3 live shows every year. What's the writing process like and do you guys do anything to shake things up every now and then?

It’s actually 4 live shows this year! So yes, we stay plenty busy, there’s always more than enough writing to fill the day. It’s fun work but it’s also pretty intensive and takes a lot of focus, so we tend to email each other dumb stuff from the internet to make fun of - hm, so I guess even our rest & relaxation is still riffing, basically. There’s also a nice shuffleboard table here in the San Diego office, good to gather ‘round, especially when the guys are in town. And, y’know, beer, food, that sort of thing.

RW: What's the most insane thing that has ever happened to you as a member of the RiffTrax team? Is there anything that makes you stand back and go "Wow. This is my life," for better or for worse? (Preferably for the better, just sayin'.)

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Better Call Saul!

For the better, gotcha, in that case I’ll save the story of the time Mike brought in canned silkworm pupae for us to eat. The whole job is pretty surreal whenever I stop to think about it, I’m a lucky guy. One really cool thing is how many of my comedy heroes I’ve gotten to know and work with, first of all the guys themselves, and then guest riffers at RiffTrax Live and the SF Sketchfest shows we’ve done. Weird Al, David Cross, Andy Richter, Paul F. Tompkins, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman, Joel McHale, Bruce McCulloch and Kevin McDonald of the Kids in the Hall, and more! (this is like one of those old TimeLife music compilation ads all of a sudden) I feel like I get to sit at the cool lunch table thanks to working with Mike, Bill, and Kevin, this great community of smart hilarious comedy types. One real “Wow, this is my life” moment was when we worked with Bob Odenkirk - one of the all-time greats if you ask me, my friends and I used to pass around VHS tapes of Mr. Show in high school. He was a guest on a Sketchfest show and we were fine-tuning the script with him in rehearsal, pitching jokes and laughing. If I could tell 15 year old me about stuff like that his eyes would fall out of his head. Then he’d probably go back to eating Combos and playing Magic: the Gathering. 15 year old me did not live a very healthy lifestyle.

RW: What kind of media do you like to consume in your spare time, because we all know you've never read a comic book. (Snicker…) Seriously, though, what do you put in your brain during your time off?

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Talkin' RiffTrax The Avengers

I make ONE joke about never having read a comic book in the Avengers Talkin’ RiffTrax video and it becomes my whole reputation! I have actually read lots of comic books, thousands of comic books, a shameful amount of comic books. Except I’m not ashamed, comics are a great art form. Nowadays I read more indie (read: snobby) comics than superhero stuff. Big fan of Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Tony Millionaire. Also Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga, which is incredible. As for recent TV, big fan of BoJack Horseman and Bob’s Burgers, and of course Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones and all those other great dramas we’re blessed with these days. I like old movies, a lot of my favorites are from the 60s and 70s. Same is true for rock music. Man, the 60s and 70s were kind of great, huh? Someone should really think about doing a nostalgic retrospective on those decades, seems like that’s never been done by anyone, ever.

RW: Any non-RiffTrax side projects you'd like to tell us about?

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I just landed a spot as a contributing joke writer for Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, very excited about that. Basically I send them topical jokes every week, then they use ‘em or they don’t. Beyond that, I’m always working on film & TV comedy scripts in my spare time, that was my focus before getting the RiffTrax job. Also sketches, I love writing sketches, have an idea and hash it out in a couple hours, very satisfying. And of course there’s my twitter account, @TheThomason. Everyone should follow me right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

RW: Make some picks for us. Your top 3 full length RiffTrax. Ready GO!

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RiffTrax extended sample- Jaws-0

Tough. I’ll go with Guy from Harlem, Cool as Ice, and Jaws - Jaws is a great riff and has extra sentimental value because it was one of my early assignments, and I also just really love the movie.

RW: You guys get so many requests that its probably impossible to keep track of them all. Here's an opportunity to "throw one back." With all the iRiff groups out there creating a ton of content, what movie that RiffTrax hasn't done would challenge somebody else to riff?

We’ve been doing some 80s fantasy movies lately, like Sword and the Sorcerer and Hawk the Slayer, and I grew up on that stuff. Got me thinking I’d like to see the Schwarzenegger Conan movies riffed. Especially the first one, haven’t seen it in years but as I recall it took itself pretty seriously, which is ideal.

RW: Thanks so much for talking to us. If there's anything else you'd like to say, something you'd like to promote or if there's somebody out there you'd like to viciously insult, the floor is yours. Thanks again.

My pleasure, thanks! As for vicious insults, I’ll say this: I’m not terribly fond of bananas.

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