This week we are interviewing the cast of Cinester Theater, one of the most popular and prolific iRiffing groups out there.
RiffWiki: Let's start by each of you telling us just a tiny bit about your dang selves, where you come from, what you do with yourselves all the time, that kinda thing.Shawn: I was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. Like pretty much everyone, I have a boring day job that takes up too much of my time. Outside of that, I write and perform in a sketch-comedy troupe called Bully Mammoth, and dabble in stand-up comedy. Over the last year, I’ve gotten into filmmaking, mostly working on filming sketches for our sketch troupe, with some work on short films by local college kids, that kind of thing.
Keith: I come from a little town in Southern California called Westminster. My number one priority right now is my son and somehow I manage to watch sports, write, work a regular person job, and film stuff for Bully Mammoth, a sketch group Shawn and I are in.
Brooks: I was also born and raised in Arizona. My wife and I have a six year old son, so we spend a lot of time watching Disney movies and hanging out at home.
RiffWiki: How exactly did you guys all find each other?
Brooks: Shawn and I grew up together. We met in Boy Scouts when we were about five and have been friends since. He lived the next street over from me, so we would bike around the neighborhood. During the brutal summers though, we would stay inside and watch movies and play Gunstar Heroes on the Genesis and make movies of our own on my old, clunky VHS camera. We met Keith in high school when we got involved in the drama department. He’s a couple of years older than us, so he was in his third year when we started. I hung out with Keith’s social circle a lot (the girl that would later become my wife was in his “crew”) and even got a job at the fried chicken joint where he was working. We were also in a band together for a little while, but I never really properly learned how to play my drum kit. I still have a “Roger Goes Punk” hat somewhere.
RiffWiki: What are you memories of finding MST3K for the first time and what kind of effect did it have on you?Shawn: The first time I saw MST3k was when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. My babysitter put it on. I’d always liked B-movies with giant monsters, space aliens, that kind of thing. I don’t remember exactly what episode, but it was one with a big rubber monster, so it caught my attention. It was really funny, of course, and so I started taping episodes off TV and saving them. I’ve been a fan of riffing for about two-thirds of my life now, so obviously it’s been a huge influence on my own sense of humor.
Keith: My dad introduced me to the show when I was probably around 9 or 10. It was a real bonding moment for my dad and I at the time. It was the start of really enjoying comedy and making people laugh and wanting to do what these guys do. Poking fun of movies wasn't really a new concept, but they did it so well and the idea of being trapped in space, forced to watch horrible movies, was so weird it was hard not to like it as a kid. Plus they had puppets. I like puppets.
Brooks: Shawn got me into the show when we were like nine. I was a pretty sarcastic little kid, so MST3K was the perfect fuel for my forming mind. Shawn and I would watch the show often. He would record the episodes and we would watch the tapes over and over again with anyone we could get to watch them with us. The first time I went to their website and saw the “Share the tapes” thing, I thought “Oh, hey, that’s what we’re doing. Glad it’s encouraged.”
RiffWiki: Same question, only with RiffTrax.Keith: I was following Mike and the other guys online after MST3K was taken off the air and I saw he had recorded a comment track of "Roadhouse" that you would play while you were watching the movie and thought that was a neat idea. Pretty soon it was turned into Rifftrax and it really gave making fun of movies a 21st century reboot. It was like rediscovering MST3K all over again, but with iPods.
Shawn: Keith told me about it, shortly after they started. I was on board immediately, I loved the idea of MST3k being free to riff on any move they want.
Brooks: Keith turned us onto RiffTrax shortly after he discovered they were doing them. I remember being super stoked they were riffing again and the idea that they could riff whatever they wanted now was awesome.
RiffWiki: What was it that first compelled you to try your hand at making your own riffs?Shawn: Just being fans of MST3k, we’ve always been making fun of movies, TV shows, videogames, everything. We would just sit around and say stuff at the screen, just to make each other laugh. But it was Keith who first thought to try recording a riff to sell it. After Rifftrax started accepting iRiffs, Keith came to me with the idea, we picked out a movie and picked up some cheap-o microphones and some editing software, and we just kind of figured it out as we went. Our early stuff has a lot of technical issues, you can tell we had a lot to learn and didn’t really have any idea what we were doing, but we were having fun making them and people seemed to like our jokes, so we kept going.
Keith: After MST was gone I'd started selecting a random movie from the bargain bin at Walmart, one that looked like complete shit, and I began writing riffs in a composition book I had. The movie was "Left Behind 2" "starring" Kirk Cameron and it's almost unwatchable. I still have the script somewhere I think, but that was the first time I ever even thought about writing riffs on my own. Shawn and I were very good at making fun of whatever was on TV at the time, so we were always compelled to try an entire movie. Then iRiffs came out and it gave us a shot to try it and show others we were really good at this style of comedy.
Brooks: We’ve always enjoyed riffing on things. We’d goof on pretty much anything we were watching or listening to. One of the reasons we became fast friends with Keith was because he was a huge MST3K fan and we would spout off quotes all of the time and riff on TV shows or whatever. I specifically remember going to see “The Mummy Returns” with a big group of kids in high school. Keith and I sat next to each other and pretty much tore the movie apart from start to finish. A couple months later the three of us went to see the Marky Mark “Planet of the Apes” movie. I don’t recall if we went with the intention of riffing it, but we ended up in the theater by ourselves so it was the perfect opportunity. When I found out Shawn and Keith were planning to do the iRiffs, I wanted to get in on it in some capacity, but I had a newborn at home and scheduling was next to impossible. After they had done a few we talked about me doing a guest riff of the aforementioned “Planet of the Apes” suckfest, but it never worked out. Now that my son is older and in school, I’ve been able to make time to work on the riffs and I’m stoked to be a part of it.
RiffWiki: What is your guys' selection process like?Shawn: It’s nothing formal. Several times we’ve literally just grabbed a movie one of us had lying around, like Frozen and March of the Penguins. Other times, we’ve picked something ahead of time. At first Keith and I would trade of choosing movies, but now we pretty much decide as a group. Since our availability to meet to work on riffs is a lot less these days, we try to consider the movie’s running time so it doesn’t take us forever to finish it. And lately we’ve also been trying to choose things we know are easily available, either through streaming services or at least easy to find on DVD.
RiffWiki: How do you guys go about writing and recording after the selection is made?
Keith: When we first started we'd watch the movie, stopping and starting as we write and then record. Now we'll watch the movie all the way through, get some ideas for jokes, then we'll record it as we go. It still takes quite a while because we're all throwing out jokes for a particular space in the movie and trying to select the best one. We're really trying not to riff over dialogue in the movie, I find that annoying. But sometimes a joke is too good to throw away and we break that rule. It's nice to let the movie breathe a little too before the next riff, let the audience catch their breathe after laughing.
RiffWiki: Which riff was the most fun to make?Shawn: The first one was a lot of fun, it was exciting to be teaching ourselves as we went and deciding what our style would be, what our characters would be, that sort of thing. Working on the Turtles 2 riff was a lot of fun too, because we were adding Brooks into the fold and showing him the ropes.
Keith: For me it was Back to the Future. I think we did a good job shining a new light on that movie and kind of recreating the Doc Brown character as more of an insane scientist that people didn't see the thousands of times they've watched that movie. Really the entire trilogy was fun to do.
Brooks: The Turtles 2 riff was my first, so that’s probably the one I had the most fun with. The first time we met to work on it, we watched the “Karate Kid” riff they had just finished and we went through how the whole thing usually works and then all the ways they have done it differently. After that, they gave me a tutorial of the software and some of the nuances of it. It seemed like a lot of input at first, but when we got rolling I figured it out as we went and I had a ton of fun working on it.
RiffWiki: And the least?Shawn: I’d have to say our “Resident Evil: Degeneration” riff. That movie is awful, not even in an amusing or interesting way. So having to sit through it like 20 or so times was a real drag. Also, I was sick for a period while we were recording it, I think you can hear it in my voice in a few parts of the riff. By the end we were tired and just didn’t want to look at this movie anymore, and I think our lack of enthusiasm definitely affected our writing and performance.
Keith: Probably Waterworld. It was so hard to get good jokes out of that movie. That one we never got to record. We stopped halfway through writing and moved on.
Brooks: Honestly, I’ve enjoyed working on all of the riffs I’ve been a part of. I guess if I had to choose one, it would be the “Willow” riff. Not because it dragged or because I don’t think it’s a good riff; mostly because I remember really liking that movie when I was younger, but the 15+ years between viewings weren’t kind to it. I’m not sure how I didn’t realize how silly that movie is.
RiffWiki: Between Short Circuit and The Karate Kid, there is two-year plus gap in your Riffography. Was there an end to Cinester Theater for a bit, was it just put on hiatus or something else?Shawn: Honestly, it was just our mic broke. We were still using the same cheap-o mics we’ve been using since we started, and eventually the cords just gave out. We were actually in the middle of a riff at the time, our lost “Neverending Story 2” riff. We had a whole script written and had even started recording (there’s even a preview for it on YouTube), but then we lost our mics. We didn’t want to buy more cheap ones so we decided to look for a nicer mic, but at that point both Keith and I were becoming a lot more active in the stand-up community, plus we had been meeting less often just due to real life issues, and so it just got put on the back burner. Shortly after that, the laptop were using died. That was where the script and the portion of the riff we had recorded were saved, and we hadn’t backed them up anywhere, so all the work was just down the drain. We never officially dissolved the group or anything, we were just disappointed, discouraged, and distracted, and then all of a sudden it was 2 years later and we were like “Why did we stop doing that again?”
RiffWiki: What movies are you guys planning on doing that we may see in the near future?Shawn: The list of movies we want to do or have talked about doing could fill ten pages. We have a long list that we’ll never get through, even if riffing somehow became our full-time jobs. These days we focus on the movie we’re working on, and maybe kick around a few ideas for the one we’d like to do next, but we don’t think much farther ahead than that. As of right now, we don’t know what we’ll be doing next, but just personally I’ve been wanting to do something like “The Breakfast Club” or, to complete our Paul Verhoeven trilogy, maybe “Showgirls."
Keith: We've talked about doing more epic films like Shawshank Redemption. We’ve also talked about maybe collaborating with Hor-riff-ic again on another Stephen King movie if they’re willing and schedules allow for it. Rocky, Pretty Woman, there's so many movies out there that would be so much fun to riff, you can't list them all.
Brooks: We have a few titles that are high on the list right now, but that list changes frequently. “The Breakfast Club” may be one that we do soon. We’ve also been tossing around doing “Pretty Woman” for a while.
RiffWiki: People who actually take the time to do their own riffs must be doing it out of love for the medium, because it sure as hell isn't easy and there's almost no money in it. How big of an impact has movie riffing had on your lives as a whole?Shawn: Riffing has had a major impact on my life. It sounds cliché but almost everything I’m doing now (outside of my day job, of course) is thanks to riffing. Way back when, Keith and I wanted to try doing a live version of our riffs at a local comedy club. We booked some time and went to the club, and quickly saw that what we wanted to do just wouldn’t work, there were too many technical limitations and we didn’t know what we were doing. But because we had the time booked anyway, Keith decided to try doing stand-up comedy (that first performance is on our YouTube channel). After seeing Keith do it, and listening to him talk about how much fun it was, I tried stand-up myself shortly after, and then for awhile stand-up comedy became our focus. And stand-up comedy was how we met up with the guys from Bully Mammoth, I wound up opening for their show a few times (those videos are also on YouTube) and eventually auditioned to join them. And it’s through Bully Mammoth that I started to get involved in filmmaking. So in a sense, I got my start in movie riffing, and it’s thanks to riffing that I’ve been able to branch out into all these other areas.
Keith: I'd say I wouldn't have as much of a sense of humor as I do if it wasn't for movie riffing. Plus, Shawn and I became friends in part because of riffing, so the impact it has on my life is tremendous.
Brooks: It’s definitely something we do because we enjoy it. Riffing has without doubt had an impact on me. The show was one of the key contributors to my sense of humor. These days it serves as my creative outlet. I’ve always enjoyed performing and making people laugh, so working on these has been a blast.
RiffWiki: I'm gonna ask you guys to each make a few of "picks." Each of you plant your flag on which of your own full length riffs is your favorite, followed by your favorite full length iRiff from another group, then followed by your favorite full length RiffTrax. I usually ask for three of each, but since there are three of you in this interview, we may never get out of here if we did that. Yeah, it's discriminatory, but what can you do? Favorites. Go. NOW!Shawn: My favorite of our riffs is “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2”, I really love a lot of the jokes in there and we were pumped from having just come back and added a new member so I think our performances were really good.
I’m going to cheat and recommend two iRiffs: Hor-RIFF-ic’s “Friday the 13th, Part 2”, the joke where the crazy old man rolls off on his bike while saying “Doooooooom!” is I think my favorite iRiff joke ever. The other one is TreacheRiffs’ “Lost in Space”. They were a short-lived group who I think only put out two riffs, but they were excellent. My favorite official Rifftrax release is “Battlefield Earth”. There’s a section in there where they just start playing a laugh track after any of the characters say something which had me laughing so hard we had to pause the riff.
Keith: Favorite iRiff would have to be Lost in Space by the Trenchriffers. It's a shame they split up, they were the great. Favorite Rifftrax would have to be Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship. In that film they showed that even the best movies have their flaws. Sometimes those movies are so over the top the jokes can write themselves.
Brooks: I really like Shawn and Keith’s “Total Recall” riff. My favorite since I joined the group would probably be the “Turtles 2” riff.
My favorite iRiff by another group is TreacheRiffs’ “Lost in Space”. It was one of the first iRiffs I watched and I thought they did a bang up job on it.
I’m way behind on the RiffTrax. There are tons that I haven’t seen yet. I really liked their Dark Knight riff, but there are a bunch that are great.
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?Shawn: One of my favorite movies growing up was “Planet of Dinosaurs”, and I always wanted them to do an MST3k episode with that movie. I never got it. Eventually I grew up and started making my own riffs, and only when we were almost done with our own “Planet of Dinosaurs” riff that I finally got my wish. So they already did the movie I always wanted, but the timing could have been better. I guess of movies I’ve seen lately, I wouldn’t mind seeing a “Guardians of the Galaxy” riff.
Keith: I'd like them to riff more TV shows like House or something to that effect. I think it's just another perfect opportunity to poke fun at a really great show. It adds another layer to a show you already liked in the first place and it makes you want to watch the episodes over again.
Brooks: I’d like to see them destroy people’s “Best Movies of All Time” lists. Something like “Gone with the Wind” or “Citizen Kane” would be fun.
RiffWiki: Thanks so much for talking with us today. If there's anything else you'd like to say, the floor is yours.
Shawn: I’d like to thank everyone who’s supported us as we learned how to riff, it’s always been a labor of love and you guys really make it worth it. Also, if we’ve made you laugh for the last few years, I’d love it if you’d check out Bully Mammoth on YouTube and Facebook. We’ve just started putting out comedy videos and there will be more over the next year, featuring both Keith and myself!
Keith: Just thanks to everyone who's downloaded our riffs, we hope you've enjoyed them.
Brooks: Did I mention I really enjoy being a part of this? I think I might have. Keep downloading the riffs! Show them to your friends and get more people in the riffing community. It’s always more fun to watch them as a group anyway.