I’ve just gotten home from a tradition. Four times a year now, my college friend Cara picks me up, and we go out. It’s the only way we reliably see each other, and it is the thing that makes me most determined to find a babysitter. On the way there, we catch up on medical dramas, on relationships, on how my son is doing. We buy our tickets separately, and in we go. Where we sit depends on my joints; these days, her health limits her to drinking water and not eating anything at all. We have our little rituals, and we get settled in. Tonight, it was Miami Connection.
In college, Cara and I bonded over several things, but high on the list was Mystery Science Theater 3000. Other people in the dorm would watch it if it was on, but we both had tapes. (I got my first DVD player the summer after graduation.) To this day, fifteen years later, our standard goodbye is “Watch out for snakes.” It’s been a lot of years, and it still connects us like nothing else we share.
The thing, though, is that neither of us are terribly inclined to sit and watch this kind of movie without puppets in the corner or the spiritual equivalent thereof. It just doesn’t appeal, terribly. Tonight was the first time either of us had seen Miami Connection, and without RiffTrax, I still wouldn’t have. (Cara will on rare occasion, from what I know, get drunk with friends and self-riff, which is I believe why she’d already seen The Room.) For both of us, the point is the jokes.
It’s odd, if you think about it. By the time I met Cara, I’d already been a fan of the show for almost ten years. My sister’s ex got me and my sister both into it. My mother tolerated it but still doesn’t really enjoy it. I think her mother might have liked it, but the only bit she ever saw was when I was watching the Hercules Against the Moon Men episode, and she happened to walk into the room during Deep Hurting. She looked at the screen, looked at me (writhing on the couch in her den), looked at the screen, and asked a completely legitimate question. “Why are you watching this?”
So why was I? Why have I, when you think about it, spent hundreds of dollars over the years—on a fixed income, yet—on guys talking over movies? Guys talking over bad movies. Movies that, except in very rare cases, I wouldn’t watch on my own?
It somehow doesn’t feel enough to say, “It’s funny.” I mean, it’s all the answer I actually need, but that’s not much of a thinkpiece, which is apparently the niche I fill around here. The question isn’t really why I watch it. The question is why I think it’s funny.
This is, I think, one of the hardest questions to answer. Why, for example, is “funny” even a thing we have? My grandfather (my mother’s father) never laughed, but why is that the weird thing? Humour is an odd concept.
But okay, let’s be less philosophical for a minute. What, specifically, is funny about watching people talk over a bad movie—or, if you’ve bought the riff for it, a Hollywood blockbuster?
One of the things I’ve noticed is that they observe a lot of the things I do myself, but funnier. Twice in one scene this evening, they said things shortly after I’d noticed them myself. So there’s a sense that these people have something in common with you, and that’s reassuring.
I also like, I have to say, when connections are drawn—I maintain that the funniest part of the Warrior of the Lost World episode is when Tom Servo identifies literally everyone in a crowd scene as looking like a celebrity. I wouldn’t necessarily have spotted them myself, but associating Santa Claus with Truman Capote (as in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians) is funny to me.
At the risk of sounding snobbish, I have to admit that I also like that it’s a show that’s intelligent enough to reference Truman Capote even when it’s an episode about a dumb movie with Santa Claus and Martians. So, yeah, that.
In December, Cara and I will go to Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny. Because why not. It’s funny to us.