Regular readers know that I’m a fan of the late and lamented “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” a Minneapolis-based cable TV comedy show built around really bad movies, with characters silhouetted on the screen making a constant stream of wisecracks.
Mary Jo Pehl started out as a writer for MST3K, and popped up in some of the skits as, most memorably, “Jan In The Pan,” an impression of the decapitated but artificially-preserved head featured in one memorable MST3K-mocked movie. Then, after Frank “TV’s Frank” Conniff left the show, she joined the regular cast in the role of Pearl Forrester, a role she played during the last part of the show’s run on Comedy Central and its entire run on the SciFi channel (now SyFy).
Since that time, two separate groups of alumni from different points in the show’s run have developed MST3K-inspired projects. Creator Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Josh Weinstein and Mary Jo Pehl, among others, riff on old movies as “Cinematic Titanic,” on direct-to-DVD releases and at live shows. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett produce “RiffTrax,” audio commentaries you can download onto your computer or MP3 player and then play in sync with a movie as you watch it on DVD. They also do live shows, simulcast to theaters across the country.
Anyway, I stumbled across this interview with Mary Jo Pehl the other day in which she mentioned having a self-published book available on Kindle. I couldn’t resist that, and the price was right, so I sprang for it.
I suppose I was expecting the kind of pop culture references that make MST3K / Cinematic Titanic / RiffTrax successful, but Employee of The Month And Other Big Deals is something different. However, it’s quite enjoyable, and I’d certainly recommend it. It’s a series of autobiographical comic essays, most of them telling the story of Pehl’s life after MST3K – moving back in with her parents for a while, conquering the Big Apple, then falling in love in her 40s and moving to Texas with her new husband. The stories are warm, funny and relatable, self-deprecating and sometimes touching.
The one false note in the book is the chapter that most closely relates to MST3K – the last chapter, when she talks about her encounters with a certain breed of obsessive fan at public appearances. (The MST3K theme song actually urges fans to “repeat to yourself, ‘It’s just a show – I should really just relax,’” but apparently not all of its fans heed the advice.) I didn’t care for the chapter, because I thought it was sort of low-hanging fruit (remember Shatner on SNL, telling “Star Trek” fans to “Get a life!”?) and because sometimes, even if something is true, it sounds a little ungrateful to say it out loud. You were part of a Peabody-award-winning show that is still loved and warmly-remembered, and the support of those fans is what allows you to sell your book, your “Cinematic Titanic” DVDs and tickets to your live “Cinematic Titanic” performances. Yes, we all know some genre fans can act like idiots. I don’t think that’s new information. But they’re expressing their love for something you were a part of which meant something to them. If you find some of them annoying, that may be understandable, but keep it to yourself. By the end of the chapter, Pehl acknowledges her debt to the fans, and tries to end on a conciliatory and self-deprecating note, playfully imagining dressing as her favorite “L.A. Law” character while asking for an autograph, but I think the chapter might have been better skipped altogether.
Also, and I have no idea whose fault this is, there are some major formatting errors in the Kindle version. On my Kindle, Pehl’s name and/or a chapter title sometimes turned up unannounced in the middle of a paragraph, and what I assume are supposed to be oversized “drop cap” letters at the beginning of a story appear normal-sized but on their own line, above the rest of the paragraph.
UPDATE: Pehl now says on her Facebook page that a reformatted version will be available for download later this month.
Still, there’s a lot to recommend the book, whether or not you’ve ever heard of MST3K. Well worth $3.99 if you’ve got a Kindle, and probably worth 11 bucks for the paperback.