It started as a little show on a UHF channel in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and grew into a series that spawned almost 200 episodes, countless rip-offs and a cult that remains loyal to this day. It was Mystery Science Theater 3000, based on the simple premise of a guy and two crudely constructed robot-puppets mocking cheesy movies in silhouette, and for those involved with the show, it's practically become a way of life.
Joel Hodgson, the MST3K creator, assembled many cast members from the series for his new venture, Cinematic Titanic, where they mock cheesy movies live in a theater. Among his loyal crew is Trace Beaulieu, who in the original series portrayed both evil scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and wisecracking Crow T. Robot.
"At this point, we've been doing this quite a long time," says Beaulieu in a call from his home outside Minneapolis. "I won't say how long, because that might betray a number of things, namely how old we are."
For Cinematic Titanic, visitors to the Carolina Theatre's website have the opportunity to vote for the film that Hodgson, Beaulieu and company will mock, though Beaulieu says, "We're ready for any choice.
"Being on the road has given us time to hone these movies to their finest polish," he says. "It's like taking something out of the cat box and polishing it, but we've gotten a lot out of these movies."
Since MST3K began, mocking movies and popular culture has practically become a popular culture unto itself, something Beaulieu takes in stride.
"It's inevitable that when people have more tools, they're going to get more bored with popular culture. It's like a little kid building a castle with blocks—as much fun as it is to build, they take great fun in destroying that almost immediately. It's just part of that cycle. Eventually, people will get tired of destroying and build something again. And inevitably, they'll destroy it again."
But why do people love mocking cheesy movies?
"The basic schadenfreude of something you can make fun of and attack, and in a group it's so much fun. It's sort of the modern act of stoning in a more socially acceptable way—people getting together and taking something apart is a fundamental part of our beings. And movies are a way of getting together and making fun of something in a way that's acceptable."
Beaulieu remains grateful toward the MST3K fan base, "without whom, we couldn't be doing Cinematic Titanic."
"I never would have thought we'd be talking about this 20-plus years down the line," he says. "We meet people at our shows all the time who could not have possibly seen the original run of the show and are big fans. I'm just pleased the work is out there and people can still enjoy it." Though when reminded that people born when the show started are now of legal drinking age, Beaulieu notes in turn, "And they'll find us even funnier now."
Nearly two decades have passed since Jason Mewes became famous for standing in front of a convenience store and swearing mightily as part of the stoner duo Jay and Silent Bob in his longtime friend Kevin Smith's debut feature, Clerks. The ensuing years saw the duo reprise Jay and Silent Bob in a total of five feature films, a Clerks animated series, MTV promos, comic books, action figures and more.
So it's unsurprising that at this point Mewes and Smith have self-deprecatingly called their podcast and tour Jay & Silent Bob Get Old, which plays the Carolina Theatre on March 15. Though both have stepped away from their best-known characters—Smith returned to his indie roots last year with the self-distributed Red State, while Mewes has acted in more than 60 films and TV series (most recently two seasons on the cult Canadian series Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, which just came out on U.S. DVD)—they are, at heart, most famous for being themselves.
On the tour bus after a show in North Dakota, Mewes' voice is scratchy but still full of youthful enthusiasm as he talks about the show, where he and Smith plan to discuss "The last 25 years of our friendship and the ups and downs of everything, from Kevin getting thrown off the plane, or my problems with drugs, or happy times, like when I had my first threesome."
"Jay & Silent Bob Get Old" is part of a series of podcasts Smith either hosts or produces on SModcast.com, which has itself spawned a book of transcripts and the AMC reality series Comic Book Men. The podcast started as a means to help the director keep Mewes sober after he suffered a relapse for a serious drug problem.
"I was spending a lot of time by myself, and when I had my surgery I had painkillers that were part of my problem—I wasn't accountable to anyone," Mewes says.
"I explained that to Kevin, and he suggested the podcast and that I talk about my struggles as part of it and be accountable to the listeners."
Smith previously discussed Mewes' problems in a series of blog posts titled "Me and My Shadow," a harrowing look into Mewes' years of struggle with drug abuse.
"When he wrote it, it was cool, because he talked with me about it first," Mewes says.
"For a while, I was worried that if people knew I did drugs, I wouldn't be able to get work, but after I got arrested and there was a warrant and I was in the paper and going out to clubs and was 150 pounds and a mess, I figured it didn't really matter. And it opened a lot of people's eyes. People I was friends with for years came up and said, 'We didn't know that much.'
"I've been trying to talk about doing it as a book. Kevin wrote (his essays) and explained a lot, but it was his perspective. It's cool, because we know so much about each other, but I'd like to try to do my side."
Mewes admits his tours have helped him with his sobriety.
"For me, I sit around and get bored—I'd be shooting a movie for two months, then not working for four or five months, or shooting for two weeks and not working for three weeks and so on. This way, I've been able to shoot for two months and then go on tour, then do TV in Winnipeg and go on tour. I've been busy either shooting a movie or TV show or doing the Jay and Bob tour."
And while he's still remembered as the profane, motormouthed Jay, Mewes says that he's slowly built more of a career as an actor and as a real person.
"A lot of people still know me as the Jay character and ask, 'Does he still have long hair?'" Mewes says.
"But we're doing the tours, and I've done a lot of movies now ... it's 50/50. For a long time it was more Jay and less Jason Mewes, and now it's leaning more toward Jason Mewes."
But lest you think he's abandoned his raunchy roots, think again: "At the end of the show, we'll play a game called Let Us Fuck, where people will come up with ideas for names for sex like 'The Donald Duck Butt Flap,' and we'll have people help us act out stuff like 'The Donald Duck Butt Flap.'"
You've been warned.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Getting stoned."