8/2/09

Rifftrax Live, August 20, 2009 (Broadcast from Nashville; Viewed in San Raphael CA)

And remember, if you get fat or old, we'll fire you!I finished work a couple of hours before the show was scheduled to start. Of course, San Raphael is an hour away from me, while home is a half an hour in the other direction, so it was either go home and then to the show (with just enough time to kiss the wife and kids before heading out again) or just head south and get to the show an hour early. Guess which one I picked.

I sat in the parking lot to read for half an hour, and then went into the theater to read for another half hour. There were only three people in the seats when I arrived. Other attendees filtered in at a very slow trickle. I was afraid I was going to watch with a crowd of only two dozen or so (part of the fun of a live riffing event is getting to watch it along with a crowd) but then the lights went down and the trailers started, and suddenly the house was somewhere around half full, with audience members sprinkled evenly throughout. Where they were when the lights went down, I couldn’t say. At the concessions stand maybe.

An interesting thing I noticed about Rifftrax fans. Y’all are much, much younger than the Cinematic Titanic crowd. (Younger, at least, than the Cinematic Titanic crowd I saw the Blood of the Vampires with in San Francisco.) There were a few gray heads in the theater, but not very many, and almost no one looked old enough to be my father. Y’all are much better groomed too. The Rifftrax attendees looked like Bright Young Things from Everytown, U.S.A., whereas the Cinematic Titanic crowd wouldn’t have looked out of place at Burning Man. I suspect that a not insignificant part of that latter disparity might have something to do with the fact that I saw Rifftrax in Marin County and Cinematic Titanic in the heart of San Francisco, but it was still interesting to see.

Anyway, the show began. Host Veronica Belmont (whose shows I don’t watch, making this the first time I’ve ever seen her in action) read some introductions off a small slip of paper. It was very brief, with a frozen smile and a certain deer-in-the-headlights, “I showed up, what now?” look in her eyes. Mike came on and took charge, brought out his co-riffers Kevin and Bill for a bit of humorous banter, and then turned it back over to Veronica. Veronica gamely read us a brief description of the short, Flying Stewardesses, and the riffing began.

Flying Stewardesses shows the training and early career of an American Airlines flight attendant in the fifties. So yeah, it’s an overtly sexist film that cheerfully admits that if she gains too much weight, they will fire her. Also, air travelers of the fifties apparently traveled in opulent luxury, which I’m guessing means only the top five percent of the population could afford it. Rifftrax included a studio version as part of the downloadable goodies available to attendees, so I ought to have a full review up soon.

The Riffers did a fantastic job with it, with jokes about the sexism, Snakes on a Plane references and a running gag making fun of Fort Worth, Texas. The new (to me) performer-screen format was inspired. The riffers performed on stage to one side of the screen, facing the audience, each with his own spotlight and microphone. They spent a lot of time looking down, so I’m guessing they were watching a much smaller screen in front of them, but they did gesture up at the big screen fairly often. The expressions on their faces while they talked were almost as funny as the quips themselves; it was very much a visual performance in addition to their normal audio-only routine. Remote broadcast attendees saw just the movie by itself for about two thirds of the time, while picture would shift over for the remaining third and show boxes of the three riffers stacked on top of each other. It was very clever, and I found myself wishing that they’d let me see the performers more.

Sadly, the evening was not without technical glitches. The broadcast was interrupted at least five times for three to ten seconds each. We missed three jokes during Flying Stewardesses, and then it dropped out a couple times more during the interstitial material. The most appropriately timed glitch happened right after Jonathan Coulton’s first set. He took off his guitar to wave and say, “Enjoy the rest of the show!” and then the screen went blank for ten seconds. That was the last time, though. The film segment, thankfully, was interruption-free.

Getting back to the interstitial material: Veronica paraded on and off the stage to read her little slip of paper at us. Mike gave away an iPod to a guy in New York. Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka showed us a couple of commercials for really lame (and invented) sponsors which I guess were kinda, sorta funny. Internet songsmith Jonathan Coulton gave a fantastic performance with a couple of songs—The Future Soon and Re: Your Brains. During the songs, the cameras would occasionally cut away to focus on people mouthing the words along with him. There were six or seven of them, and all but one were female. One of ladies turned, saw the camera, and stopped with a mortified grin. Kevin came out during the zombie song and did his best to upstage him by pretending to eat his brains during the chorus. Jonathan acknowledged his presence before and after, and steadfastly ignored him throughout. After another odd Lowtax commercial, Coulton came out again to sing with Mike, Kevin and Bill about the upcoming movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space. It’s a funny song about plans one through eight. At least, I think it was funny. I was too busy laughing at the look of intense concentration on Mike’s face—what I could see of Mike’s face through the nose whistle, that is—to pay much attention.

And then the movie started. They’ve done Plan 9 before, so I’ll just refer you to those reviews for a description of the film. I recognized comments from the riff’s previous iterations, but not nearly as many as I thought I would. “Prairie dogs of the damned!” got changed to “Gophers of the damned!” Bill continued his Fort Worth gag from the short, while Tor Johnson’s pale, mouth-breathing post-death demeanor was attributed to a recent viewing of Transformers 2. The ability to see the riffers’ faces and the effect of the crowd around me made it their funniest version of Plan 9 yet.

Then the movie ended. The riffers and other performers took their bows, and we went home.