12/9/09

Rifftrax Live, December 16, 2009 (Broadcast from Escondido, CA, Viewed in Mill Valley, CA)

Sing the praises of pork!I got off work at five thirty, but the show didn’t start until eight. Enough time to head home and back real quick and then leave, or just head straight down and be an hour early. Pretty much the same drill as last time.

Well, except that this time my sister Laurel was home for the holidays. She joined me for dinner and little Christmas shopping before we headed down to San Rafael. We exchanged our Fandango printouts for tickets, got said tickets torn, and were then informed that the theater wasn’t ready yet. We went and sat in the arcade’s only available seats, a pair of uncomfortable plastic affairs facing decades-old driving games. Topics of discussion were her post-college plans and the rowdiness of my children.

We wandered back and showed our pre-torn tickets to the usher again. “Sorry,” he said. “The show’s been cancelled.”

At first I thought I’d misheard him. He had a bit of an accent, after all. Maybe his clearly intelligible English was just flawed enough to make “starts in twenty minutes” sound like “canceled”. I asked again. He answered again. If this was some imperfection of speech, it was a remarkably consistent one.

He pointed us to the front desk, where he said we would be “taken care of”. With a sinking heart and some trepidation, we returned to the front of the theater. Our torn tickets were taken and exchanged for free passes and apologies. How could this be, I wondered? Had the curse of Rifftrax live struck them again, despite the expertise of Fathom Entertainment? What were they going to do after all the nationwide publicity, not to mention the booking of Weird Al?

We turned to leave. The ticket taker must have seen our despondency; she looked at her watch and said, “They’re still going to play it in Mill Valley. You can catch it there, if you hurry.” We turned back. It wasn’t canceled everywhere? Just here? I started to ask questions. She called over a couple of managers—one to explain, the other to find me directions to the Mill Valley theater.

The explaining manager did his job almost perfectly in that when he was done, I had no idea what he had just said. I assume it would have made more sense given intimate knowledge of digital broadcast machinery and the theater’s internal politics. Between the technical jargon and the expression of resigned disgust on his face, it was my impression that someone had forgotten to push the “tape delay” button on the theater’s VCR.

He has no bone of his own.The other manager returned five minutes later with a mostly blank piece of paper. At its center was a postage stamp-sized map followed by three-point font directions. She explained that her computer was being uncooperative, and that this was the best she could do right at this moment. A bit of time might put it right, but if we wanted to get to Mill Valley on time, we needed to leave immediately. I thanked her and took the paper, nodding towards the line forming to my right. Most of the recent arrivals carried printed-out Fandango tickets for the Rifftrax show. She grimaced and scurried off the back for more directions.

A trio of ebullient coeds had come in right behind us in time to hear the first manager’s explanation. I shared my directions with them, and we all ran for the parking lot. While my sister squinted at the tiny map, the giddy young women swerved around us on the freeway, waving as they passed. I recalled the largest one mentioning something about her GPS. I pulled up close and stuck behind them all the way to Mill Valley.

The Mill Valley theater is one of those old-fashioned main street storefront theaters with only two or three screens in it. We parked in front and turned in a couple of our free passes for new tickets. We found seats less than a minute before the show started.

The show itself opened with very little preamble, a significant departure from the pomp and circumstance of their previous show. Mike, Bill and Kevin took their seats and bantered a bit. They introduced a contest winner and then got straight to the riffin’.

Batting first and second: a pair of repeats, comprised of Christmas Toyshop and A Visit to Santa. This was where we saw the night’s only technical glitches: some blinding screen glare and a film volume that would occasionally drown out the riffers. I already knew most of the lines (which probably marks me as a huge nerd; as if you needed any further confirmation) so it wasn’t too disturbing, and I have no way of knowing whether this extended to the broadcast as a whole, or just the Wednesday night Mill Valley viewing. Happily, this got fixed fairly quickly. The third short—Christmas Rhapsody, a low-key little film about a clinically depressed tree—was both visible and of the appropriate decibel level.

Insert small robot into big robot.Weird Al appeared, taking them to task for inviting a vegetarian to riff a film that extols the virtues of pork. Mike talked him into doing it anyway. “Pigs eat vegetables,” he wheedled. “What are pigs but compressed vegetables?” They riffed the musical pork short, in which the members of a close harmony trio play three roles each to teach a young housewife the virtues of pig meat. Weird Al left again. I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t do a song, but, oh well, I was there for Rifftrax, not the interstitial acts.

Speaking of which, interspersed with the shorts, the riffers gave each other presents—a trio of old toy commercials that have, er, not aged well. For Kevin, a robotic dog from the sixties. “It’s Gaylord!” the commercial proclaimed. “He likes to walkity-walkity-walk!” it went on. “He has no bone of his own!” it expounded. For Bill, a flight simulator that consisted solely of an airplane silhouette framed against a rolling background. The commercial’s repeated invitation to “Fly, fly, fly!” was echoed ad nauseum by Kevin during the subsequent banter. For Mike, the Ding-A-Lings, a set of boxy little robots that can insert themselves into the, uh, hindquarters of a larger robot.

More shorts followed; including one Bill went out of his way to describe as a “Corbett Christmas family tradition”. (It was about championship swimming.) Actual Christmas-themed shorts include a mostly staid version of The Night Before Christmas (“The Joker’s on our front lawn, honey!”), an insane and truly frightening little short about a stop-motion doll that invades a little girl’s Christmas-themed nightmares, and the 1948 cartoon version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The highlight of the evening came during the last short, when Rudolph woke up to see Santa perched on the side of his bed, leaning forward. “Rudolph,” said Santa. “I need you tonight.” “Whoa!” cried Kevin. Bill noted later that they’d lost three lines to audience reaction.

The shorts ended. The riffers brought Weird Al back out for a bow. Mike, Bill and Kevin’s Holiday Havoc skit from 2007 played over the closing credits. I drove my sister back to her car, and then I went home.