Being a MSTie: On Both Sides of the Screen
Hey! My name is Rebecca Hanson. I’ve been a MSTie for over half of my life. And for the past year I’ve been a writer, Gypsy and Synthia on Season 11 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Return. I bet you’d like to know how this all happened. I am more than happy to tell you all about it. Now that I can!
One Saturday in November 2013, Joel Hodgson (creator + original host of MST3K), Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Clayton Forrester + Crow T. Robot) and Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank) came to Chicago to speak at the Museum of Broadcast Communications because it was the 25th Anniversary of Mystery Science Theater 3000. My friend Kevin had posted on Facebook that he was bummed to be out of town for this grand event but if any of his friends could go that would make him feel better about it. Thankfully, I was in town that weekend and so was my husband, Tim, and our two friends, Ross and Nikki. The four of us met up at the MBC happy to be out of the cold, grey autumnal rain. We found pretty decent seats. I could not see the panel that well but once Joel started speaking, I was instantly calmed yet exhilarated and magically transported back to my college days where we spend certain weekends we didn’t have shows (I was a theatre/speech major so a decent amount of my college weekends were spent rehearsing and performing) at various peoples’ houses or dorm rooms watching as many episodes as my friend Jason’s dad could fit onto a VHS tape. These were the days before streaming or even DVD’s for that matter. Jason’s dad would record episodes of MST3K from Comedy Central and the (then) Sci-Fi channel for us to devour in our small, cloistered college town in northwestern Iowa. The Mondays after our MST3K Marathon Watching weekends, my stomach would hurt from all of the gut-busting giggles we let out while watching these hapless fools with their robots make miserable movies magical with their humor. It was an incredibly bonding time with this group of friends and it also made me realize, hey - these guys aren’t too far from me - I mean, I only grew up Iowa, a few hours south of The Cities and these guys were making comedy (and a whole universe, really) that looked deceptively simple that I could not get enough of. I was inspired by it all.
And that Saturday in November 2013 (many years after college), to be in Chicago, with my friends and husband - each of us had moved to Chicago at different times for the sole purpose of learning all forms of improv and sketch comedy to become performers and each one of us was (and still is/are) - was an extra special experience to share.
After these fine gents were done speaking, they opened it up for a Q & A. There was a little voice who waited patiently as other grown-ups asked their questions, when it was finally this little voice’s turn, he asked Trace, “How old is Crow?”
And Trace said, “Well - how old are you?”
“EIGHT!” the little voice proudly shared.
“Well, that’s how old Crow is, too.”
Cue the tears streaming down all of our faces as the discussion wrapped and a bunch of us bee-lined it to merch. My husband and I bought a DVD set then, along with our friends Ross and Nikki, headed to the line where everyone was waiting to get things signed by ‘Joel Robinson and the Mads’. As Ross, Tim, Nikki and I were waiting, we were scheming. Ross was part of the Mainstage cast at Second City and Tim had understudied that show the night before. Nikki, Tim, Ross and I all performed with Second City in various capacities so we knew we could all do the improvised set that happens after the second show on Saturday nights. We were wondering if Joel, Trace or Frank would care to join us on stage? The thing is, we are all pretty mild-mannered, if not down-right shy at times. But since I was not part of that particular cast that evening, I decided that I would be the one to ask them once we got up to the table…
But as we approached the table, Joel exclaimed to Trace and Frank, “Hey! These are the Second City Guys!” And Ross, Tim, Nikki and I lost our minds! Unbeknownst to anyone, Joel had been to the Mainstage show the night before and immediately recognized Ross and Tim (they’re both very strikingly tall, handsome and funny dudes). We all exchanged pleasantries and had our postcards signed and took pictures with them.
I told Trace how much he (and the whole MST3K gang) influenced and shaped our comedic voices and God Bless that sweet Trace Beaulieu, he said, “You already had it in you.”
We asked them if they would be interested or available to come play the set that at Second City that night. Their travel schedules did not allow it. But Joel said he would be interested in getting dinner with us if we could. Of course, all of our little comedy-nerd hearts burst at this invite. Joel, Ross and Tim connected on Twitter (I was not on Twitter at that point) so we could arrange a time and place. Luckily, Joel was cool with eating on the earlier side since so many of us had shows that night. And more luckily (?) he was cool with us inviting the casts of the Mainstage and etc to join us.
We met and dined at Adobo Grill (the Mexican restaurant that would nearly two years later, burn to the ground and take a good chunk of Second City with it) at a sensible hour. I sat right next to Joel Hodgson, my long-time comedy hero and we chatted it up about Minnesota, Valleyfair! Amusement Park and all things Midwestern. As our food was being served to us, Joel said in his thick Midwestern Mom voice, “Should we saaay graaaaace?”
I said, “Oh, for nice, we should, ya.”
All of us were in awe to dine upon fine Mexican cuisine with the guy who created the show so many of us memorized and loved for so many years. It was very cool. I did ask Mr. Hodgson if he would mind getting a picture with just Tim and myself. He very kindly obliged.
Oh, it was such a nice supper! Oh, we were so happy! Uff da, it was so nice! THE END.
OR WAS IT???
A few weeks later, Joel direct messaged Tim on Twitter to wish us both a Merry Christmas.
JOEL WENT OUT OF HIS WAY TO WISH US A MERRY FREAKING CHRISTMAS - WE LOST OUR MINDS!!!!
In July of 2014, I came home from Second City and Tim was playing a video game. He had a smirk on his face. Tim told me that Joel Hodgson just messaged him, wondering if he could get my phone number…
I looked my dear husband in the eye and said, “Do. Not. Mess. With. Me.” for I thought he was playing some sort of stupid joke on me. Which is really not his style at all but — why would Joel remember me and want my info, not Tim’s? He had given Tim his phone number so… I called him.
I called Joel Hodgson’s cellular telephone device with my own cellular telephone device. I wasn’t shaking at all. I wasn’t at all nervous. I wasn’t at all —- mentally barfing with excitement….
Joel wondered if I was able or interested in helping him on the final day of Wizard World in Rosemont, IL, that next month (August). Would I be willing to hang out with him all day, at his booth, and help him talk to all of his adoring fans and learn some lingo and just hang out?
With Joel Hodgson?
“Daaaaahhhhhhhhhh, yeah, Joel, noooo problem!” I says to him.
So, a few nights before I was to hang out with him at Wizard World, he and his friend, Julie (who was helping him the first few days), Tim and I met up for dinner to chat more and she would give me more of the low down on what I needed to do that Sunday at the convention. So - yeah, Tim and I were gonna have dinner (again!) with Joel! How cool are we?
I will tell you something I have learned about Joel through the years: if there is some sort of deviled egg option on a menu - he will order it. And enjoy it.
Another fun dinner in the books with Joel, I got my info, we all headed our separate ways and that Sunday arrived and I drove out of the city to Rosemont to attend my very first comic book convention (or as most of you say Con) as Joel Hodgson’s Helper.
It was pretty amazing - all of the costumes, all of the various celebrities, we had (of course) all-access to where ‘the stars’ eat and that was a trip, just seeing all of these people going through a buffet line like they were regular people but only regular people go through buffet lines NOT COMIC AND TV STARS!?!?! THEY ARE JUST LIKE US, I TELL YOU!!!
After we ate - okay - I barely ate because I was too nervous but I was thankful for fizzy brown caffeine so I slammed that down - Joel and I were lead by security to this little ‘room’ made of pipe and drape so various people could get their picture taken with Joel by a photographer with a proper camera. I shared some of my spearmint Altoids with Joel (I am good at making sure people have fresh breath) and checked that his hair was in place (he had been wearing a hat earlier) for all of the pictures with his adoring fans. After that photo session, we were lead by security again to Joel’s booth, where he unpacked Tom Servo from the suitcase he was carrying (he didn’t even let me hold the suitcase, even though I was there to assist him. Ah, Joel!) and it is here I started tearing up a bit because I had never been so close to Tom Servo (well, at least at that point in my life) before. Joel stopped and said, “Rebecca - you know this is not The Original Tom Servo or anything.”
I told Joel, “Just let me have this moment, okay? Then I’ll be cool.”
He chuckled and put Tom on the table, along with various Joel Robinson headshots and, I think, a poster that Steve Vance had made, too. Then we spent a few hours with lovely MSTies coming to meet Joel, get things signed and I took pictures with their phones of them and Joel. We did this for awhile, then he was going to speak in another room. As we walked from one section of the convention center to the other, I had mentioned how much I enjoyed the article about MST3K in ‘WIRED’ magazine earlier that year. “Oh… you read that?” he asked in his droll Joel voice.
“Uh, yeah, Joel Hodgson. I did.” I admitted. I also flat out said, “If you’re in something, I am going to read about you.”
For the next hour or so, Joel spoke in this huge room. There were a ton of questions asked by various MSTies, as it was part Q&A. I took a few pictures of him speaking because I figured he would want some and probably didn’t think of doing that. He delighted and charmed the whole room and made all of us laugh a lot…
but as charming and informative as he was, we still did not get the answer we were all secretly hoping for: That Somehow MST3K Would Return. I honestly do not remember if anyone out-right asked but, come on, how many years (decades) had we all been wishing and hoping that it would happen?!?
After the Q&A, Joel and I returned to his booth. He smiled more and signed more and then it was the end of the day. I asked him if I could possibly get a picture with him and Tom? He wondered who would take it for us. I said I would. Welcome to Selfies, Joel.
We loaded up the booth and he wanted to pay me - which, BELIEVE ME hanging out with him all day was payment enough, I refused, but then he insisted and then he really wanted to do the bit where he literally payed me under the table - so yes, he gave me cash under the table and told me not to blow it all on drugs. (I only blew half of it on drugs!)
**** KIDDING!!! I AM TOO SCARED TO DO DRUGS!!! FOR REAL!!!****
but as we were leaving the convention center and I will never forget this, he said how he was hoping to some day get MST3K back but who knew if all the sea of legal stuff could even be crossed at that point? But he said, “If I were ever to get it going again, do you think you and Tim would want to write on it?”
“DAMNIT, JOEL, YOU’RE MAKING ME CRY AGAIN! ON AN ESCALATOR!!!” I couldn’t even be cool about or not emote. I kind of got it together enough to say, “Yes. Please. That would be the highest honor Tim or I could ever imagine. Yes.”
Then we made sure his taxi was cool with getting him from his hotel to O’Hare and I got into my Subaru and caught my breath a bit. I thought about texting Tim this crazy thing Joel had said to me but could not put it in writing. I almost thought that would hex it. And, I honestly thought that Joel was just being nice to me by saying that because I had helped him out all day. But as soon as I got home, I spewed out to Tim: “JoelHodgsonsaidtomyfaceifMST3KevergetsbackontheairwouldyouandIwanttowriteonit?!?”
Tim was also as dumbfounded as me. I said, “I told him thank you and I kinda started crying on the damn escalator and I said it would be our honor. But, I think he was just being nice to me because I helped him today so let us never think of this again. Just know he said it. Then we have to forget it.”
Cuz - that’s the kinda thing ya just forget about, right?
April 2015 comes along. Joel was coming to Chicago again to promote ‘Other Space” on Yahoo! Screen. He asked if Tim and I would want to get together for dinner again? This time, he really wanted Chicago style pizza. “Is it lame, Rebecca, to want to have Chicago style pizza in Chicago? Am I just a lame tourist by wanting that?” he asked me over the phone.
“Not at all, Joel. Do you mind if we have some friends (more of your adoring fans) join us?” I asked. He was cool with it. He met up with us. We devoured some Chicago style pizza with our friends, Kevin and Carisa. It was about a week after my birthday. It was raining again. Joel was able to come see Tim (and Carisa) in his etc show at Second City. I went along, too. Someone from Yahoo! Screen met us there but I can’t remember her name. Joel laughed a lot during the show. I made sure he did not forget his umbrella. He could not make it to my Improvised Sondheim Project show because it was at like 11:00 that night and he had to be up early to promote the next day. We parted ways.
I do not have a picture of this meeting to share with y’all. You will just have to believe me that we all at Lou Malnati’s pizza together. Okay?
So, a few months pass and the Kickstarter Campaign to Bring Back Mystery Science Theater 3000 goes up in mid-November. Tim and I each contributed because we are long time fans of the show. We watched it before we even knew each other. It was one of the very few things we actually had in common when we first started dating and - you get it at this point - we freaking love this show! Neither one of us even said, ‘Do you think Joel will remember what he said at Wizard World?’
We could. not. bring. our. selves. to. even. say. it.
In December 2015 we all know that when it closed, it was The Most Successful Kickstarter Campaign for TV and Film in the history of Kickstarter.
On New Year’s Eve Day 2015, my phone rings. It is Joel Hodgson. “Hi, Joel!” I answer. He immediately says, “Looks like we got the money! Are you in? Is in Tim in?”
I just looked at Tim and he could tell that all of our dreams were coming true. I put Joel on speaker. “Really, Joel? Really? YES!!!! I thought you were just being nice to me the day I helped you at Wizard World - I didn’t know you really wanted us to write!’ I exclaimed.
He went on to say that not only did he want us to write but he wanted us to maybe be on camera but wasn’t sure of those details yet but wanted to make sure we’d be in for the next step. Then he wished us a Happy New Year.
THEN TIM AND I EXPLODED WITH JOY!!!!
We were going to write on the show that formed us both as comedians, writers, performers - heck, as People! We could not believe it.
Later in January 2016, Joel called me to ask if I would be willing to play a clone of Mary Jo’s (aka Pearl Forrester) … I do not remember if he had named her yet or not but, yeah, he asked if I would be Synthia. Because, I guess, during all of these interactions we’ve had over the years, he thought I looked a lot like Mary Jo Pehl.
Then he asked if Tim would be willing to be more of a silent character on camera, as an Observer type of character (he hadn’t come up with those names yet, for sure, I do remember that) and do we have a friend we work with who is funny yet the exact physical opposite of Tim? We did! His name is Zach Thompson (the three of us had worked at ComedySportz Chicago together for years) and Joel was like, “Cool. Do you think he’d like to be in MST?” And we asked Zach and Zach said yes and told Joel then Joel was like, “Cool. I’ll get in touch with him.” And then our good buddy Zach was on board!
I wrote on two episodes of Season 11. In March and April of 2016, I was writing on ‘The Loves of Hercules’ and ‘Cry Wilderness’. I did not know which episodes they would be. I did not really know what Synthia would be. I did not know anything else. I did not fully believe everything was actually happening. I did take a picture to remember because I was still in (happy) shock AND, also, this was the beginning of Keeping Big Secrets.
In July 2016, I had some downtime from the freelance copywriting gig I had been doing and I had no shows, so I went to visit my sister in Texas so I could be with her twin daughters (my nieces) for their THIRD birthday. One day, the four of us girls decided we were going to go to IKEA before their big party and on the way there, Tim was frantically calling and texting me. I guess Joel was wanting to conference call us. He did not know that I was not in Chicago with Tim but down in the heart of Texas. Long story short - I took the conference call while sitting in a fake living room set at IKEA. Harold Buchholz, Joel, Tim and I were all chatting it up a bit. They wanted to see if we would be available to possibly take things on the road one day and to also talk about shoot dates in Los Angeles for the actual episodes and then Joel Hodgson asks, ‘And Rebecca, I was wondering if you would want to be the voice of Gypsy?’
At this point in the call, I had made my way out to the parking lot because it was too loud inside the IKEA, too many people were interested in the couch I was sitting on in the living room set, and I knew I needed air and I just. I just could. I just could not. I just could not believe. I just could not believe that. I just could not believe that Joel. I just could not believe that Joel asked…
It was silent on my end for a bit. He said, “Rebecca - think about it and I’ll ge—” and I totally cut him off.
“Y E S ! ! !”
“Well, you think about it and get back to me tomorrow, it’s -”
“Joel, I don’t need to think about it. Yes. Are you sure? Yes! This is my dream come true. No need to think. Yes. Yes, I will be the voice of Gypsy.”
I do not really remember how that phone call ended but for a few minutes there, it was just Tim and I on it. Joel and Harold must have hung up but Tim (in Chicago) and I (in Texas) were still on. I do remember I had found a picnic table and chairs display set up out in the parking lot of IKEA because I somehow was seated when I asked Tim, “Did Joel Hodgson really ask me, Rebecca Hanson, out loud, on the phone, in front of you and Harold, to be the voice of Gypsy?”
And Tim said, “Yes, Sweetheart. He did. It is Your Dream Come True. You’re going to be The Voice of Something. You’re going to be the voice of Gypsy. On Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
I went back into IKEA to find my sister and nieces eating pasta and meatballs in the cafeteria. My almost-three-year-old-nieces were excited to dip their pasta into the red sauce. I was excited to be the voice of Gypsy. My sister asked if I was okay. I told her what happened. She instantly teared up for me. My nieces got marinara on their cute dresses. It was a Red (Sauce)Letter Day for us Hanson Girls.
So - yeah. I’ll stop here. There is more to tell and say but I don’t know if I’ll ever properly explain or express just how thankful and grateful and honored and excited and amazed and blown-away I am by this whole magical ride. I have been performing and writing and singing and making-things-up for a living for a long time. I’ve met and worked with a lot of people on TV and stage; some of them were so cool and some were not. I had reached a point, too, where I was not sure if I should keep doing all of this. So - I share this with you from a place of hope. I hope this can inspire you if you are in a place of uncertainty. Or if you are in a place of security, I hope it inspires you, too. If you’re in a place where you can make good things happen for other people, do it. And I do not mean just in the entertainment industry but in any walk of life: Encourage Others. Encourage Yourself. It helps keeps Us All Runnin’.
I will forever be thankful to + for this Cool Dude, right here:
Joel + me at the MST3K Experiment 1101 Chicago Premiere in February 2017.