Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Josh Weinstein Interview

A few years back (before the days of Cinematic Titanic) I was working on questions for an interview with J. Elvis Weinstein, when I was contacted by Forrest at Dons site (Now the "MST3K Review"). He was conducting an interview as well and long story short, we combined our efforts: Sadly that review site is no more, but my half of the interview survives. So here's at least half of the piece.

I'm an unabashed Josh Weinstein fan, I thought the kid was a talent. He was an adept improviser whose Tom Servo was both slick ladies man and keen commentator on the many quirks found in these films sent to him - by his alter ego... Dr. Laurence Erhardt, who worked with fellow mad scientist Doctor Clayton Forrester in a scheme to break a mans will using only the might of bad, bad, bad, really bad movies. In his role as Dr Larry, I laughed as he made cotton candy scream and chuckled while he strangled Dr. F with his stretchy Reed Richard arms. 

Here then, is J. Elvis, in his own words. 

Q:  MST history as I know it: Jim Mallon & Kevin Murphy went to Joel Hodgson, he came up with the idea and brought in Trace Beaulieu.  How did you get involved?
A:  I got involved at the same time as Trace.  Joel and he and I were all in a writing group together, and he asked us after a meeting one day. 

Q:  Personally, I loved your take on Servo.  Was the Bot assigned to you or did you have a choice on what Bot you'd get?
A:  Thanks.  The puppet was handed to me upon arrival. 

Q:  You had that little froggie voice in early KTMA episodes, what made you want to change that to the Mighty Voice?
A:  Frankly, the froggie voice was too hard to keep up for two hours, so I revamped the character after a couple of weeks into the Servo I'll be going into the Museum of Broadcasting with. 

Q:  What was this "Beeper" character I've heard about, how long did that character last?
A:  I don't think he lasted beyond the presentation tape.  We felt a character who didn't speak was a bit of a waste.  With all due respect to R2-D2 (and Kenny Baker), beeping just isn't that funny.      Puppet-wise, Beeper was Servo.  He may have had a little face in the bubble but basically the same. 

Q:  Were you the class clown?  How early did you know that comedy was your calling?
A:  I was a subversive class clown.  My goal was usually to get the teacher to laugh.  How mad at me could they get if I cracked them up?  Being funny was always important to me, and in my family.  There was no situation in our house that couldn't be diffused with humor.  As far as a career, I started stand-up when I was 15 and knew immediately it was what I wanted to do. 

Q:  You carried yourself with a confidence on camera and your humor was very smart and mature.  How did you become so polished at such a young age?
A:  Probably from all those years of trying to make adults laugh. 

Q:  It seems that in later KTMA episodes, the riffing got sharper, especially the early segments.  Was there any pre-viewing of the movies going on?
A:  Busted!  Yeah, after a while the long, deadly, silent sections started to bother us, so we started to make – how should I say? – the slightest effort. 

Q: What can you tell us about the KTMA days, the atmosphere, did you have any idea that the show would get as big as it did?
A: It was slapdash TV making at its best.  We'd pick a movie Thursday afternoon, come in the next morning, write some host segments in under an hour, go into the studio and shoot them, then go to lunch.  After lunch, we'd come back, shoot the movie segments real-time, edit them together with the host segments as we went, and have the show in the can, ready to air by 6pm when the local wrestling show needed the studio.  It was very fun.  And no, I had no idea that it would be as big as it was. 

Q:  How did you meet Mike Nelson?
A:  In the Twin Cities stand-up world. 

Q:  And how did you go about getting him to work for MST?
A:  I asked him.  It wasn't a tough sell, he was working at a TGI Friday's at the time.  Once he got over the pay-cut, he was in. 

Q:  I've read that your MST experience wasn't exactly the most fun for you.  Was it always like that, or did that start when the show moved to the Comedy Channel?
A:  The latter – once it became a business... it became a business. 

Q:  You've since worked with Trace and Joel on other shows, have you kept up with others like Jim Mallon or Kevin Murphy?
A:  I saw Kevin for the first time in years at the Columbia U. event and enjoyed catching up.  I see Mike and Bridget Nelson every couple of years and I'm friends with Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl as well.  I haven't had any contact with Jim Mallon since 1990 or so. 

Q:  Your impressions of the cast, their personalities and styles of humor (Joel,Trace, Mike etc).
A:  All of the above are smart, funny, talented people.  I would feel presumptuous summing them up any other way. 

Q:  You've kept yourself busy in the television industry.  I'm curious about Freaks and Geeks.  It was so critically hailed, yet didn't stay on the air very long.  What kind of experience was it working on that show, and what was going through your mind as you watched a quality show like this fail to get the ratings it needed to survive?
A:  The same thing that has gone through my head on a lot of projects: "Damn, it sure is hard getting good TV made." 

Q:  You're currently working with Trace on America's Funniest Videos (AFV), how's that going?
A:  Great.  The show is about to celebrate its 300th episode, and Trace is a great buddy and co-worker.  Very talented guy, you may have noticed. 

Q:  I've read that you perform music with your wife, Allison MacLeod – can you tell us more about it?  Also, what instrument do you play?
A:  We are actually in a band together with some other friends and have a great time playing semi-regularly.  Mostly Allison's songs with a few of my own thrown in.  I play bass, guitar, harmonica, and sing a lot, depending on what the tune requires. 

Q:  What does the future hold, what current projects are you working on?
A:  I gave up trying to predict the future after being consistently wrong about it for years.  As you mentioned, I'm working on AFV as a Consulting Producer and trying to get a couple of pilots on the air for next season.  The rest is up to the show-biz gods.