Geeks Under Grace Interviews The Mads

In 1988 in the quiet rolling hills of Minneapolis, Minnesota at the rumbling studios of KTMA Cable Access, one of the most successful comedic television shows of all time was founded humbly by local prop-comedian Joel Hodgson. Mystery Science Theater 3000 would go on to become Comedy Central’s flagship TV show and one of the most successful comedies of the 1990’s. Just last year, the show was successfully rebooted to Netflix with a brand new cast to acclaim from a fan base ready to return to the show. In the interim, the cast and crew of the show have worked on a number of soft revivals of the core concept of their show. Riffing hilariously bad movies isn’t something exclusive to MST3K, and the different revivals all brought different flavors and energies as the one time partners came back to work on the material that made them famous. The Film Crew, Cinematic Titanic, and Rifftrax all brought back different members of the cast, but they were all embraced warmly by the fan base.
The most recent iteration of this is The Mads, a two-man show comprised of the former villains from the original run of the show. Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff, respectively Dr. Forester and TV’s Frank, carry the same affection and sardonic humor as the show, but performed live on stage in small venues it carries the tone of an after-hours edgy comedian routine that sets it apart from it’s cohorts.
I’ve had the opportunity to see four of The Mad’s performances in their recent appearances in northern Indiana and Chicago, and had the opportunity to check out their Riffs on so-bad-it’s-good films like Walk the Dark Streets, Glen or Glenda, The Choppers, and Neanderthal Man. I caught the latter two this past weekend as Trace and Frank performed at the Hollywood Blvd theater in Woodridge, Illinois. Thanks to their wonderful accommodation, I was able to have a fifteen minute sit down with them prior to their Saturday evening performance to talk about their history with Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the formation of The Mads.
GUG: A lot of the mythos surrounding the founding of MST3K was that it was this group of local comedians from Minnesota coming together for a show that just exploded. How did you guys get involved with that?
Trace: Well, we were all doing stand-up comedy in the 80’s in Minneapolis and that’s where we all met. We were friends before the show. Josh and I, or Jay Elvis and I, were in a writing group that met at the library and Joel starting coming to those meetings and he said, “I’m doing this show over at this little station. Why don’t you come over and you can help me.” And that was the explanation to us of what we were gonna get into. Once we got there he said, “hey there’s some puppets over there. Go pick them up and we’ll start doing the show.” That was it. That was the audition. That was the way we started.
GUG: I would imagine the transition from that to Comedy Central was kind of insane?
Trace: Well, we got more money. I don’t wanna brag and I don’t wanna make Frank feel bad, but I was making $25 a week doing Mystery Science Theater at KTMA.
Frank: I was making that in stand-up comedy, so i’m not jealous.
GUG: Did you guys have any favorite experiences working on the show? 
Trace: My favorite experience was lunch at 11:30.
Frank: Which it still is with us.
Trace: Yea we like to keep that tradition alive. You know it was just a really great fun, freewheeling community of like-minded comics. The spirit, there were no rules when we started this. This was no show bible. There was no “you can’t do this” or “you should do this.” We were just making it up as went along and I think the heart and soul of that spirit went into those early shows and I think that’s why it’s still loved to this day.
GUG: Did anything change as things evolved and Comedy Central became more involved?
Trace: You know, Comedy Central was kinda, they left us alone.
Frank: They were great in that yea. It was my first job in television. I didn’t know how great it was ’cause they left us completely alone. They didn’t interfere with the creative process. It was very ideal, so I was spoiled. When I moved to LA and worked on other shows, I found out it wasn’t like that with other shows, so it was kind of an ideal situation with Comedy Central.
Trace: Yeah they had people that were securing the rights to all the films and choosing screeners for us to look at from different distributors. They were on the East Coast and we were in the Midwest. I think they made one or two trips out to visit us, but mostly it was an ideal situation to create whatever we wanted.
GUG: What sparked the show’s transition over to Syfy? 
Trace: Well the Comedy era ended for us-
Frank: The Comedy era? Or the Comedy Central era?
Trace: The Comedy Central era for us, as far as we were concerned, ended…I think we had maybe overstayed our welcome and they were changing their lineup and we didn’t know if were were gonna get picked up. I left the show after the movie was completed, and that was after the channel era and I only found out we were getting picked up after I’d left. So Syfy, I wasn’t a part of that at all.
Frank: I was gone by then too. That all happened. The last season of the Comedy Central era happened before I left and then the Syfy years happened.
GUG: Did you have any favorite episodes you did? 
Trace: I love the shorts. The shorts I can go back and watch and they make me laugh. Teenage Caveman…or Teenager from Outerspace right?
Frank: Yea, that was a good one! I liked I Accused My Parents and Skydivers I liked, I mean it’s all so long ago it’s all a blur.
Trace: There are some really great episodes. We get occasionally at conventions or shows we do they’ll do marathons and we’ll get to peak in and go “hey, the show isn’t too bad. This is kinda funny.” Now we can look back without the pain of the manufacturing process. Look at it fresh.
GUG: You both left the show around the movie? 
Trace: Well, Frank left earlier and then I left after season seven.
GUG: In the interim between MST3K and The Mads, what were you focusing on? What brought about The Mads
Trace: Well, we both went out to Los Angeles and had long careers…I’m gonna say that were careers.
Frank: TV comedy writers. Trace worked on America’s Funniest Home Videos among other shows. I worked on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Drew Carry Show, The Tom Green Show, Invader Zim, a few other shows. Ya know, about ten years ago we started doing Cinematic Titanic because we all kinda wanted to, we’d all been away from movie riffing enough that we kinda had an appetite to do it again. So we did that with Trace, myself, Joel, MaryJo, and Josh, and then Joel didn’t want to do it anymore but we still wanted to get out and riff in front of audiences, so we got a gig or two for ourselves and we just started doing it this way.
GUG: When did The Mads officially start? 
Trace: Three years ago. Or a little over three years ago.
Frank: At an atheist convention.
Trace: Yes it’s true.
GUG: So that was just before the MST3K revival then? 
Trace: Yes.
Frank: Yah, a little bit before then.
GUG: How’s that affected everything? 
Frank: It’s helped us. You know it’s brought attention to the show. You know what we’ve found is when we were in Cinematic Titanic, we kind of considered Rifftrax our rivals, and now I realize there’s room for everything. Our fans that also come to our show, they also go to Rifftrax shows, they also watch the Mystery Science Theater reboot. It’s all kind of the same audience. It’s all there for us to be there to entertain them.
GUG: Tell use a little of some of the other projects you’ve done. 
Frank: Well we do a podcast called Movie Sign with The Mads. Me, Trace, and Caroline Hidalgo talk about a movie every week. We mostly talk about movies we love or that we like. We do talk about some that are not good as well just whatever we wanna talk about and we have unique digressions we go on and it’s just a fun thing that’s really developing a loyal following.
GUG: You mentioned a lot of your fans go to different things. True enough, I went to see Rifftrax on Thursday before I came to see this.
Frank: Right, a lot of people last night did too, yea.
Trace: The movie was Krull? A movie I have not seen since it came out.
GUG: Watching those back to back, I notice your style is slightly less restrained than Rifftrax is. You guys swear a lot more and have the ability to poke fun at sex and politics. Do you enjoy having more freedom to do that since their shows are slightly more family friendly?
Frank: F*** yes.
Trace: I think that sums it up.
GUG: You guys said during the Q&A that Friday’s show was your 152 show with The Mads. Now that you have a following and a regular gig, what would you like to do going forward?
Trace: More. More shows.
Frank: More live shows. Whoever wants to book us and meet our quote, we’ll come and do a show for you. We love doing it.
Trace: And we’re totally selfish because there’s no greater drug than hearing the audience laugh at what you’ve written and performed. Get the word out! We’ll come to your town! We’ll come to your home!
GUG: For the right price! 
Trace: Yes. Don’t they do home concerts?
Frank: Yea I know comedians that do that. They do shows at peoples homes. Its a thing.
GUG: You guys were also saying during the Q&A session that you enjoy watching these terrible films, which is great and speaks a lot to why the show is successful and how you’ve managed to keep this going. Outside of that, what kinds of films and entertainment do you enjoy beyond that? 
Trace: You know, any type of movie. I like good movies better than bad movies, but we’re constantly watching films or HBO, Filmstruck, or Turner Classic Movies. What was on the other night that I got caught up in? Oh! Unforgiven. It was on commercial television. It’s a real testament to a good movie if you’ll stay through all that crap commercial to finish the film.
Frank: People always ask us “do you have the compulsion to riff every movie you watch?” and the answer is absolutely not. When it’s a good movie, I just shut up and watch it.
During the Saturday night Q&A, they were asked about their favorite movies. Frank answered Duck Soup while Trace answered The Godfather Trilogy. Frank then noted Trace’s preference for the third film, sardonically. 
GUG: I would imagine the riffing is more therapeutic than anything else. 
Trace: Well, you know it’s another comedy partner. It becomes the third element, plus the audience. And as Frank was saying, we do love these movies. We travel with them week after week and we never get tired of these films. There’s always something new to find. A joke to be mined. I like movies of all kinds. I don’t have tolerance for really really bad ones-
Frank: Yea…
Trace: -but we still wind up watching those anyway.
GUG: How many movies have you done on The Mads?
Trace: About eight?
Frank: Eight I think, yea. You know, we’re always looking for a new one to add. We always wanna add new films. We never wanna do the same film when we come back to a town. We want it to be new films we haven’t done in that…because I think the last time we were in Chicago we did The Tingler and I think Glen or Glenda, and so here we didn’t do those films. The Choppers, which is a newer film, and then Neanderthal Man, which is brand new pretty much. We’ve only done it a few times.
Trace: I think this is the third or fourth time performing it.
GUG: This will be my final question to wrap up. Do you have any advice for young entertainers/comedians/filmmakers going into the industry? 
Trace: Get as much stage time as you possibly can and keep writing.
Frank: Keep writing. Just keep doing it. Do it anyway you can. If you wanna be a performer, a comedian, or an improv performer, just get on stage as soon as you can, any way you can. No matter how small the audience, get up and perform. And if you wanna be a filmmaker/screenwriter, just keep writing. Also in this day and age, a filmmaker can take an iPhone and go make films, so just go and do that.
Trace: Don’t try and get into the industry by impressing Jodie Foster. We’ve found that doesn’t work.
Special thanks to manager Joe Martin for setting this interview up. 

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

Leave a Reply