PopLurker Interviews: Rebecca Hanson from Mystery Science Theater 3000

We lost our minds for the original show. We freaked out when Season Eleven: The Return came to Neflix. And now, we get to experience new MST3K all over again this Thanksgiving, November 22nd, 2018 when Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Gauntlet (which is the official name for Season Twelve) drops onto Netflix, ripe and ready for some Turkey Weekend binge watching. And there’s no better way to celebrating than by getting a chance to interview one of the cast members from the show.

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Rebecca Hanson not only writes for the new show, but she also plays Gypsy and Synthia, the clone of Pearl Forrester. And in the middle of the MST3K Live 30th Anniversary Tour, she took some time out of her day to hang out with me for an awesomely fun PopLurker Interview.

 

Hey Rebecca! Thank you so much for giving PopLurker this interview. I’m so delighted to have the opportunity to chat. I actually got to see you perform a few days ago at the MST3K Live Tour show in Los Angeles. It got a little crazy in there didn’t it?

Yeah…but it’s probably better that people are excited and shouting and stuff than not reacting or watching at all. So, I’ll always take the excitement.

In regard to that specific show…Gypsy’s head wasn’t supposed to fall off, was it? I think I recall seeing a flash of panic across your face.

Nooooo. That was so horrifying to me. And of course, it happened in LA. I think we rectified it and she’s okay, but no, that was not supposed to happen.

Was that host segment with Gypsy supposed to go on for a little longer? Did you guys have to cut it short because of the head debacle?

Well, it sort of fell off in a way that worked. After Jonah and Joel have bubbles coming out of the tube, they’re supposed to pop it back into her and the screen goes back to Gypsy and then we see her rise up again and say ‘I’m fine, everybody!’ And fortunately, Drew, the guy who operates the screen knew not to cut back to Gypsy. My concern was that Deanna, the puppeteer, might have gotten hurt. Because obviously, I’m on stage, so I can’t operate Gypsy. I was hoping that head didn’t land on her or that she was unconscious or something! But since Deanna didn’t know whether or not Drew was going to cut back to Gypsy on screen, she tried to finagle the head back on or get it close to the camera so you couldn’t tell. Joel was concerned that if people saw Gypsy’s head fall off, they’d need a follow up where she was okay and came back up again. But we weren’t able to do that.

The bolts we had for this Gypsy were pretty short and she just wasn’t meant to be taken apart every night, but we can’t travel with her whole. So, I take her head on and off after every show. It gets a little wonky because the ratchet we have doesn’t really work, and I something have to hand-screw them in. I also wiggle her around to make sure she’s secure, so I don’t know what happened that night. But it seems like only half the people in the audience realized her head fell off. Like Joel and Jonah had no idea and I just wanted to keep the show going and hope we didn’t traumatize anyone.

I sort of feel like situations like that is improv theater at its best. It kind of reflects the deep (budget) roots of Mystery Science Theater and shows how great you guys are at thinking on your toes.

It’s true—technical difficulties are just sort of built into the show. I’m just glad if the head thing had to happen it was during The Brain and not Deathstalker II where Gypsy is out front at a desk in front of the audience. But it’s MST3K! Our audience is forgiving and you’ve always seen the nuts and bolts of the show. Hasn’t changed in thirty years!

There’s a charm in that! So overall, how are you enjoying the tour so far?

The shows are so fun. Every night is so much fun. The audiences are just wonderful. I personally come from an improv and live performance background, so I love being in front of an audience. And especially a MSTie audience. You just can’t get any better than that. As we’re doing the tour, we’re sort of seeing what things work, what doesn’t and what new things we can throw in. We also surprise each other every now and then with new bits and new jokes, so yes…I really love that improv aspect of it.

The Brain and Deathstalker II were probably two of the hardest movies I ever had to riff on. And when I knew these were the two films we were touring with, I thought ‘This is going to be a really long tour.’ But both of them turned out to be way more fun that I anticipated and audiences really seem to like them, which is great. I never thought I’d be acting with Joel as much as I am, so young MSTie fangirl me still can’t believe that this is my job, this is my gig, and I get to riff with Joel. I even get to give him a hard time and he just rolls with it. It’s a dream come true.

Synthia

So then piggybacking off what you just said, you are in fact a MSTie. I definitely want to know what your relationship with the show was prior to you being cast in Season Eleven: The Return.

The whole reason I have this gig is because I’m a MSTie. I went to college when people were still recording random episodes and circulating the tapes. Or in my case, they were DVD copies. But I was a theater major, and on any random weekend that I didn’t have a show, my friends and I would just binge watch MST3K. Like a solid day or two of watching. I like Mike and Joel, still a fan of both. About five years ago when I was still living in Chicago, Joel, Trace, and Frank were doing a panel for the 25th Anniversary for MST3K. My husband, Tim Ryder, who is now a ‘bonehead’ and a writer on the show and the touring puppeteer and voice of Tom Servo. So, we went to the talk where the panel was and we bought a DVD box set so that all the guys would sign it.

At the time, Tim and I were working at ‘Second City’, which is a theater company in Chicago. Tim was understudying the mainstage. When we got up to the table, Joel said ‘Oh, you two are Second City guys.’ We couldn’t believe it, we were like ‘What?!’ And unbeknownst to us, Joel had been to the Second City show the night prior and saw Tim and another friend of ours in it. Neither of us could believe he remembered us. But then we invited them to come down to the theater and perform a sketch there that night. We thought it would be fun, but Trace and Frank couldn’t do it because they were flying out that night. And Joel had a really early flight the next morning. But he said he wanted to have dinner with us instead, which we couldn’t believe.

We asked if it would be okay with him if invited other cast members, because everyone on the team were also huge MST3K fans and comedy nerds. I joke about it in the show, but Joel really doesn’t realize that he has literally formed so many of our minds with his comedy. And how much he’s just formed comedy today! We had dinner with him that night and I sat next to him and just talked to him a lot. We both grew up in Iowa, grew up in Minnesota, and both worked at this random amusement park at different points in our lives. So, we just connected on a lot of different levels.

After that, Joel stayed in touch with me and Tim for the next few years. He’d come see our show when he was in Chicago, or we’d grab dinner. One year he asked me to help him out at a convention, so I just sat with him at his booth and met a lot of people. I helped get people through his line, because Joel is really good at interacting with all of the MSTies, but it’s important that everyone gets equal time with him. I was sort of herding cattle. This was back in 2014, so the Kickstarter wasn’t even a thought. Maybe Joel had an idea that there was a possibility it could come back, but no one else knew about it.

I’ll never forget this moment though, when we were going down a huge escalator at a convention center. He turned to me and said, ‘If the show ever gets picked back up, would you and Tim want to write for it?’. I immediately started tearing up, but I played it cool and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah Joel. I wouldn’t mind doing that.’ But I was freaking out on the inside. And when I got home that night, I went over to my husband and said, ‘Hey Tim—Joel said if the show ever starts back up, then he wants to know if we want to be writers. I think he was just being nice because I was helping him out all day, but I wanted to tell you this and let you know that we can never think about it again…because he was just being nice! Isn’t that nice?’ Of course, Tim agreed that it was amazing.

Fast forward a year later and the Kickstarter for Season Eleven happened. Tim and I both contributed of course, because even if we had nothing to do with the show, we wanted it back just like everybody else. The Kickstarter came through, and that New Years Eve (during the day) at the end of 2015, Joel called me and said ‘I have all this money. Would you come write on the show?’ and of course, I said yes. Joel said ‘With Tim?’ I said, ‘Yes! Tim would love to!’ Then Joel said, ‘I have this idea for a sort of henchmen. Would Tim want to be on camera in a weird bone/skeleton costume? Do you want to go ask him?’ I said, ‘No, I know he wants to do this!’ But THEN Joel said, ‘I think Mary Jo needs a Pearl Forrester clone. Would you want to play her clone?’ And I’m still dumbfounded like, ‘Yeah! Of course, sure!’

It was all just crazy that he had all of this in his head ready to ask me! And then a few months later he asked if I had any interest in voicing Gypsy. And that’s when I knew my head was going to explode. It was a real treat being asked to do all of those other things, but landing Gypsy was just super amazing to me. And it’s all because we were at this panel he was speaking at. Yes, it helps that Tim and I are trained comedians and have these backgrounds, but it all stemmed from having met Joel at this panel. My history with the show is literally half of my life and now I can’t believe that I’m on the other side of it. I’m part of it. It’s just crazy. This is a dream come true and a dream I didn’t know I could have because the show was just off the air for so long.

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I wanted to take a moment to tell you how incredible you are at playing Synthia. I had the pleasure of getting to interview Mary Jo Pehl a few months ago and we just clicked. We got along so well, she’s so much fun to talk to, and I just admire her on so many levels. And while Synthia really is your character, you act as ‘The Clone of Pearl Forrester’ so amazingly well and I’m so delighted that I really got to see you in action and what your own sensibilities, acting chops, and energy bring to the Mystery Science Theater revival. I really hope the fans have embraced you and give you that credit.

Thank you! I wish Mary Jo was around all the time. She’s so amazing and so ridiculous. I got to see her do a standup show in Chicago a few months after we shot season eleven. I never got to see her perform as herself and she’s amazing. I couldn’t get over it. The first time we ever got to meet face to face, we were both actually in costume. It was so surreal. When we shot season eleven, I was there for the first few days voicing Gypsy, so I was just hanging around as Rebecca. But on the fifth day, we shot all the Synthia stuff. And when they put the makeup on me, that’s when I really started to see it. But when they put the wig on me…wow. Then when we were finally both standing next to each other, it was really so trippy.

The first time Patton met me, I had just got out of the makeup chair. He came up to me and was like, ‘Hey Mary Jo! We’re going to rock it today, let’s do this, it’ll be great, I can’t wait to shoot with you!’ and I had to say ‘Oh hi Mr. Oswalt, I’m a real big fan, sorry, I’m not Mary Jo, I’m Rebecca Hanson and I’m playing Pearl Forrester’s clone and I’m not Mary Jo, I’m Rebecca…’ I was just so starstruck and rambling! Patton told me it was nice to meet me, and meanwhile all the hair and makeup staff are cheering because clearly, it means they did their job.

One thing I can say about Season Twelve, the Gauntlet, is that Synthia gets to ramp up a little more. I’ll leave it at that.

Let’s talk about the voice you do for Gypsy for a moment. Clearly, it’s a big change from Jim Mallon’s old school Miss Piggy howling that we had in the classic show. How has fan response been to the new voice?

To my Twitter face, people are pretty gracious about it. But I also know that there are people who don’t really like it. I will say that when Joel asked me to be Gypsy, and I knew right away that I wanted it, I still gave him a couple of voices to choose from. I knew I couldn’t sound like Jim and I didn’t really want that. Turns out Joel just wanted my voice. Some of my samples sounded more like traditional Gypsy. But Joel said he wanted my happy voice. I asked him what he meant by that, and in that Joel way he was like, ‘Oh…Rebecca…I can’t teach you what happiness is…’ and we laughed. But yeah, he just wanted my voice just pitched up a little. As you and I are talking right now, you’re getting ‘End of tour’ Rebecca, so I sound like a ninety-year-old smoking man. Which I’m not. But maybe I sound just midwestern enough for him, and Joel wanted to update Gypsy.

He said it always bothered him that Gypsy was always so dimwitted. Because she was running the ship, it seemed to take a lot of power out of her focus. But technology and society has changed, and we really just don’t need a dimwitted falsetto female character. We can have someone who can keep up. She might not want to joke around with the boys, but she can. I want her to be a warm mother figure, but she can still get in there and have fun. Sure, the show is about the hosts and Servo and Crow, but I like that Gypsy can throw a few in there.

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All right—so before we wrap our interview, I want to find out a little more about you, Rebecca! Do you have any hobbies or interests or are you part of any fandoms that might surprise people?

Probably? I do wear a lot of that on my sleeve…but I’m really into the band Phish. There’s a little bit of MSTie crossover, but not really. There’s a few of us. I’ve been to over sixty Phish shows and I got to meet two of the band members because we were staying in the same hotel.

I grew up on a farm, a real Iowa farm girl. I don’t know if I should admit this or not…

Well now you have to.

Yeah…now I have to. But I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books.

Me neither! I’m a pop culture writer who has never Harry Pottered!

Oh good! Cool! Yeah, I’m in MST3K and I’ve never read Harry Potter. But you know what? Maybe it’s time to finally come clean with that. Yes—on PopLurker, that’s where the real dirt goes down! The PopLurker Exclusive! And I know everyone will berate me that I’m just robbing and punishing myself…but yeah… maybe I’ll read Harry Potter someday. Maybe I won’t. We’ll just keep it up in the ether for people to hang onto. I also really like The Golden Girls. Golden Girls, MST3K, and Buster Keaton are my comedic influences. I was always a bit of a Dorothy. But I can relate to Rose being Scandinavian being related to half of Minnesota.

Now, before we get off the phone, do you have anything in the pipeline to discuss? Are there any new projects for you that aren’t related to MST3K The Gauntlet, which will land on Netflix this Turkey Day on November 22nd? Where can we find you coming up?

I shot an episode of a series called Teachers for TV Land over the summer, but I’m not sure when that’s going to air. I was on a podcast called MEGA where I was a guest spot. But otherwise, because of tour, there have been things I couldn’t audition for. It’s been a little slow, but hopefully something will pop up. Sorry if that’s a lame answer!

Oh stop, you’re fine! And lastly, thank you for supporting my own endeavor and being a PopLurker follower since our first or second MST3K article. I was very excited when I saw you Lurking me on Twitter!

You’re welcome! Thank you for reaching out for this interview, and I really appreciate that you guys zoned in on The Women of MST3K. It’s really cool that there are a lot of females involved and it was great you gave us a little attention.

You’re welcome. MST3K is only the best fandom in the world and all.

Right?!

You can follow Rebecca Hanson on Twitter, or check out her personal website.

 

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