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Still riffing: MST3K’s Bill Corbett takes on zombies, Casablanca

by Matthew Price Modified: April 22, 2013 at 2:28 pm •  Published: June 15, 2009
Bill Corbett of Rifftrax
Bill Corbett of Rifftrax

After spending a few years portraying the wisecracking robot Crow on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” Bill Corbett wasn’t ready give up movie-mocking. He was, however, ready to stop being a puppet.

“We don’t play characters and we don’t have puppets,” Corbett said of his current project, Rifftrax. “I think we’re just getting a little too old for that, frankly. We’ll leave that to the younger crowd.”

Rifftrax consists of “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ alums Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Corbett, and has included “guest riffers” like Weird Al Yankovic and Neil Patrick Harris. Those who saw “MST3K” will know the basic idea of “Rifftrax” – watch movies, and provide humorous commentary. Until recently, Rifftrax – found at www.rifftrax.com – had primarily been created as MP3s, which users then downloaded and played in sync with their own copy of the DVD. But starting this week, 10 Rifftrax DVDs hit stores, providing commentary on films including “Night of the Living Dead,” “House on Haunted Hill,” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”

“I enjoyed doing ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ which I had never seen before,” Corbett said. The 1968 film by George Romero was one of the first to explore a post-apocalyptic zombie infestation.

“Now that we’re a couple of decades later, and we know the zombie movie traditions and the culture of zombie-ism, it was fun to see how it all started and how kind of slow it was rolling out,” Corbett said. “Zombies are fun to make fun of if you get right down to it,” he said.

In addition to low-budget movies like “Plan 9,” Rifftrax offers up commentary on recent hits – and even classics, including “Jaws” and “Casablanca,” via the Rifftrax.com Web site.

“It’s certainly easier to make fun of a movie that’s substandard or just silly on the face of it,” Corbett said. “The other thing’s a trickier business.”

In the case of the better movies, riffing becomes a slightly different art form.

“You’re not really taking pot shots at the movie itself, as trying to impose a funny situation on what’s going on,” Corbett said.

Rifftrax even performs live from time to time, including last year in San Diego during the week of Comic-Con: International. Corbett said the live shows are heavily scripted.

“I can’t imagine a human being witty enough to do that for an hour and a half to two hours, but the trick is to make it seem kind of spontaneous,” he said. Still, the comedians aren’t above occasionally slipping in a new joke.

“We do feel free to mix it up a little bit and blurt something out, and that’s always fun,” Corbett said. “It’s a risk, because sometimes you’re not as funny as you think you are.”

By Matthew Price
From Monday’s The Oklahoman

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by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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