24 February 2008

"In the Not-too-distant Future...."

Those of you who are familiar with me--both of you--know that I love "Mystery Science Theater 3000." It remains one of my favorite TV shows to this day and I nearly cried when it ended. Well, "yelled and swore at the TV" is probably more accurate, but the idea is I was upset. And who made the magic happen on that genius program? Michael J. Nelson, head writer for 10 years and on-air host for the last half of those. Amazingly enough, he can actually write. As in, books, not just TV show scripts. "Mike Nelson's Movie Megascheese" started my love for his writing. A book of collected essays about really bad films and actors, it is what my friend, Teri, described as "laugh-out-loud, startle-the-cats funny." This only whet my appetite for his second, and my favorite book of his (I've read it three times now), "Mind Over Matters."

Because I can per the Fair Use clause of U.S. copyright law, I will publish one of my favorite excerpts here. In this particular chapter he is discussing the small mid-western college he attended, which was staffed entirely by insane professors. One English professor, whom his students dubbed "Beaker" because he resembled the Muppet so closely, performed various tricks of crazy for his students, never once realizing that he was in fact, certifiable. My favorite event Mike describes in excellent detail:

I was present at the following bit of strangeness. While lecturing on James Agee, he suddenly became curious about the hole in the countertop of his lecturing table, which was really a large cabinet with storage space beneath it, accessed by sliding doors. Without halting his lecture, he began to probe the hole--squarish, about the size of a small book--sticking his whole arm into it, tentatively at first and then up to the shoulder. Soon, and without stopping his talk on A Death in the Family, he was fully inside the cabinet. He hesitated for a moment during the exertion of closing the sliding door behind him, but then continued the lecture. Then another pause during the exertion of trying to get the cabinet door open again, which he was unable to do.

"Could someone come up here and free me?" came his muffled voice.

The class laughed uneasily, still not sure if this was a joke.

"Well, well, well," he said, his tone thoroughly elusive. There was the sound of a minor struggle. "This is what I get," he said, still without humor or embarrassment or panic or any sign as to whether he was asphyxiating.

After a moment, two similarly dressed jock guys got up, walked toward the front and out the door of the classroom.

"What time is it?" he asked, and no one answered. He had never managed to connect on any identifiable human level with any member of the class, so direct communications from him (not that this was terribly direct) usually went unanswered.

More people got up and left, then more, till there was only a handful of people remaining. Finally two young women looked at each other questioningly and then walked up to his cabinet. Figuring he was in capable hands, I left.

That is quality writing, people. I wish I could write like he does--he is mind-bogglingly funny. I figured it would be an excellent book to read while otherwise occupied nursing Peanut, until I discovered that my bursts of laughter were waking him up. Trying to hold it in only resulted in Shaken Baby Syndrome, so I eventually gave up trying to do both at the same time.

As a side note, Mike's third book, a novel titled "Death Rat: a Novel," is an excellent read. It's not as hilarious as his essays on life, but it is incredibly well written, intelligent, and witty. His characters still make me laugh, particularly the governor, with whom I share a rabid distaste for weathermen. Just a tip from your friendly neighborhood blogger.


Janie said...

Oh my gosh that show was my favorite - It was Kyle's favorite first he introduced me to it - I will have to get a copy of his books. I mourn the loss of that show - they are bringing all kinds of other crap back why won't they bring that back? We also loved "the tick" cartoon series it had a wacky sense of humor, too. one example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcm-J7lQT3w&feature=related

Janie said...

Just out of curiosity are you a fan of Hitchhikers guide? the books not the movie - seems like something you would like too

Abby said...

I actually own the complete animated Tick series, thanks to a wonderful co-fan of mine. "It's touching my brain!!" was my favorite episode.

You won't be sorry with those books, Janie. Apparently there are some people who didn't "get" Mind Over Matters. I suppose without him mocking actual films they were confused. I've found that Mike mocking himself is at least 25,843 times funnier than mocking bad movies. His foray into musical theater remains one of those classic chapters that makes me laugh just thinking about it, which is why I keep coming back to read it over again.

I've been told I would appreciate Hitchhikers Guide, and the same friend who loves Mike's books actually gave it to me. But I have yet to read it because something keeps telling me it'll be weird-funny, not funny-funny.