Satellite News - 20 Questions For Josh "J. Elvis" Weinstein


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We are delighted to present an interview with Josh "J. Elvis" Weinstein, one of the original cast members of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and who has been working successfully in Hollywood since he left the show in 1990. Josh's latest gig is as Producer on the NBC series "Freaks & Geeks."

Q: You were a standup comic starting in your mid-teens. Did other, older comics take you seriously? How tough was it to get gigs?
A: I started when I was fifteen at a place called the "Ha- Ha Club". I don't think most people knew my age at first. I made no effort to hide it but I was a big kid and my act didn't make reference to my age so most people assumed I was in my early twenties (see for yourself, I was 17 on the KTMA eps) By the time everyone found out, they saw that I was serious about it (stand-up) and working hard, so what could they say? Sure there were some bitter, older guys that resented me occasionally but for the most part it was a non-issue.

Q: What was your first impression of Joel Hodgson when you met him? Can you recall how it happened?
A: I was a big fan of Joel from his "first career" (Letterman, SNL). He returned to stand-up (after a two year hiatus) at the Ha-Ha Club open stage, a couple of months after I started. I was really excited to meet him after the show, he was very friendly to me and my friend Barry who was going ga-ga over meeting him.

Q: Can you recall how Joel asked you to be in MST3K? How or why did you happen to pick up the puppet you chose?
A: Some of the Minneapolis. comics had a writing group that met once a week. Joel attended sometimes and I think he asked Trace and I after one of those sessions. I can't recall if it was in person or by phone. I think I was just handed a puppet when I got there, I don't recall making a conscious choice. It's a good thing Trace got Crow, he's a fantastic puppeteer. Servo is foolproof, just a head to turn and a little mouth trigger (a later innovation. Originally I had to pull a string.)

Q: Can you describe how you and Trace Beaulieu developed the mad scientist characters? They weren't in the first few shows, but then they were added. How did you guys decide what kind of characters you would be?
A: We were figuring it out as we went along. We all thought the scientists helped to clarify the premise of the show. As for the characters, the phrase "Mad scientist" was pretty much what dictated the characterization. Joel wanted Trace to do his Gregory Peck impression for his, and I was just acting as evil and "mad" as I could. Those segments were always done in a hurry because we shot them right before we went out for lunch and everyone was waiting for us. And on the C.C. show, we always shot it at the end of the day when people wanted to go home.

Q: Those old KTMA shows were pretty much improvised in the theater, and a lot of fans have said that you (as Tom Servo) seem the most comfortable in the theater. Was that improvised riffing easy for you? Why or why not?
A: We all had our good days and bad, it really had to do with how many opportunities the movie provided. We didn't know what was coming, since we hadn't watched the whole movies before taping. Sometimes we'd get sucked into the movie and there'd be long silent patches. I think I probably said the most stuff but Trace, by having an edit function probably had the highest hit percentage. Mostly I was just trying to crack up Joel.

Q: It's fan lore that you were unhappy with the Beeper character and pushed to change him into the Tom Servo he became. Was it easy to get Joel to alter the premise he'd devised?
A: It wasn't all that fun sitting there going "BEEP BEEP- BEEP" and I'm sure I made some wise-ass remarks about it, but I don't remember having to convince Joel of anything. We all just thought a character that didn't talk was a waste. I was doing Gypsy then too, but "she" was too stupid to wisecrack.

Q: As Joel tells it, you gave Servo the name "Tom" to make him sound like a disc jockey. And you originated his deep, profundo voice. What exactly was your concept of who Tom Servo was?
A: I did think of him as being a bad morning D.J. with a giant ego and delusions of being a chick magnet. I can't say it was any truly fleshed out concept I had, I was just riffing in the office on it and threw in the "Tom". Everyone laughed and the rest is "Myst-ory". I tried a few different voices for Servo in shows before settling on the "Tom" Servo character.

Q: It's also fan lore that you were the one who brought Mike Nelson to MST3K. How did you two meet and why did you think he was the right person for the job?
A: When we got to Comedy Channel, Jim and Joel wanted to bring in an "apprentice writer" to write and type during the writing sessions. I knew Mike from doing stand-up, I thought he was a really funny and smart guy. He was working at a TGI Friday's at the time. I recommended him to the guys. Too bad he didn't work out.

Q: You're arguably one of the most successful former MST3K cast members, and it seems to this observer like leaving MST3K was a smart move in retrospect. Does it feel like that to you?
A: I have no regrets. I'm glad I did the show, and I'm glad I exited when I did. Once the show moved to Comedy Channel, it became a very hostile environment for me to be in. After ten years, I don't really feel like getting into the details except to say that nothing good would have come out of me staying for anyone involved (except perhaps for the viewing public, heh-heh).

Q: If a 15-year-old kid came up to you and said he wanted to immediately start working as a stand up comic, what advice would you give him, based on your experience?
A: Stand-up is tough, so I would only recommend it to someone who really feels a strong need to do it. That and, try not to suck.

Q: Was your MST3K credit any sort of help in getting work in those early days in L.A.?
A: It was a help in the sense that it was a credit. I wasn't starting totally from scratch. Many people didn't know what it was, or kinda knew but they had flipped by it.

Q: Did your time at MST3K give you any skills you now use writing for major network shows?
A: Probably.

Q: Can you talk a bit about your experience with the "Later" show with Greg Kinnear? Is it one you remember fondly?
A: I definitely learned a lot there. Doing a nightly show is kind of like a creative factory job. The line never slows down so you have to show up and be creative everyday. There isn't much time for re-writing, so everyone just dumps the contents of their head into something and you pick the best things there. The second year there I became the Head Writer. I enjoyed that much more than the first year. It was tough, (Greg had started into movies and we had to work around his shooting schedule a lot. We often had to tape eight shows in a week to cover his absence the next) but I really enjoyed being involved in everything to such a high degree.

Q: Same question for "Malcolm & Eddie."
A: The only sit-com I've ever done. The show was created by my good friend Joel Madison, so I really went there to work with him. It was a very difficult year, through no fault of Joel's. It was constant chaos, there was a lot of turnover in the staff as well as the cast, we frequently worked until 3 a.m. All to put out a show that no-one took particular pride in. But hey, it's still on the air.
That can easily happen in TV. Nobody starts out to do a mediocre or crappy show, but so many people and factors get involved that it can derail so easily.

Q: Same question for "AFV."
A: Hey, these aren't questions. This is just rattling off my resume! Sorry. Overall, I had a really good time doing that show. Considering where the show had been all those years, I think we got a lot of latitude to take it in a different (hopefully funnier) direction. I really enjoyed working with Trace again. To be honest, we had much more fun together on that show than on MST.

J. Elvis (second from left) and Trace (third from left, in back) in the AFV writing room

Q: You performed in skits a few times on "Later," and you did voice-over work on "AFV." Will you be doing more performing in the future or are you happier concentrating on writing?
A: I love performing, but most of my credits are the result of pure convenience. I'm there already. It means it's one less person to cast and direct. At AFV, I could write something, then run downstairs to the booth and record it, and it was done. I have no desire to face the rejection and difficulty of a real acting career, but I'll always jump at the chance when a role falls in my lap.

Q: What is/was your involvement with "Fast Food Films" on the FX network?
A: I'm a co-creator of the series. I wrote the pilot for the show, with the help of Trace and Paul Feig (who created "Freaks and Geeks") I have no creative involvement with the on-going series.

Q: What are your duties on the new "Freaks and Geeks" series?
A: I am one of several writer/producers on the show whose job it is to write the scripts which we then turn into usable and entertaining TV product.

Q: Your play "I Was the World's Most Famous Juggler (And Other Dirty Laundry)" is currently being produced in Minneapolis. Is this a one-time occurrence or do you plan to write more plays in the future?
A: The show opens here in L.A. on Sept 16th. I'm all for doing more theater writing. When I have the time and an idea, I'm sure I'll try it again.

Q: Where do ya wanna be in five years? What's your dream?
A: My dream? Well, I'm walking naked through an airport and...oh you meant that in a different sense, didn't you. I don't know...let's just say healthy, happy, and interested.