ASF Hot Seat: Master Pancake Theater


Master Pancake Theater are easily Austin’s favorite movie mockers. Take THAT you and your friends talking over “Midnight Meat Train”. MPT has been talking over the best and worst Hollywood has to offer every weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse. This year we’re proud to welcome Master Pancake Theater to Austin Sketch Fest, where they’ll be holding down our Thursday night line-up at the SpiderHouse Ballroom (tickets here). We asked Master Pancake’s head honcho John Erler some sweet, sweet Qs.
For folks at home, what’s the Master Pancake writing process like?

JOHN ERLER: Fairly straightforward. We watch the movie over and over and over again. We watch it maybe 8 times during rehearsal, where we try out jokes on each other. Next, we do a Mystery Monday sneak preview of the movie where we charge very little ($3) and test our jokes out on a crowd. Here we find out the hard way what works and what doesn’t. Once it’s in shape, we’ll do a 3 or 4-weekend run of the movie. Since we do four shows per weekend, that means, all told, we’ll watch a movie up to twenty-four times by the end of the run.

There’s no substitute for learning the rhythms of a film. With enjoyable movies like The Matrix this can be a fun process. With movies like Twilight – repeated watching can lead to spiritual deadening. I did some math on it. We’ve mocked the first four installments of the Twilight Saga and I personally have been involved in all four of those mocks. That means I’ve easily watched one or another of the Twilight movies over 100 times. That means I’ve watched Twilight more than any super fan of the series. I’ve watched it more than the stars or the directors or the editors. At this point I am Twilight Jesus. I have died over and over again so that you may laugh.

You’ve teamed up with some pretty big names, and recently you mocked Zardoz with the man himself MST3K’s Joel Hodgson. How was that?

JE: A dream come true. I watched MST3K in the early 90’s and I identified with Joel’s humor the most – his deadpan delivery, his sleepy yet biting sense of humor. We had a blast doing Zardoz with him. He laid down some ground rules before we got together. One of them was: no cursing. We’re a pretty rated-R show, but we had no trouble with that request. So me, Joe Parsons, and Owen Egerton all agreed. We had this mini-rehearsal with him the morning before the show. We met him for the first time and then just started riffing on Zardoz to an empty theater. It was great. We gelled. Then Joel started dropping F-bombs and doing blue jokes. Me and Owen and Joe kind of looked at each other but didn’t say anything. After a few minutes of this, Joel turned to us and was like, “I guess I can see the advantages to this style of humor.” At which point the three of us high-fived each other. He’s a great guy.

What can we expect from your ASF show?

JE: We’re going to do an episode of Law & Order for ASF, which is very exciting for us. Aside from some Star Trek episodes, we haven’t done much television so this will be a chance to branch out from movies. Law & Order, in particular, seems RIPE for the picking. L&O is a good show, but it also takes itself very seriously, which is a great opportunity for wise-asses like us to step in and burst some balloons. Also, it’s iconic, which means everyone knows the formula and is ready to see a good parody/satire of it. John Mulaney has gotten some great mileage out of making fun of L&O’s tropes and stock characters (e.g. the guy who’s too busy loading boxes into a van to answer questions from a MURDER DETECTIVE). It’s going to be me, Joe Parsons (STAG) and Mac Blake (STAG, The Hustle Show). What a great team. We’ll be mocking an episode of L&O and doing one of our parody sketches about halfway through. We’re really excited about performing our Pancake-flavored send-up of the show.

What are some of your biggest comedy influences?

JE: Joel Hodgson and MST3K, of course, They did it first, they did it great, and they planted the seed in my mind that you could actually make a living by talking at movies. The Zucker Brothers and AIRPLANE! were a revelation to 12-year old me. Not only did they have the highest jokes-per-minute ratio I’d ever seen, but a high hit rate as well. Visual jokes, verbal jokes, smart jokes, dumb jokes. They all seemed to work. I couldn’t believe there was a movie so funny all the way through. In the back of my mind that’s always what I’m aiming for at a Master Pancake show: smart and relentless.

Chevy Chase, but only in Fletch. I love Fletch. After maybe my fifth viewing I developed this weird idea that Chevy Chase wasn’t acting in the movie, but making fun of it. From within. You had this boiler-plate, 80’s Beverly Hills Cop ripoff with everyone in it from the director on down taking it perfectly seriously and here was Chevy Chase who didn’t give a shit, mugging his way through with Groucho-like disdain for everyone around him, trying to sabotage it. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s my fantasy of it.

What are you looking forward to at Austin Sketch Fest?

All of it! I love the Austin-based performers (STAG, Your Terrific Neighbors, The Hustle Show) but I’m also looking forward to seeing the out-of-towners like Beige and Ennis & Kaye. And who doesn’t like Paul F. Tompkins? Plus, I’m extra excited about maximizing my personal growth potential with LanceLife. Sketchfest has put together a stellar line-up.

Master Pancake Theater is performing at Thursday May 23, 10pm at the SpiderHouse Ballroom along with Ralph Hardesty.