10 Questions With… Mary Jo Pehl

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I’m a geek. No, not the kind that bites the heads off of chickens (well, maybe as a hobby), but rather the kind that spends way too much money on conventions, t-shirts, and geek-themed cereal. While I enjoy a lot of different fandoms, there are really only two that I’m obsessed with. Doctor Who and Mystery Science Theater 3000. So, it’s very exciting for me to be able to present the 10 Question Challenge to one of the stars of MST3K!

The first episode of MST3k I ever saw was Horrors of Spider Island, the torturous film force-fed to Mike and the gang by Clayton Forrester’s mother, Pearl (Mary Jo Pehl). Since then, I’ve seen all MST3k episodes. I liked Clayton Forrester, but you know, you never forget your first MST3K Mad Scientist. Pearl’s character has some fun story-lines involving her, Bobo and Brain Guy. I recall a lot of funny bits, possibly because I was eating a lot of Tide pods at that time. Regardless, there’s no denying Pehl’s contributions to MST3K, as well as her work on Rifftrax, Cinema Titanic, and, well… pretty much everything she’s ever done (except for that grocery list she’s been developing– I mean really, borsch-flavored potato chips?!?).

When I approached Mary Jo about taking the challenge, imagine my excitement and surprise that not only didn’t she tell me to piss off, she actually said yes! Having said that, let’s see if we can stump her with the 10 Questions we’re throwing at Mary Jo Pehl!

1. Ok, gotta start with the big one– Mystery Science; one of the most original and best loved series of geeks everywhere… How did you get involved?

I knew all those guys from doing standup comedy in the Twin Cities, and we’d all done shows together and hung out: Trace, Frank, Bridget, Mike, Joel. (I didn’t know Kevin, he wasn’t on the comedy scene, he had an actual life). I knew they were doing a TV show but I didn’t have a television so it seemed pretty mythological, pretty abstract. Then one night Bridget called me up and whispered into the phone without identifying herself: “They’re looking for another writer so call up Mike and this conversation never happened.” Click. We have never spoken of it since.

So I mustered up allllll my courage to call Mike. I was very shy and given to panic about anything, and when he picked up the phone my dot matrix printer started printing. Loudly. I lived in a tiny apartment and it was LOWWWWD. I could barely hear Mike and I was mortified.But he was really great about it.
I was asked to submit a questionnaire/application and one of the questions was “Carrot Top or Gallagher.” I was also asked to submit a sample script, written off a short film on a VHS they sent me. Well, I’d never seen the show, I only kind of grasped the concept, and I just did it. I was asked to come in for a two week audition, and I wrote on a couple of shows.

When the two weeks was up, nobody said anything one way or another and I didn’t want to be presumptuous. So, I shall be BRAVE, I told myself, and PROFESSIONAL. And on the last day of the trial period, I went to every single person on the entire staff and thanked them for the opportunity. Everyone seemed kind of baffled, and if memory serves, Mike, Kevin, Joel, Jim and Trace went into a meeting and I was asked to stay on another two weeks. And then I think they forgot I was still there on a trial basis!

2. In the rebooted show on Netflix, you are the only returning cast member of the first series to play their original character. How’s it feel to one-up those jer– er, guys?

Actually, no – Bill Corbett as Brain Guy and Kevin Murphy as Bobo were also in an episode of the reboot (Episode 11). (EDIT: She’s got me on this one. Dammit.)

3. You were an answer to a TV Guide crossword puzzle and won’t stop blabbering about it. You think you’re better than me?!? Yeah… probably are. What fascinates me is how do you go from being a part of the exciting world of crossword answers to writing an entire show (The terrific “One Across: My Life As a Former Crossword Puzzle Clue”)?

How do you know it’s terrific?? It’s only been seen by ones and ones of people, mostly here in the Midwest! But thanks for that vote of confidence. And I KNOW I’m better than you, bitchezzzzz!! (EDIT: Oh, yeah– it’s on, now)

To your question: I just thought it was funny that I was a crossword puzzle clue. My parents kinda never really understood what I did for a living (standup comedy, storytelling, writing, MST3K) and yet, when one of my Mom’s friend’s told her I was a crossword puzzle clue, my mother declared, “You’ve arrived!” That she used that verbiage made me laugh AND that she thought I was finally ON THE TOP OF THE HEAP IN SHOW BIZ after years of up and down.

So I thought it might be a funny framework or jumping off point for a comedy show.

And how do we get that here in Georgia? Preferably Marietta; Atlanta’s been a bit of a pill lately.

Got $1,000,000 and a fun little theater? I’m there! Fee negotiable.

4. I know you wrote for MST3k as well as Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic, amongst others, but some people may not realize you’re an author as well. You’ve written a number of books, including the graphic novel series, “Jailbait”. What’s the difference in your process when writing novels vs writing screenplays? Which do you prefer? Any other graphic novel projects you have in mind?

To clarify: I didn’t write the graphic novel series “Jailbait”. I wrote one edition – kind of. (I don’t know if it’s a whole series.) Darren Davis, Bluewater Comics, contacted me about writing it and I wanted to stretch my wings. It was a disaster: I didn’t know the first thing about writing a graphic novel. The premise was a superhero crimefighter taking on child predators ala “To Catch A Predator”. The illustrations for the heroine had been done and I didn’t like how sexualized Jailbait was in appearance. So I tried to change that and I guess that’s not cool, to try and walk back the artwork. Lesson learned. So I tried to write around it, trying to justify or contextualize her appearance. But my knowledge was so limited it didn’t immediately come to mind how unoriginal I was – I just wanted to address the trope-y sexualized artwork of our heroine. My understanding is that it got re-written but my name is still on it. I’ve contacted Darren Davis numerous times to take my name off it and/or pay me whatever royalties I’ve “earned”, but he doesn’t respond.

I understand other writers have had the same problem with him. It’s now called TidalWave. It’s really frustrating, I’m embarrassed I got in over my head, lesson learned, stay in my lane!!

5. Ever play “Darkstar” (The videogame that Mary Jo did voices for)?

No. I get carsick playing video games. Unless, like, its LARP laying in bed watching TV.

6. TARDIS or Enterprise?

I usually rent from Enterprise. TARDIS must be an overseas car rental company.

7. On your Facebook page, you mention you’re affiliated with Renfest. Please tell me you’re a blacksmith in your free time.

I won’t lie nor will I destroy your beliefs about me. (EDIT: Ok, I’ll forget that little “Bitchezzzzz” remark)

8. You’ve been involved in so many different geek-loved media. How big of a geek are you?

I’m a geek but kind of a different arena. I don’t really follow fantasy or sci-fi or video games. I’m more of a Melville, history, museum geek. I would marry the Smithsonian if I could.

9. You, Felicia, and Trace get in a fight for most bad ass scientist. Who wins?

TV’s Frank.

10. I’m all out of questions, throw me your best plug:

Watch for the memoir about my mother: “Dumb Dumb Dumb: My Mother’s Book Reviews” coming out this year.

Also, if you have 11 or so minutes, check out my web series, Ruth Larson Lives! A Lifestyle Vlog!

Additionally, you can find Mary Jo at:

Mary Jo’s Official Website
Mary Jo on Facebook
Mary Jo on Twitter

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