It's not easy to push Frank Conniff's buttons.
The "Mystery Science Theater 3000" cult figure — described on his Twitter account as a "writer, comedian, TV's Frank" — is very mellow. He sat for an interview while in Minneapolis for Lizz Winstead's annual show at the Cedar Cultural Center. The Cedar has one of the most interesting green rooms in the Twin Cities with its tall walls plastered with posters of acts that have performed there.
I was so overwhelmed by the surroundings and company, I forgot to say "Push the button, Frank," to Conniff during our startribune.com/video.
Q: Because you are a geek icon, you must have some pretty crazy fan stories?
A: I think my fans are more normal than I am so they don't seem that weird to me. When we do live shows for "Mystery Science Theater," when we do personal appearances, a lot of people come with their kids and families and they grew up watching the show. I think they have a weird story about me.
Q: Who are your comic influences?
A: Woody Allen — comic influence, not a relationship influence. There's another comic I'm a fan of, I'm not going to mention his name. But I also like Bob Newhart, Nichols & May, Jonathan Winters. The Smothers Brothers were a big influence on me growing up. More modern people: Patton Oswalt, Dana Gould. Just anyone who's funny has an effect on me, usually.
Q: Do you remember the first joke you wrote?
A: I remember the first time I tried to be funny, and I was maybe 6 years old. My brother Tony was trying to teach me to play baseball. He kept yelling, Keep your eye on the ball! Keep your eye on the ball! and at one point I picked up the ball and put it on my eye. Unfortunately, my humor hasn't gotten much more sophisticated, but at the time I remember laughing hysterically and thinking it was the funniest thing ever. There have been many attempts since, a lot of failed attempts.
Q: Why has political satire become more popular than the news?
A: I think a lot of it is the news is pretty incompetent. When we watch the news or read traditional mainstream media, we don't feel we're being informed. We were misinformed about the Iraqi war; the information we got about that and the run-up to it was false. The media didn't do its job. Also the media never indicated there was going to be a financial meltdown. Just by default, the information we are getting from "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" and other shows is more accurate. That doesn't mean that should be the case. That shouldn't be the case that comedy shows are the most accurate sources of information but it's because the mainstream media has dropped the ball.
Q: NBC's Chuck Todd recently asked panelists if the Bill Cosby story would have had legs had a white comedian said what Hannibal Buress did?
A: I don't know if it would have. I think it's interesting that it took a viral video from a comedian to turn it into a big story. And as other people have pointed out in articles I have read, the fact that a man bringing it up had more power than the women.
Q: Do you watch much TV now?
A: I do! I watch a lot of cable news because I enjoy wasting my time. I'm a big fan of "Orange Is The New Black" and "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," a lot of the dramatic shows. As far as comedy shows, I like "Veep," I watch "The Daily Show," "Colbert" until he went off the air.
Q: Is there any other celebrity for whom you get mistaken a lot?
A: People have told me I look like Philip Seymour Hoffman and now that he's dead even more so. I'd like to say George Clooney, but I'm afraid that's not true.
A longer version of this edited interview is online. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9's "Buzz."