'MST3K' legend finds a place to create, thrive

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS
  • Updated: April 2, 2011 - 4:17 PM

Kevin Murphy

Photo: Kevin Murphy, Star Tribune

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A while ago we profiled Bill Corbett, one of the minds behind the funniest slab of entertainment ever to pour forth from our state, "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Justice and fairness demand we examine another Minnesotan involved in the enterprise -- Kevin Murphy, who played Tom Servo for 188 episodes.

TV legend? Yes: that's more episodes than Rob Reiner appeared in as Meathead on "All in the Family." We asked him the usual questions as Murphy sat in his compound in the "woods of West Bloomington -- it's like Laurel Canyon in California, without the Hummers or the drugs."

So, born here, or an outsider we grudgingly accepted after 20 years?

"Actually moved here from San Diego, which my family and friends described as a 'courageous' move. I moved here to work with my pal Jim Mallon at KTMA TV-23, where we invented our fake local news anchor Bob Bagadonuts and helped to create 'Mystery Science Theater.'"

Some say it's our cold climate that keeps people indoors and makes them creative. Are they grasping at icicles to justify putting up with late March snow-dumps, or are they on to something?

"There's always a crucible of creativity here that occasionally fires up white-hot, and it's always from people who want to stay here, not make a name and move to wherever they think things are better. Just this year I've worked with so many creative people, including my old friend Trace Beaulieu from MST3K -- who, mind you, moved back here from Hollywood. They want to live in a place where they can thrive, not just as showbiz entities, but as people. Just plain folk, you know. Believe me, you can't do that out in Holly-ville."

But we don't have an enormous sign that says the name of our town, like Hollywood! Is there anything around here that proclaims MINNESOTA to you in big white symbolic letters?

"So many choices!  At the moment I'm watching the sun go down over the snow and drinking a Surly Abrasive, certainly that qualifies. Or maybe July, an eternally long day, on the backwaters of the Lower St. Croix, fishing with my pal Stoney on his beat-up pontoon, eating sandwiches from the Marine General Store and smoking cigars, watching the osprey fly over. Yeah, that's it.

"I've lived here for 25 years now. I work out of my home so I could pretty much do that anywhere, so why stay here? Because the winter keeps the riffraff out. The spring is pure mud, so think of it as an e.e. cummings poem. The summer is a Vivaldi suite, and autumn is a state of bliss. People are surprisingly honest. When we make a big mistake, like electing Jesse Ventura, we have the good grace to own up to it and try not to do it again. For the most part, we fight fair."

True. He would, however, change a few things -- abolishing metered ramps is No. 1. If you can imagine a hilarious mocking song about the ramps sung by Tom Servo, you may come around to his way of thinking. This wouldn't be fighting fair, though.

Unless MnDOT can reply in song as well.


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