RiffTrax delivers DIY laughs and a promising business model

As promised in a prior post, I did indeed throw a RiffTrax party. It was Sunday. My wife and I hosted three people, and we screened the latest James Bond movie, Casino Royale. The party was a success, and the highlight was undeniably the movie heckling supplied by our virtual guests of honor, Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy.

For those who aren’t familiar with RiffTrax, Nelson and Murphy are two of the comics who record funny commentary distributed by this new online business. For $2.99, I was able to download a podcast that ran the length of the movie. I synchronized the podcast (played through our stereo system) to the action from the rented DVD. Hilarity ensued.

It should go without saying that Daniel Craig, the dead-serious star of Casino Royale, was never the source of so much mirth.

This type of movie “riffing” had been a staple of the cult television show of the 1990’s, Mystery Science Theater 3000, where Nelson and Murphy had contributed as both writers and performers. They have lost none of their edge. (This distinctively Midwestern style proves that jokes don’t have to be demeaning or obscene to be lacerating — and often hilarious).

Whether you’ll find their brand of satire funny I cannot predict. They can get a little esoteric at times — sometimes veering dangerously close to Dennis Miller territory. But what I wanted to be able to tell you with confidence was whether this way of selling laughter, one podcast at a time, is a viable business model.

I think it is, for these reasons:

It’s Easy To Get the Hang Of

Although it’s a little more Do-It-Yourself (DIY) than some people will likely tolerate, the majority will get past the challenge of synchronizing the sound and DVD tracks. I certainly did. To help, a ReadMe file shows time codes that can be visually monitored. Or, like me, you can wait for key lines of movie dialog to be mentioned on the podcast by a robotic voice (called DisembAudio, of course). If the movie and podcast line readings overlap, you know that the comedy will be properly timed to the action.

A Great Excuse for a Party

RiffTrax is a surprisingly fun way to enliven a standard “movie night” with friends and family — and a way to justify another viewing of a DVD you already own.

It Has Mild Cult Appeal

The humor is often extremely bright, and that makes you feel like you are part of an insider’s group when you watch it. It’s the same appeal that helped make Monty Python and Saturday Night Live a success when those shows first burst onto the scene, as well as the more contemporary Daily Show and Colbert Report.

It’s Habit Forming

Mid-way through the film we mentioned to our guests that RiffTrax had just released a take on the first season DVD of Grey’s Anatomy. The reaction: “When can we see it!?”

The answer is soon. I’m pleased to see the technology of podcasts getting mainstream enough to actually justify repeat purchase. And since I was a huge Mystery Science Theater fan, I’m pleased that Mike Nelson and his team will be part of this new media revolution.

Important disclaimer: Although a wonderfully helpful RiffTrax publicist offered to comp me for the movie, I decided to use my own money, both to deny any accusations of patronage and to get a feel for the complete purchase-and-play experience. I have been compensated in no way for this assessment.

Good news for two lucky readers: Use my contact form to email me. The first two to say “Free RiffTrax” in the message will receive a one-time credit for a RiffTrax movie. I think you’ll enjoy the experience.

One Reply to “RiffTrax delivers DIY laughs and a promising business model”

  1. Funny that you should say RiffTrax provides DIY laughs — as their latest product offers exactly that: RiffTrax DIY. Use the voices of the original MST3K celebs to create your own custom riff track for any video you provide. Check it out!

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