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tracebeaulieu-01.jpg

- by Ken Plume

tracebeaulieu-02.jpgFor eight seasons (1 on local Minneapolis station KTMA, 1 on the old Comedy Channel, and 6 on Comedy Central), Trace Beaulieu filled triple duty on the cult favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 - as a writer, the voice/performer of one Crow T. Robot, and as the evil Dr. Clayton Forrester (the mad scientist who stranded hapless Joel Robinson - then Mike Nelson - on the Satellite of Love and subjected them to those awful, awful movies).

Since departing the MST3K fold following the release of the big screen Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (in which Dr. Forrester subjected Mike & the ‘bots to the Universal sci-fi classic This Island Earth), Trace has found gainful employment as one of the writers for America’s Funniest Home Videos (reuniting with AFV head writer J. Elvis Weinstein, MST3K’s original Tom Servo and Forrester compatriot Dr. Laurence Erhardt). He’s also penned the limited comic series Here Come The Big People and guest-starred on Freaks and Geeks (as science teacher Hector Lacovara) and The West Wing.

What few people may know - and a topic we discuss right off the bat in the interview below - is that Trace also participated in a group called The Sleepers, a Minneapolis based band which holds the world record for the most venues played in one day in one city (112). They released an album called Heart Like a Shield in the early 90’s that has been a rarity ever since. An eclectic mix of music and comedy, it’s currently being prepped for re-release by bandmember/producer Gary Rue (you can keep apprised of its release via www.garyrue.com). To set the stage for my discussion with Mr. Beaulieu, Gary has given Quick Stop permission to share a wonderful pair of tracks that feature Trace. The two tracks - “Trace Intro” & “Point/Ernie” - have been edited together into a single piece. I hope you get a kick out of them, and make sure you pick up a copy of the CD when it drops.

DOWNLOAD: (right click to save)
The Sleepers - “Trace Intro” & “Point/Ernie” (MP3 format) – 3.76 MB

And now, let’s chat with the one, the only, Trace Beaulieu…

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KEN PLUME: I spoke with Gary, and I have a copy of Sleepers sitting in front of me.

TRACE BEAULIEU: Oh, good! The whole album?

KP: The whole album, which he’s prepping for a re-release.

BEAULIEU: Oh, cool. I had no idea. Did he remaster it?

KP: It’s nice and pristine and sparkly fresh.

BEAULIEU: Cool. I still have some cassettes in the cellophane, which are turning yellow.

KP: Well, those’ll be the eBay collector’s items.

BEAULIEU: Yeah, exactly.

KP: “This is from the original release, still in their wrapping.”

BEAULIEU: Yeah. One of the complaints we got was that… there were 21 or 22 songs or something like that on this thing, and it was in a cassette format then, and the guys wanted every song and all the lyrics on a sheet. So, I mean, that’s a lot of information. And I think we put it into eight point type, and it’s riddled with spelling errors, and one of the complaints we got was you couldn’t get that back in the cassette box. If you folded it, it was like one of those raincoats you buy at the drugstore, you know?

KP: So, in other words, once the insert was out of the case, there’s no going back.

BEAULIEU: No, no. It was hopeless.

KP: So, really, it should have been an album.

BEAULIEU: It should have been. I think albums were going away when we made this thing. We even thought about doing an album, but it was more expensive at that time to do one in vinyl.

KP: Well, especially since you also were in the CD age.

BEAULIEU: That’s right. Oh, that was a long time ago!

KP: Well, at least you’re not talking about, “Well, we could have put it out on 8 track…”

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Well, that would have been cool. There’s actually probably enough for two albums in there, or three really small ones.

KP: Well, it certainly should be well-served by CD then.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. How did you find the two tracks you have?

KP: I don’t know how I came across them. It must have been about 10 years or so ago that someone handed me a tape of the stuff on it, and it was just one of those things were I always wondered what the rest of the album sounded like, but never had any access to it. And I remember asking you at that time about it, and you mentioned having the box in the basement. I think even then it was up in the air as to what the status of it all was.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Well, it’s been up in the air since we did it.

KP: What an odd occurrence that I should inquire about it just when Gary’s prepping a re-release…

BEAULIEU: Well, you can take credit for bringing it back to life.

KP: Oh good. Can I take that in writing?

BEAULIEU: Uh, no.

KP: “Gary, Trace said I could take credit.”

BEAULIEU: Yeah, good!

KP: I’m just glad that I’ll be able to finally hear it, and so will everyone else.

BEAULIEU: That’ll be cool. And he’s planning to re-release it, so I guess that’s marketing, huh?

KP: Well it’s particularly interesting in this internet age to see how he markets it. You never know - you might be doing press stuff for Sleepers.

BEAULIEU: That would be… you know, it was one of the strangest calls I’ve ever gotten. I wasn’t expecting you to mention Sleepers.

KP: So when you heard that phrase on there, what were you expecting? Like, “This is a Mystery Science Theater call…”?

BEAULIEU: Well yeah, that’s usually what those calls come up to. But Sleepers, that’s even more obscure.

KP: Well, I would never bother you with Mystery Science Theater. (laughing) That’s pretty well documented.

tracebeaulieu-04.jpgBEAULIEU: I was looking at a site on the web the other day - “Tom’s Temple” or something like that. Every tiny scrap of information is up on the web.

KP: Anything that you wish wasn’t out there?

BEAULIEU: No… In fact, it’s very handy. When I can’t remember stuff, I go there and I go, “Oh yeah, yeah, I remember that now. Thank you for remembering that for me.”

KP: So it’s sort of like a separate brain for you.

BEAULIEU: Yeah, exactly. It’s a hard drive.

KP: Storing all of the knowledge and memories that you’ve managed to get rid of over the years.

BEAULIEU: People will ask me questions and I go, “Gee, I don’t remember.” Or I’ll see videotape or something on YouTube and I go, “Wow! I don’t remember that! But there’s Frank and there’s me and we’re dressed as pirates, and I have no memory of doing it at all.”

KP: Yeah, but that was just a Saturday night…

BEAULIEU: Yeah, exactly.

KP: How’d they get those photos?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. (laughing) I’m dressed as Billy Jean King and there’s Frank and we’re playing tennis or something. I have no memory of that. I should, I guess.

KP: I think it’s sort of an “MST syndrome” that you all suffer from. These big informational dumps that you would do after each episode…

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Or just a big dump.

KP: Whatever it took to get by.

BEAULIEU: That’s right.

KP: Otherwise, I think you would have been driven insane.

BEAULIEU: And I think we probably were.

KP: Some of you, to varying degrees. Do you look back on the time fondly?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. You know, we had a lot of fun doing it.

KP: You’re literally now, what, 10 years out…

BEAULIEU: Yeah. And almost… it’ll be 20, in about a year or so, since we started doing it.

KP: The thing I’ve never been entirely clear about, is I’ve always wondered what your stand-up act was like…

BEAULIEU: It was really bad. I never really wanted to do stand-up. It was never my goal, but it sort of happened. I was hanging out with all those guys in Minneapolis doing improv, and I liked that much more. I like working with people rather than just on my own.

KP: When did you start doing improv?

BEAULIEU: Just like ‘82, or something like that. There was a club called The Comedy Cabaret which a friend of mine started, Scott Novotne, who was oddly enough my… I think he was like student teacher in my high school theater. So I knew him from way back. And he started this little cabaret with some friends of his, and it was a place where they were just doing really weird shows and fun little super 8 films. That’s where I met Eugene Huddleston. I just really liked working with those guys. Doing little improv shows and weirdness.

KP: Had you always had that sort of inclination, as far as performance and those performance pieces?

BEAULIEU: I think they were closer to things that we were doing in high school. We would do the plays and all that stuff, but we had built a cabaret in our scene shop theater, and it was very kind of bohemian and eclectic and people were doing all kinds of weird stuff, and it was a very freeing and creative space. Another friend of mine and I wanted to do that same kind of thing since we got out of high school - open a cabaret - and then we found that our old instructor had started one, so we just kept hanging out there.

KP: Was it always your own material, or did you sprinkle it with established pieces?

BEAULIEU: It was always our own stuff. It was always… we were creating stuff that we could perform.

KP: How would you characterize a given piece? If you could recall one of the pieces, what was the average type of piece that you went to?

BEAULIEU: I had this weird little act where I’d saw my leg off. And my friend would accompany me on the piano. I would start out playing the saw, and it would appear as though I became possessed. Whatever music my friend was playing, like, The Exorcist would start possessing the saw. I was sitting on these boxes that we had in the theater, these big white cubes, and I would levitate on those cubes. It was all a goofy… I wouldn’t really say magic trick, but my real leg was hidden in these cubes, and then I could levitate.

KP: A stage illusion…

BEAULIEU: Yes, exactly. And I had one fake leg that was appropriately placed for sawing in half.

KP: What were the audiences like that you would play to?

BEAULIEU: It always got a huge reaction. Because, you know, first it’s this stupid, goofy clown bit, you know, someone playing with a saw and, “oh that’s cute” and reacting to this music. And then I’d saw my leg in half. I don’t think they expected it, and it was a very bizarre little theater piece.

KP: Was it a nice pristine cut, or did you get a bit intense with it?

BEAULIEU: It was kind of a jagged cut through the pant leg down in through the fake leg, and sawdust and paper would… initially it looked as if I was really cutting my leg, and then you’d see this stupid thing fall out of my pant leg.

KP: It’s not like you Gallaghered the audience with blood or anything…

BEAULIEU: No no no. I never was into gore or anything like that. It was like, “Okay. The initial shock was enough. Stupid.”

KP: How large were the audiences that you would generally play to?

BEAULIEU: I don’t know… probably the largest maybe 50, 100. On a good night.

KP: Was that capacity?

tracebeaulieu-05.jpgBEAULIEU: Yeah I think so. Mostly we were playing to, like, eight people. And there would be a decision whether or not we would have a show or order pizza. We’d ask the audience what they wanted to do.

KP: Do you miss days of decisions like those?

BEAULIEU: I miss the kind of spontaneity and the wacky anything-is-possible. Now everything is… very little is possible.

KP: Because of outside forces or just the way that life has to be at this point?

BEAULIEU: Well, there’s a certain amount of safety. You kind of want it to work all the time. You don’t experiment too much.

KP: Do you miss performing at all?

BEAULIEU: I do. I do. I miss those days when we would interrupt each other’s act with, like, playing golf from the back of the theater… Bring a car into the theater so when a curtain was drawn into the lobby, you’d see us working on a car. Really absurdist kinds of things.

KP: At that point, how large was the troupe that you were with?

BEAULIEU: Probably maybe five. There was Eugene and myself, and Scott and his wife Stephanie, and Gary… How many is that, five?

KP: Five. Out of that group, how many are still performing at this point or still involved in the creative side of things?

BEAULIEU: Eugene’s still playing piano in Minneapolis. He’s still doing comedy. I see him whenever I get back there. I really enjoyed working with him. He’s a very free and generous performer. and I don’t think appreciated very much. I certainly don’t appreciate him.

KP: If you can’t, then how can anyone else?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. We had this history. We really liked each other and enjoyed performing, but then we got into this stage where neither one of us had seen each other’s act. He’d never seen Mystery Science Theater and I’d never seen his piano playing. For like 15 years we’d just never see each other perform.

KP: So it was just remembrances of times past?

BEAULIEU: I think it was just flat-out avoidance. Then it became, not necessarily a feud, but a challenge. Even if I showed up and he was playing, I’d have to wait until he was finished.

KP: So who won the challenge?

BEAULIEU: Well, I started bringing him in on different things. I had an art show out here a couple of years ago and I brought Eugene out to play piano.

KP: So you lost. So he turned to you and went, “Ha, I won!” At which point you should have presented him with an MST box set.

BEAULIEU: I should have. I think he has a TV now. Yeah, he probably does…

KP: Well, with age you get certain perks.

BEAULIEU: That’s true. Now he’ll reap the benefits of the Sleepers resurgence.

KP: So is he part of the group?

BEAULIEU: Oh yeah, yeah. He played piano. He recruited me into Sleepers because they wanted to do - or he wanted to do - more comedy bits as well as the music. And I know nothing about music. I’m not musical at all.

KP: I’m sure you’d be handy with a triangle.

BEAULIEU: A drawing triangle. That’s about as close…

KP: You could have played with Yoko.

BEAULIEU: It was an odd group. Poets and artists and comedians and musicians… a very eclectic mix of people. Very creative, too. I always really enjoyed working with those guys. Gary and Gregory Bitz, who did the artwork for the album, and Eugene and another fellow that passed away a few years ago, Kent Taylor, who was the bassist.

KP: When were you asked to be a part of the group?

BEAULIEU: This was like ‘92. We were already doing Mystery Science, so I would work Mystery Science during the day and then I’d go hang out with these musicians downtown until wee hours of the morning.

KP: How do you remember the actual recording and creation process being? Was it everything that you hoped it would be?

BEAULIEU: It was fraught with personalities, let’s say.

KP: Towards a better goal, eventually?

BEAULIEU: You know, I think we just got really, really lucky a couple of times that things came together as they did.

KP: Was there the feeling that this would be a one-off even while you were doing it?

BEAULIEU: No, I think we all wanted it to continue. But one by one everyone’s lives started to kind of disintegrate. Some of the guys were going through divorces at the time and various, just creative meltdowns. That’s what I have in the box in -well not in the basement anymore, it’s in the closet - of the Sleepers, the performances. And we did a tour, which was Eugene’s idea, called “The Sleepwalker Tour,” in Minneapolis for the Muscular Dystrophy… I guess challenge, or fund… We played 111 clubs in one day trying to raise money for muscular dystrophy, and also to try to break the world’s record.

KP: I can’t imagine the logistics of that.

BEAULIEU: It was kind of remarkable. Eugene put it together, and he called all these places in town and said, “Okay, we will be at your restaurant, club, bar - whatever - at 9 in the morning,” or whatever time of day we got there. And he scheduled it all, coordinated it all. We got some limos donated to us. We got a bunch of guys with video equipment following us around. We started out, I think, at 9 in the morning and wound up at 11 at night.

KP: So, did you make all 111?

BEAULIEU: We did. The goal was 100, but we kept going. It was also Memorial Day weekend, so some places weren’t open, or the manager had failed to tell anyone that we were going to be there, so we’d wind up at the kitchen door and there’d be a guy with a knife and a head of lettuce going, “What?”

KP: Exactly what you’d want to be greeted with.

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: How much material would you play when you hit a club? I’m assuming you could only get a minute or two.

BEAULIEU: Yeah - they’d run in, play like a minute worth of material, and then run out again, run into the limos, and off to the next place.

KP: Being the non-musical portion of the show, what was your function?

BEAULIEU: Once we found that it was kind of a nightmare logistically actually doing it, I’d run ahead and make sure that either A, the building was still there, or it was unlocked. And sometimes I would do something strange like blow bubbles or something, just for something to do.

KP: Something nice and performance arty.

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: Does that footage all still exist?

BEAULIEU: It does. To the large part that and a show that we did still exists. I haven’t looked at it in years. I gave it to a friend of mine to break down and log all the video tape, but I still haven’t really had the stomach to go through it again.

KP: When you say “the stomach,” what is it that makes you uneasy about viewing it again?

BEAULIEU: Oh, memories. Some stuff is best left to memory.

KP: You’re saying it was very much a charged period?

BEAULIEU: It was. It was. I don’t know if I really have enough distance from it to cut it into any kind of documentary, or if there’s anything really there to look at.

KP: When you think back on the actual material that’s on the album, are you proud and content with what the album eventually became?

BEAULIEU: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

KP: So the material itself you have no problem with.

BEAULIEU: No, no. The album is… I had very little to do with it, really. I was there when they were doing some of the recording and we were goofing around a lot with stuff. I think there is some stuff… you know, it’d be interesting to hear. Because I don’t remember exactly what I did.

KP: When was the last time you heard the album, or pulled out the cassette?

BEAULIEU: Oh boy, I’d say at least 10, 15 years.

KP: Probably the last time I mentioned it to you.

BEAULIEU: I think probably that’s when it was. You have a better memory than I do. I’d have to go to the website and find out what I remember.

KP: Well, that’s good. You’ll be one of the first downloads. Like I said, it wouldn’t have stuck in my brain for this long if the two tracks I heard weren’t memorable.

BEAULIEU: Well, you know, Gary and Eugene and Gregory and Kent Taylor are extremely talented musicians, and they did a great job.

KP: Which is weird because neither of the tracks I have are music tracks, they’re comedy tracks.

BEAULIEU: Oh really?

KP: One is you running up to the recording session…

BEAULIEU: Oh, I think that started the album. I push a button or something.

KP: Where I guess you’re the pyrotechnics guy, but you show up for the recording…

BEAULIEU: Yeah, I did a lot of that kind of stuff, too.

KP: Which I thought was one of the best performances I’ve ever heard from you. A very natural performance.

BEAULIEU: Oh really? I don’t remember what I was doing.

KP: Just your delivery on some of the lines. Like, “Oh, what does that do? Sorry.” The kind of thing that a lot of people can sound very unnatural delivering, particularly in a prepared comedy bit.

BEAULIEU: Naturally confused, perhaps.

KP: Well, you pulled it off well. And the other one is the dueling stereo conversations.

BEAULIEU: That one I’ve never heard. We did that, and Gary has often commented about how funny that was…

KP: You do your Gregory Peck in it.

tracebeaulieu-06.jpgBEAULIEU: Oh really?

KP: Yes.

BEAULIEU: Oh boy, I don’t even remember. I think we were just goofing around in the booth and we didn’t know he was recording it.

KP: It sounds just like two conversations that were recorded just as conversations…

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Huh…

KP: It’s quite good.

BEAULIEU: That’ll be interesting to hear again.

KP: That’s one of the other ones we were gonna put up.

BEAULIEU: Oh, cool.

KP: Going back to the 80’s, if you were comfortable in that sort of performance bubble, what pushed you into standup?

BEAULIEU: Everyone in our little group started realizing they could make more money doing standup, and I sort of went, “Oh, okay, well I’ll try standup, then.” I really just kind of floundered around with that, and continued doing it because I liked being around all those creative people.

KP: Wat did your act consist of?

BEAULIEU: Oh boy. I think some of it was somewhat improv’d and then beaten to death by trying to make an improv bit into a standup bit. I can’t even remember much of it.

KP: Because you’ve blocked it out?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, that part I did have to put a screwdriver into my forehead and squish it around so I wouldn’t remember.

KP: Are there any gigs around that period that you remember as going particularly well?

BEAULIEU: I had a show in Lincoln, Nebraska that I remember liking. And afterwards going into the men’s room and there was a guy on the toilet who enjoyed it.

KP: From the men’s room?

BEAULIEU: Well, I don’t know if he was in the men’s room…

KP: Or he just felt it was necessary to relieve himself after such a fantastic set?

BEAULIEU: He was working on an epic at the time, and I don’t know if he had heard my act through the wall, or if he had just immediately felt the need to… (laughing) yeah.

KP: That’s good. You’ll always remember Lincoln, then.

BEAULIEU: I’ll remember Lincoln.

KP: During that period of standup, how often did you cross paths with your eventual coworkers?

BEAULIEU: Well, Josh went on his first road tour with me and a guy named Charlie Walker, who’s also out of Minneapolis.

KP: How did that work? Wasn’t Josh still underage at that point?

BEAULIEU: I think he was. I thought Josh was 35, but it turns out he was 15 or 16 or something like that.

KP: So he could comport himself really well.

BEAULIEU: Yes he could. The tour manager, or the tour organizer, said, “I think this kid’s underage. You’re gonna have to watch him in the bars.” And I said, “He knows more about bars than I do. No, I’m pretty sure he’s old enough. What is old enough? He’s that, whatever that is.”

KP: So were there any awkward moments, driving around with a minor? The comedy circuit at that time was not known for being terribly above board.

BEAULIEU: No. Nobody really cared once we were out. That was a fun trip with Josh. Didn’t really work. Mary Jo, we worked together a bit on some sketch comedy stuff at the… I think the club had been called the Ha Ha Club after that. It was the Comedy Cabaret and then the Ha Ha Club. I worked with her there. Never saw Joel’s act live. I always missed him when he was in Minneapolis and I finally saw him on the Letterman show. That’s long before I worked with him.

KP: What was Joel’s reputation in town?

BEAULIEU: He was a genius. He was… you know, he was Joel. Very funny, very creative guy. He had this mystique, because he’d been on SNL and Letterman and had gone out to Hollywood and then come back. He kind of quit show business and then came back to Minneapolis and he was working in a tee shirt factory. And so he had that kinda… you know, that cool reputation of going, “You know, it’s not that great.”

KP: What would you say that your perspective on the future was at that point? What was the goal you were aiming towards, if any?

BEAULIEU: I think just to quit my real job.

KP: What was your real job at that time?

BEAULIEU: I was working for a display company. It was another one of those things where I’d work there during the day, and on my creative outlet at night, at these clubs.

KP: Was it difficult work, or just drudgery?

BEAULIEU: It was interesting. It was a company that started very small, just six people, and had a product that was very successful. So I’ve always been very fortunate to be around stuff that was kind of in the embryonic stages creatively and then had taken off. This company now, I think, is a multimillion dollar company with 350 employees and offices all over the world.

KP: Would you have ever guessed it would become that?

BEAULIEU: No. I left in ‘86 or ‘87. I still have family members who work there, and now they’re ready for retirement.

KP: That’s got to feel a little odd.

BEAULIEU: Yeah, yeah. I kinda feel like I’ve had a number of different lives. You know, I worked there kind of off and on out of high school, and then I went to Europe and worked in an ice show for a while.

KP: This was the infamous monkey show, right?

BEAULIEU: That was the monkey show, right.

KP: How do you make the decision to go off to Europe and work in an ice show?

BEAULIEU: I had a pal that I’d known since grade school, really, and we became very close in high school. He had gone off that summer after high school. We’d both seen Star Wars together. You know, the good one - the first one.

KP: Right. The only one of two worth mentioning at this point…

BEAULIEU: (laughs) We had both seen that, and we were just high school kids ready to go out into the world, and it was the perfect movie. So he went off and left Tattooine, and I stayed. He went to Europe and got a job with an ice show and toured around the Far East and Australia and came back and said, “Hey, this is really cool. You should come back with me.”

KP: So he was Biggs and you were Luke. And it’s unfortunate that I should make that association…

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Yeah.

KP: He came back to tell you tales of the outside world.

BEAULIEU: That’s right. And I didn’t have the foresight to tell him, “Hey, you’re gonna get cut out of this thing…”

KP: You should have told him that. Poor Biggs.

BEAULIEU: Is it foresight or is it hindsight?

KP: Maybe some kind of insight. Had you had any other thoughts of college or any other direction? Or was it a matter of when that opportunity presented itself, how could you turn it down?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, it was really… I guess I had gone to University of Minnesota for a year when he came back. Or by the time he’d come back. And I was just kinda burned out and didn’t feel like going to school anymore. It was just time.

KP: What’s the audition process for the ice show?

BEAULIEU: Uh, I showed up. (laughs)

KP: “Do you work well with monkeys and can you skate?”

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Actually, I didn’t skate - we were just working crew. We were building props and moving the show from town to town. So I showed up one day thinking, “Hey, if I get a job, that’d be great - and if I don’t, that’s okay, too…” and hung around for a while, and they said, “Okay, we just fired a guy, so you’re in.”

KP: Props have played a large part in your early career. Had you always been crafty in that sort of way?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, always building stuff. I grew up with a very creative family. My mom was a painter and my dad was always fixing something or salvaging something and repairing it. My brother’s an engineer and my sister’s an artist, so there was always that attraction.

KP: So you found that you took really easily to that…

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Or I just outright lied and said, “Yeah, I can do that. How hard can it be?” I think that was always my attitude. I’d look at what somebody was doing and I was too stupid to know I couldn’t do it.

KP: You know, that exact phrase is in one of the Sleepers tracks…

BEAULIEU: Well yeah, I used to say that a lot. Until I found out how hard it is…

KP: At what point did you find that out?

BEAULIEU: I think it was very early on. Once I learned how hard can it be, and it actually was very hard.

KP: What would you say, of all the various lives you’ve had, was the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

BEAULIEU: Hmm… boy that’s… I don’t know. I guess the hardest thing is working in an area where you’re not allowed to be creative. So maybe those early days, when show business was the lure. I think I maybe stayed in the display industry too long.

KP: How many years did you actually spend there?

BEAULIEU: Let’s see, from high school to… maybe off and on 10 years.

KP: Was it something you’d come back to?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, I’d leave and come back. Like I left, went to Europe, came back and got the same thing again. Went back to the same old job.

KP: So how long did the sojourn in Europe last?

BEAULIEU: That was really pretty short. It was about four or five months.

KP: Behind the scenes the entire time?

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: When did the monkey incident happen?

BEAULIEU: Well, we had a barrel jumper - a guy that would jump through a flaming hoop. My job was to soak his hoop with gasoline. And they taught me how to say, “I am out of gasoline” in French, which I don’t remember. “Je ne plus par essence,” I think is what it is. So I’d go up to these guys and say, “Hey, I’m out of gasoline,” and they’d give me a can of gas. I’d bring it backstage and I’d soak this guy’s fire hoop. His instructions to me were, “Put as much on as you can.” And we had the monkey, Mickey, who was also in the show, whose act consisted of playing badminton in a kilt while skating. And he also had a fire hoop that he would skate up to, and it was rigged so he could light it. And one night my friend and I switched duties. For some reason I had to take his side of the stage and work his props, and his prop was the monkey hoop. And I thought, “Well, what’s good for the fire hoop guy is good for the monkey,” so I just soaked that thing with as much gasoline as I could put on it. This was kind of Mickey’s finale. It was his closing bit. And he skates up to the hoop and he triggers the little gimmick that lights it and it was like a tower of flames. And his eyes get big as saucers and he shrieks and skates right offstage and into his dressing room.

KP: Oh, he had his own dressing room?

BEAULIEU: Oh yes, he always had his own dressing room.

KP: So he was a bit of a prima donna.

BEAULIEU: Yes. The crew guys were usually changing in the public bathroom, and Mickey had his own dressing room. In fact, I heard his trainer screaming at him one night. You could hear them through the wall. And they were, like, having a real conversation. The trainer was screaming at him, but Mickey was responding in monkey talk. He was shrieking. He goes, “I don’t care if you don’t want to go on, Mickey! It doesn’t matter if you ate your costume! You’re gonna wear your other costume!”

KP: That’s got to be a little disturbing.

BEAULIEU: It was surreal.

KP: But after the whole hoop stunt, I’ll bet he could never work the same again.

BEAULIEU: He knew it was me.

KP: So he personally asked for his regular crew guy back.

tracebeaulieu-07.jpgBEAULIEU: Yes, he did. We had this grand finale in the show, and I would be backstage prepping scenery or some props while the pyrotechnicians were loading up the flash pots with powder. And I’d be there watching them, and Mickey would skate up to me, and he’s, like, looking up and down and I go, “You know, this monkey - if he wanted to - could crush my testicles.”

KP: Or tear an arm off.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. And he would skate up to me like, “I knew it was you.”

KP: Instead he just asked that they dock your pay.

BEAULIEU: It was terrifying.

KP: I wonder whatever happened to Mickey.

BEAULIEU: I don’t know. He had a little brother, Bobo, who… you can’t make up circus names. He was being groomed to take over the act.

KP: So it was a whole Norma Desmond thing.

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: Mickey knew his days were numbered.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know how long chimps… he’d probably still be alive. Chimps live for 30, 40 years, don’t they?

KP: Yes, theoretically Mickey could still be out there, full of bitter memories of you.

BEAULIEU: He’s drawing my picture on his wall with a banana or something.

KP: I hope it’s just with a banana.

BEAULIEU: Oh yeah. Well, you know, highlights. Adding depth and shadow with whatever color he can muster.

KP: It’s good to know that you might still have an impact on a poor aging chimpanzee out there somewhere.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I hadn’t thought about that. He’s probably still alive.

KP: Well, there’s a reunion for you. Who knows, this many years later after the career’s gone, he might be bitter enough to rip an arm off.

BEAULIEU: He could.

KP: Or he could just feebly try, but with age and infirmary, he can’t hack it.

BEAULIEU: Just gum me.

KP: It’d be a sad, pitiful reunion. You’d feel a little pity for him, wouldn’t you?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Well, we’d both get on the news.

KP: That’s absolutely true. And then you’d go out for drinks later.

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: Talk about old times at the ice show. So after that couple of months, was it something you expected you would return to the next season? What ended your tenure?

BEAULIEU: Well, the show moved to South America, and I stayed in Europe. And then I just traveled around to some of the other shows, seeing if they had work, and eventually just came back to the States.

KP: Was it a decision that you regretted having to make? Did you want to stay outside the States, or did you feel and urge to return home?

BEAULIEU: No, I was kinda done. I was ready to come home. The hostages had just been taken that November, and it was kinda tense there for Americans.

KP: So it felt like a good time to get back to home base.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I was wandering around Hyde Park one Sunday and realized I was the only one that wasn’t wearing a turban or a shroud or something… I looked very white and from the Midwest. And I thought, “It’s time to go.”

KP: You could have said you were Canadian.

BEAULIEU: I did that. But people wouldn’t believe me.

KP: Really?

BEAULIEU: No.

KP: How would they call you on that?

BEAULIEU: Well, actually, they called us “North Americans,” which I thought was kinda cool. I took it as more of a compliment.

KP: Did you feel that you had gotten everything that you possibly could out of Europe?

BEAULIEU: For the time being. I always thought I’d go back, but never did.

KP: Do you still feel you’ll go back?

BEAULIEU: At some point. I kinda got tired of being around big wet cities. Big wet cold cities that were full of dog poop.

KP: And yet you returned to the Midwest.

BEAULIEU: That’s true. We’re better at picking up our feces, though.

KP: But not known for being dry most of the year.

BEAULIEU: No.

KP: Or warm.

BEAULIEU: No. Well, that’s why I came here to L.A.

KP: When you made your return, that was when you started increasing the performing?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, that’s really when it started. Started hanging around that club.

KP: At what point did Mystery Science Theater present itself? Since you would have been deep into standup at that point…

BEAULIEU: Yeah, and that’s when I started hanging out more with Josh and Joel. We had a little group that would meet at the library to write bits and work on stuff. Joel started coming to those sessions. Boy, I guess that’s like ‘87, round in there. We started Mystery Science in ‘88, something like that.

KP: When you talk about writing bits at the library, that’s not exactly where you would assume that a raucous sort of get together would occur.

BEAULIEU: Well, we started working at a bar in Minneapolis on Tuesday nights. It was Eugene and a friend of mine, Paul Williams, and another friend, Paul Kelleher, and other people would drop in. It became known as “Writer’s Block,” because we never got any work done. But it was the only night of the week that Eugene could get out of the house. And then we moved it to the library because we thought we’d get more done - we wouldn’t be able to have a beer and we’d be more focused. We actually, I think, got a lot more done there.

KP: How collaborative were the meetings? Was it each person writing their own thing, or would you workshop it?

BEAULIEU: We’d go around the room and someone would have a bit and we’d help them with it. It was a really collaborative environment. It was fun.

KP: Was Josh the one who invited Joel into the group?

BEAULIEU: I’m not sure how that happened. It might have been. It got known that we were there and a lot of people would come. I think Joel has… I’ve heard him say he remembers seeing something I had drawn in my notebook that made him believe that I could make stuff.

KP: How many of those notebooks had you filled over that period?

BEAULIEU: I’m still working on the one notebook.

KP: What are the contents of that notebook at this point?

BEAULIEU: Well, every page is virtually black by now. But there’s still a little bit of white, and I won’t be happy until every page is completely solid ink.

KP: Is that your life’s goal?

BEAULIEU: Yes.

KP: Then publish them posthumously as the almost DaVinci-like notebooks of Trace Beaulieu…

BEAULIEU: Yes. Well, they’ll be issued as black paper. That’s all.

KP: That’s good. I hope you’ve outlined what should be done with that single notebook.

BEAULIEU: You could probably squeeze it and get a lot of ink out of it.

KP: Or you could expand it into many volumes. It’s sort of like the Tardis of notebooks, is what you’re saying.

BEAULIEU: (laughs) It’s all in there.

KP: Was there a difference between the kind of bits you would develop during the library period and what you did with the improv work earlier?

BEAULIEU: For me, I think it was just… well, I was trying to focus more on doing the standup act, but never really had the discipline to make it work.

KP: Where would the critiques lie if, say, Josh would give you a critique on a performance? What would you generally hear about your performances?

BEAULIEU: I don’t remember him giving me any critiques. Maybe that was the problem. We never really were breaking stuff down like that, at least that I remember. It was more additive than subtractive.

KP: Did you feel confident in front of an audience, regardless of the material?

BEAULIEU: I did more so, I think, than I do now. I think I gradually worked myself out of it.

KP: Out of that comfort level?

BEAULIEU: I don’t know if it’s like a therapy, like after a while I didn’t need it anymore.

KP: Is standup anything you think you could see yourself returning to? Or performance in front of an audience?

BEAULIEU: The latter. I don’t have any interest in standup, really. But performing perhaps sketches or prepared material - well rehearsed, prepared material.

KP: So improv is not really something you’re too keen on.

BEAULIEU: Well, I think it’s a good tool for developing stuff, but I really don’t like… like, there’s all these improv shows now, and I just don’t think it’s a performance piece. I think it’s a good tool for developing stuff.

KP: So it’s like seeing the rehearsals for something.

BEAULIEU: Yeah, it’s so hit and miss. One of the best improv sessions that I experienced was on a Saturday afternoon when we were all just working out bits without an audience. I think it was one of the best cohesive times that I’ve experienced, and it was probably better because we didn’t have an audience.

KP: Would you say, then, that you were never terribly comfortable with the fact that those KTMA MSTs were improv?

BEAULIEU: Well, that was kinda different. You’re not jumping up and changing character…

KP: Or having to have an audience there.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Our audience was us. For me, my audience was Joel and Josh, and the guys in the control room occasionally would come in and go, “Oh, uh, that segment’s done.”

KP: Well, with that kind of support…

tracebeaulieu-08.jpgBEAULIEU: Yeah, exactly. But I was much more comfortable when we had worked through the bits and we finally got onto Comedy Central, where we had time to develop the lines and the writing, and script everything out. I think the hit rate was higher, and it still had that improvisational element in the way we riffed and wrote initially, but then you could pick the best lines out of all of that and make it a better viewing experience.

KP: So it had that improv, but with a nice revision process built in.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. That’s kinda how we work with America’s Funniest, too, when we’re writing jokes and riffing.

KP: How similar are the two writing rooms, if you were to compare them? You’re still basically sitting down with video material and riffing, right?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. The process is similar in that 80% of our show is provided to us. Any Mystery Science movie was there for us. And similar with the videos. They’re provided to us, so that part’s done. It’s reacting to it that becomes where the work is.

KP: Would you say the revision process is more or less intense?

BEAULIEU: It’s a different kind of work. We don’t have the freedom that we had on basic cable, where you could basically… how many hundreds of jokes are in a Mystery Science two hours? You can be real obscure. It didn’t matter. But now we’ve got, like, 80 clips in a show, and we’re maybe commenting on half that many. We have to be more on the nose and more of a broadcast kind of joke area. Broader and not so… not so clever. (laughs) It’s easy to be clever when you can talk for two hours, but we have to be pretty concise and try to hit a broader audience.

KP: How fulfilled do you feel, creatively, comparing the two processes?

BEAULIEU: It’s a different kind of challenge to craft a thing that is… it’s two different audiences, really.

KP: Do you feel that AFV is in some ways more technical, since you’re having to hit that many marks?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, I guess that’d be a fair assumption. A little more technical. A little more finite in our choices, because how many piñata hits can you see and say something different?

KP: And how many have you seen so far?

BEAULIEU: Oh boy, hundreds. Hundreds of piñatas. Trampolines… you know, it falls into those categories of guys wracking their nuts on a railing after skating or skateboarding…

KP: Do you have a database that you can go to and say, “Did we make this joke?”

BEAULIEU: We don’t have a database for the jokes. We pitched that as an idea but then we realized that if we had a database for the jokes, why would they need us anymore? They’d go, “Uh, we got about 50 nut hit jokes here, why don’t we just use one of those and just change the words around a little bit.”

KP: So, in other words, you would have been creating your own replacement.

BEAULIEU: Yes, exactly.

KP: Although I am kind of intrigued by the AFV bot, sort of Hal-like…

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Well, there is a database for the clips, and you can type in “nut hit” or “groin hit” and you get five thousand different kinds of groin hits.

KP: How much material comes in that’s completely unsuitable for AFV?

BEAULIEU: Well, it’s unsuitable for not maybe the reasons you’re thinking. We get very few that are really that good that we can’t air them.

KP: I’m assuming camera quality sometimes is just atrocious.

BEAULIEU: Yeah, camera quality, or baby sleeping. For a while we were getting a ton of kids sleeping in their high chairs with those bumble balls, those vibrating ball things, and they’d be sleeping on them. And we’d just get a ton of those, and they’re not very interesting or funny.

KP: Only kind of cute if you know the kid.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. But we don’t get that many that are so racy or salacious that… unfortunately, we just don’t get that kind of stuff.

KP: Could you name a clip that you wish desperately could have been on the air? Saying “desperately wish,” I know is hyperbole…

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Well, every couple of shows there’s one that we really… it’ll drop out for… either it’s got a song that we can’t license the music to, or we can’t find the people in it. And then that becomes disappointing. But we get so many in that it’s hard to fall in love with any one clip that doesn’t make it. You kinda forget about those.

KP: How exactly did the transition to AFV happen?

BEAULIEU: I moved out to California about 10 years ago and reestablished contact with Josh. And Josh had… well, actually, I called Josh. Another Star Wars connection - my agent had me read for Jar Jar Binks. I didn’t have any way of recording my voice, so I knew Josh was in a band and he had that kind of equipment, so I called him up and said, “Hey, can I borrow your recording thing? I gotta do this stupid voice for this Star Wars, which could be cool, but I’m reading the script and it’s just… oh, the dialogue is horrible! It’s almost bad Jamaican patois…”

KP: So he had written the patois in there…

BEAULIEU: Yeah, yeah. I got like three pages, and there’s this creature speaking to a Jedi master. And I didn’t know. I thought, “Boy, this is really awful! Oh well, must be good, though!”

KP: How could it not? It’s Star Wars!

BEAULIEU: Yeah! It’s gotta be cool. So, fortunately, that didn’t happen, but I started hanging out with Josh again, and he had this offer to do the reimagined version of AFV after Bob Saget left. They were doing it as a more, I guess, later in the evening thing. It was about 9:00 on a Friday. And they had Daisy Fuentes and John Fugelsang as hosts. So it was a reinvention, you know? And Josh asked me if I wanted to come in and apply for the job - or audition, I guess, for the job - and that’s how that happened.

KP: Was it an interesting dynamic to be working with Josh again after all those years?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, it was. It was a different relationship. He was the head writer. It had been 10 years since we even talked, really, from when he left Mystery Science and he came out to L.A.

KP: My understanding is one of the reasons he left MST was because he wasn’t satisfied with the move to it being a more structured riffing for the movies…

BEAULIEU: I hadn’t heard that. I don’t know if that was ever an issue, because we started scripting it right away, and I thought everybody pretty much agreed that that was a good thing. But I hadn’t heard that.

KP: That’s the story I had always heard. Of course, it could be apocryphal.

BEAULIEU: It could be one of those things.

KP: But obviously he was the first of you all to make the transition out to L.A.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Joel had already been out here and had established his beachhead, but Josh was the first of that group to leave Best Brains.

KP: How difficult a decision was it for you to leave Minnesota and make that transition? I mean, the last time that I spoke with you would have been as season seven was airing, and it sounded like you were still there for the foreseeable future.

BEAULIEU: I think I was waiting to see how the movie was going to do, and to see if we had a future either doing more movies or anything else. I think I was just looking to do something else. I think even back when the Sleepers were active, that was sort of my “something else” at the time. I think it became clear - probably moments after I talked to you - that we weren’t going to do anything else. That was kind of frustrating.

KP: I remember there was also some personal upheaval that you were going through at the time.

BEAULIEU: Yeah, my life was kind of spinning out of control.

KP: So a change probably looked to be a very good thing.

BEAULIEU: Yeah, yeah. Couldn’t go back to the ice show, so what’s next?

KP: Well, not after what you did to Mickey.

BEAULIEU: No. We also had two really horrible winters in Minnesota. That was probably the last horrible winters that we’ll have with global warming, but they were harsh. And I just couldn’t take it anymore.

KP: Had you been hearing from the West Coast contingent about, “Hey, come on out!” ? When I spoke with Frank years ago, he mentioned that there was a siren call that had been made by those that had already made the transition, that, “Hey, you can probably make a good living out here.” And Mike’s talked about it as well. Of course, he resisted it until last year…

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I hadn’t really kept in touch with a lot of people. We reestablished contact once I got out here. In the Midwest, everyone was talking about how horrible Los Angeles is - and to some degree it is, but people are working here and making a pretty good living. It took me a while to get into the groove. Josh certainly helped a lot in getting me into a pretty steady gig, or what has been… this is my ninth season, going into my tenth season.

KP: It’s a remarkably steady gig.

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: You have a nice fallback position with AFV at this point. Have you felt like straying into other territory? Obviously there was, what, People Traps that came and went…

BEAULIEU: Yeah, People Traps was a very bizarre experience. I kind of felt like I got dropped onto the deck of a pirate ship and had to kind of deal with that. The show was kind of in mid-production when I joined it. I think I mentioned to you before that they had to find me through the guild. I didn’t have any representation at that time. The producer had written a letter to the guild trying to track me down. They offered me lunch, and at lunch I noticed they had a monkey. I said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll work on this.”

KP: It would have been great if it was a relative.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Well, you know, they’re all related somehow.

KP: That’s true. But it’d be great if it communicated in the monkey-to-trainer talk that only they know, that, “Oh, that’s the one that worked with Uncle Mickey. The bastard.”

BEAULIEU: “That guy’s no good.”

KP: “Watch out for him!” So it just felt like an awkward situation the whole way through?

BEAULIEU: Well, it was very odd. The nature of the show changed as people were working on it. It was called something else when I got there. Animal Traps, or something else, and it was going to be Candid Camera, only with animals. It just seemed like it wasn’t really fully formed, and I was kind of brought in as a Band-Aid to apply some kind of ripping commentary. I was in this van, the control room…

KP: Yes, I remember the uncomfortable looking van from the pilot…

BEAULIEU: We’d be outside a pet store when they were doing bits and I’d be in this van and supposed to be making commentary, but only if they had the camera on me. At one point it would get dark, and so I couldn’t comment. So we reshot a lot of that stuff in another van, which didn’t really make too much sense, and the whole thing was sort of patched together.

KP: Did you feel going through it that this thing probably wouldn’t be going anywhere?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. It had a feel of kind of disintegrating even as we were doing it. It was a very strange production. The director had… I don’t know what the clinical term is, but he had Marty Feldman eyes. They’d look in two different directions. I never knew if he was talking to me.

KP: That’s got to be awkward in dealing with a director…

BEAULIEU: This guy had done thousands of Candid Cameras in Turkey or something like that. It was a strange experience. We were in Vegas for a week working, and there’s one segment where we’re at a petting zoo at an elementary school and they’ve rigged one of the goats with a microphone and a speaker so I can talk to the kids from the van, as the goat. And boy, this bit is really not working well… and I find out that most of the kids speak Spanish!

KP: Did you get the feeling at the time that you were living an anecdote?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, yeah. It was just a very odd, odd experience.

KP: You also did the comic book (Here Comes The Big People) at one point…

BEAULIEU: Yeah, that was fun to do. That was something I kind of talked about and agreed to before I left Minneapolis. It didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, and then finally… as soon as AFV hit and I was working there, then the comic book came through - so I was really kind of tearing myself apart trying to do both things.

KP: Were you happy with the final product?

BEAULIEU: I was happy with the artwork and it was fun to actually have a product. But I didn’t want to do anything that was super violent and I didn’t want to do anything with superheroes in it. (laughs)

KP: Boy, you picked the wrong time in comic book history for that.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I kind of shot myself in the foot there.

KP: Have you finally sold out of copies?

BEAULIEU: I think I still have a few.

KP: But the PO Box is long gone?

BEAULIEU: No, that’s still there.

KP: So people can still send in their money.

BEAULIEU: What happens is that the post office occasionally will close my box, and I’ll have to go and tell them, “No, in fact I have paid my bill. Why did you close my box?”

KP: And what do they do, just trash the mail that might be sitting in there?

BEAULIEU: I have no idea. I don’t know if they sent it back. Someone told me, “Hey, your PO Box sent my letter back, what’s the deal?” “I don’t know. Thanks for telling me.”

KP: So the offer still stands? People can still send in their money?

BEAULIEU: Oh, absolutely. It’s still there. In fact, I think I’ve been sending three comic books out instead of two. Another one of those overdeliver kind of things. Only because I have them. (NOTE: You can order your signed copies of Here Come The Big People by sending a check or money order for $9.00 - made out to “Trace Beaulieu” - to: PO Box 931357, Los Angeles, CA 90093). Laurie Bradach, who was the publisher, still has I think a warehouse full of them somewhere.

KP: We’ll definitely plug it during the interview, then.

BEAULIEU: That’d be great. She’ll like that. I’ll send her downtown to get her copies for me.

KP: We’ll make sure that product moves.

BEAULIEU: We’ve talked about doing another one.

KP: The market’s in a much better place to do something quirky like that now.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I think this time I’d like to do something super violent with superheroes.

KP: That audience is still there, too.

BEAULIEU: I think the thing I’m most pleased about is that Geoff Darrow did a cover for the book.

KP: The art looked fantastic.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I’ve always been a huge fan of his, and he agreed to do the cover. That was before The Matrix and he got really busy.

KP: Are you saying you might not have him back for the sequel?

BEAULIEU: I don’t know if there would be a sequel. We talked about it. In fact, we pitched it as a film idea. Well, animated. Somebody called us up out of the blue and wanted to do an animated version, but that never went anywhere.

KP: I’m surprised you never pitched it to the Henson company.

BEAULIEU: I never did. I only recently took a meeting over there. Josh and Joel and I were pitching an idea a while back, and actually got into those old Chaplin Studios on La Brea, which was pretty cool.

KP: It was great. I was there when they were doing the renovations, when they first bought the studio, so they were excavating underneath some of the buildings, and they were finding all of the prohibition era beer bottles that they would hide under the buildings.

BEAULIEU: That’s cool.

KP: Brian Henson has his offices in Chaplin’s old dressing room. In fact, my boss is right across the street from there in one of Chaplin’s old bungalows.

BEAULIEU: Oh. That’s cool. Who’s your boss?

KP: Kevin Smith.

BEAULIEU: Oh, I’ve heard of him. I think my friend Lori made a cake for his birthday one year.

KP: Oh really?

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: It is an incredibly small world.

BEAULIEU: It is a tiny, tiny… well, you know they shot Mallrats in Eden Prairie Mall. That’s where I grew up… that was close to Best Brains.

KP: They shot that when you guys were still there, didn’t they?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I think that’s the only reason the studio executives would come out to see us. They were shooting a real movie.

tracebeaulieu-09.jpg

KP: It must be good to know that there’s still a shelf life for the MST movie.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Someone told me that it’s no longer on DVD, or it’s out of print or something,

KP: It’s been out of print for about five years now in the US…

BEAULIEU: I never got a copy of it. I was buying up the VHS copies when I’d see them at Suncoast, when they’d have the fluorescent green sale price stickers on them.

KP: I had met you originally during the promotion for the film in New York, when you guys were frazzled and doing the Planet Hollywood tour.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Was that in Planet Hollywood? I remember we did a lot of press kit stuff in a room somewhere in some hotel.

KP: Yeah, the hotel. You did the roundtables at the hotel, and then you did that dontaion of the robots thing for Planet Hollywood. That was followed by the book signing, because the book came out at that same time. So you had a book signing down in the Village.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I remember the book signing, that was fun. The Planet Hollywood, we did so many of those all over the country that those kind of blur together.

KP: I can imagine they would.

BEAULIEU: And now there’s no Planet Hollywood, right?

KP: No Planet Hollywood. No, it’s changed hands. It’s down to maybe a dozen of them open in the country. Whereas they used to have sometimes four or five in a city back when they thought it was going to be a viable chain.

BEAULIEU: The one here is gone.

KP: Oh, they finally closed the LA one?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, that’s been closed for quite some time. I don’t know if they’re still in Minneapolis or not. We were in Minneapolis and Dallas and… boy, it all blurs together.

KP: As a performer, I’ve always been curious how you felt about having the Crow character continue on beyond you. If you’ve ever had any thoughts about that…

BEAULIEU: It never really bothered me. I never thought much about it after doing it. It was hard to leave two characters that I essentially created. I think that was the hardest thing. That whole environment was kind of… well, it was tailored for us. And we tailored it. So to leave that and to try to duplicate that is impossible. We were very lucky to get that going and to have it successful and to have been embraced. It’s rare. I still run into people who either remember it fondly or are now seeing it on DVD. That’s a hard thing to find again. Joel and Josh and I talked about trying to get something together, but it’s a lot harder. We’d need a lot more money to get a project going.

KP: You would think that the internet age would be tailor made for you all.

BEAULIEU: Yes, but our price is so high now. We know what we’re worth, and we just won’t take any less. Just to call Joel…

KP: It’s a 900 number, isn’t it?

BEAULIEU: Oh, absolutely.

KP: It’s his billable hours that get you.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I can’t afford it.

KP: Do you ever hear him clicking on the clock when you call?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. (laughs) “Your hour begins now.”

KP: Does he ever give you updates, like, “We’re up to 10 bucks…”

BEAULIEU: I just hear the constant stream of coins in the background. And a cash register.

KP: That’s good. Leave it to him to create something that will give you a nice little audio cue that your greetings are just blowing all kinds of money.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. (laughs) It never bothered me that the character continued. It bothered me that Kermit continued. I think it should have just been Jim Henson and that was it.

KP: Yeah, well, there are various schools of thought regarding that. I’m good friends with some of the Muppeteers, so I’ve heard all kinds of background stories on what actually happened with that.

BEAULIEU: Oh yeah? With something like that, it’s an icon and a brand and you can’t really stop… a character has to live.

KP: I also think you’re underselling what you accomplished over seven years. I mean, the fact that the stuff still exists to this day and still is attracting fans means that you’re every bit a cultural icon as any other character that may have been around for a much longer time.

BEAULIEU: You might be right. A lot of people contributed to all of that. I don’t know. I’d love for it to happen again. (laughs)

KP: Didn’t you build yourself a Crow after your period ended?

BEAULIEU: No, I had…

KP: Or at least you accumulated parts to do so…

BEAULIEU: I had enough parts to do it, but then I’d give parts to people and they’d make molds off of them. I never really put it together, and it’s still in a little suitcase. I still have all the parts. I could if I wanted to, but it would be creepy.

KP: What part of it would be creepy? It’s like having an artifact. It’s not like it talks to you… well, maybe it does. I don’t know, does it?

BEAULIEU: Well, you know, I took Crow home once to put him in a tuxedo for the premier at the Uptown in Minneapolis, and it was just too creepy having him there. Like, “You don’t belong here, you belong on the Satellite, and you’re looking at me and stop looking at me.” So I had to put him in the garment bag.

KP: Do you think he was quietly passing judgment on you?

BEAULIEU: Mocking me silently in his way.

KP: Well, the press tour must have been creepy beyond belief then.

BEAULIEU: The press tour was kind of fun. Aside from sitting on the floor all the time and lifting a puppet up, I enjoyed that.

KP: And it was a nice moment in the spotlight.

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: How do you view things like Mike’s RiffTrax project, or The Film Crew? Have you ever felt the urge to do something like that again?

tracebeaulieu-10.jpgBEAULIEU: Not riffing. Not movie mocking or anything like that. Joel and Josh and I did a little thing… what was it… Star Wait… And we were riffing on footage that a guy had shot of these Star Wars fans waiting for the movie to open. At first it was kind of weird being back with Joel and Josh and mocking something. That had its own strangeness to it. But I realized that without that character, I really didn’t have a reason to mock anything. I actually kinda like stuff. People have talked about, “Oh, you know you should do that again.” It’s like, “Well we did it.” I mean, that’s kind of why I left, was like, “I got it. I did that thing already.” And I haven’t seen what Mike and those guys have done.

KP: I asked Mike about bringing you up to do a guest turn on one of those Rifftrax…

BEAULIEU: You know, I’m not even that familiar with how it works…

KP: Basically, as you know, there was always the conversation for years of, “Why don’t you do Star Trek V, or this big blockbuster,” and of course rights clearances always precluded that. Well, now with the internet, they’re essentially doing audio tracks that you cue up to your own copy of a given movie.

BEAULIEU: Oh, I see.

KP: So it sidesteps all those legalities, and yet you still have a riff track that you can play along to your copy of Star Trek. They’ve done Star Trek V, and he did Roadhouse - which he always wanted to do. I think they’ve got a dozen or two so far…

BEAULIEU: Oh, really? Wow.

KP: They did Phantom Menace. Kevin’s been doing some with him, and so has Bill Corbett. But yes, everyone keeps asking - me included - “When are they gonna get Trace to do one?”

BEAULIEU: I don’t know. Since now I know what it is…

KP: And it’s all written ahead of time, so it’s not like you’re just improv’ing. So it is similar to the MST process.

BEAULIEU: I would have a hard time synching my DVD player up to that.

KP: It actually has a little cue at the beginning that tells you where to start your DVD at.

BEAULIEU: Oh, what marvelous things technology has brought us.

KP: Unless used for evil purposes.

BEAULIEU: Yes.

KP: At this point, you talked about dabbling in performing again. What projects are you working on outside of AFV?

BEAULIEU: You said dabbling in performing, not babbling in performing…

KP: I said dabbling, not babbling.

BEAULIEU: There’s a couple of projects that I’m working on that I’m really slow to get going. Since there is no real pressure to actually make anything, I can kind of noodle on these things as long as I want.

KP: Anything that looks further along than most?

BEAULIEU: Right now AFV is taking up so much time that that’s sort of the focus. Josh and Joel and I, like I said, we’re trying to get something off the ground, and getting something together is tough. We’re not hungry young bucks anymore. We’re old men with families… well, Joel has a family.

KP: Did you ever think you would see that?

BEAULIEU: You know, maybe the robots were sort of a practice for him. I think he’s a pretty good dad.

KP: I know his wife from my New York days.

BEAULIEU: Yes, Tiffany.

KP: So again, what a small world.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. We get together with them quite often. They’re just regular folk.

KP: So, you’d say that you’re in a good place right now?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I’ve been doing a lot of art in the last, like, 10 years.

KP: You mentioned you had a showing, what, a few years ago?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, that was about… I guess three years ago, now. Since I didn’t have any furniture in my house, I decided to turn it into a gallery, and had a big party, and that’s when I brought Eugene out. Sold a few pieces, and the goal has been to try to get a website together to put it up on the web, so people could see it.

KP: How close are you to having that?

BEAULIEU: Well, since I was trying to do it myself, not very close. And now I’ve enlisted the help of someone else and so I’m much closer. Technical stuff, I don’t care… I just go, “Oh, whatever.” I’d rather just make stuff.

KP: Spoken like an artiste.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Or just lazy.

KP: See, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.

BEAULIEU: Oh, well, I appreciate that.

KP: Do you see another gallery show in the offing, or do you think that the online version will be the way you’ll display stuff in the future?

BEAULIEU: Well, if I don’t get the online thing going, then I’ll have another show.

KP: How would you describe the artwork you do?

BEAULIEU: It’s found object. It’s a little bit maybe Mystery Science influenced, as in toys and that kind of assemblage of stuff.

KP: So it’s three dimensional artwork.

BEAULIEU: Yeah, it’s three dimensional. I don’t know how I would describe it.

KP: Would you describe it as playful?

BEAULIEU: Very playful. Very whimsical. I started doing this probably for therapeutic reasons, and because I didn’t have anything on the wall. As I filled the house with this stuff, people would come by and say, “Hey, you should show this stuff. That’s great.” “Oh, really? I just needed to fill that wall because it was blank.” And so people have responded to it and people like it.

KP: How many pieces would you say you’ve done so far?

BEAULIEU: Oh, 50 or 60, probably. If I were to count them all up.

KP: Something I’ve noticed - but would you say, with the creation of eBay, it’s harder to find found objects than it would have been 15 or 20 years ago?

BEAULIEU: Well, I have people giving me things now.

KP: Oh really? So they know, “Hey, this is a great thing for Trace.”

BEAULIEU: Yeah. In fact, a lot of the pieces started that way - from fans who had sent stuff, that I didn’t know why they were sending me stuff. And then suddenly I went, “Oh, okay, I can make this out of it.”

KP: What’s the oddest thing that you were sent?

BEAULIEU: My dad actually found something on the street. One of the areas I work in is stuff that’s smashed beyond recognition, and he sent me this champagne basket that had been run over about 100 times. He said, “I found this in the street and thought of you.” “Oh, I think that’s nice.” But now my niece, when she comes out to visit, she brings me stuff that’s all smashed up. I don’t really know how to feel sometimes.

KP: They’re always thinking of you, then.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. “I found this is the street. Here.”

KP: “Something broken, battered… thought of you. Here, do something with it.”

BEAULIEU: Yeah. And I usually do.

KP: Well, you definitely have to let me know when the website launches.

BEAULIEU: I will do that.

KP: I hope you’ve enjoyed the interview so far, and it hasn’t been too terribly awkward…

BEAULIEU: No, not at all. I’m off this week. We had a little vacation, so I was sitting in the yard…

KP: I’m sure you’re having much better weather than we are.

BEAULIEU: Are you in South Carolina?

KP: North. We just had that incredibly odd dead of spring cold snap, so it’s been freezing.

tracebeaulieu-11.jpgBEAULIEU: I’m sorry to hear that.

KP: And yet there’s no global warming at all.

BEAULIEU: No, not at all. I’m kinda looking forward to global warming, because I’m living part of the year back in Minnesota, and kind of looking forward to tropical weather.

KP: Just sort of equalize between your two locations.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. And I’m a neighbor of Jeff Stonehouse now.

KP: Oh, really?

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: It’s like the group never dissolves.

BEAULIEU: It never does. I’d really love to work with Jeff again, and maybe this is how to do it, is by living here.

KP: I don’t know. I think there’s finally a method for making work on the net profitable. Or at least direct delivery of material.

BEAULIEU: That’s what’s very exciting about it, is that you can bypass all the people that usually say no.

KP: You’re your own distribution network.

BEAULIEU: Yeah, it’s brilliant. I’ve seen a lot of crap, but… it’s also a great place to go to so you don’t have to remember stuff anymore.

KP: Oh, with Wikipedia and IMDB, and Google…

BEAULIEU: Yeah.

KP: How different do you think doing the writing process of MST would have been in that internet era, if you had IMDB and Wikipedia and Google?

BEAULIEU: Um… it certainly would have made us more accurate.

KP: Although your accuracy rate was tremendous for the amount of stuff that you wrote.

BEAULIEU: We were okay. But all those minds were sucking down comedy albums and watching movies whenever we could. There wasn no videotape of, or really ways of recording, TV shows in our younger days.

KP: And forget about obscure items…

BEAULIEU: Yeah, yeah. So I think that was kind of the charm, too, and part of the club of it was that some stuff was so obscure that you had to read a book or you had to listen to an album over and over and over.

KP: Be one of the few people who actually ran across it…

BEAULIEU: Yeah. And then you felt like, “Oh gee, I’m the only guy that knows that. Oh, they know it too!”

KP: “I love this show!”

BEAULIEU: Yeah…

KP: It certainly has proven, even in this age, to be an enduring concept for a show.

BEAULIEU: Yeah… It’s funny, you know? People still get a kick out of it, even on DVD. I’m still running into people that are old fans, and they’re always surprised to hear that I’m still around.

KP: Has it gotten to the point where you finally started getting those people saying, “I loved it when I was a kid…”?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, yeah. Or adults will say, “I was watching this when I was four.” “Oh, and now you’re forty.”

KP: That’s got to make you feel good. But still, hey, it’s enduring. You’re going to be attending those conventions years from now…

BEAULIEU: (laughs) Yeah…

KP: Be sitting next to… well, I guess by that time, Star Trek The Next Generation people will be all that’s left.

BEAULIEU: That’s true.

KP: Oh, and Shatner.

BEAULIEU: I was on a flight with some of the Voyager guys. This was a while back. And George Takei was ordering orange juice from the stewardess, and I was sitting in front of them, and I went, “I can’t believe Sulu is ordering orange juice.”

tracebeaulieu-12.jpg

KP: Do you find that you still have geek moments?

BEAULIEU: I still get some mail now and again. I just got a bunch of movies from a guy in New Jersey that sent me some of these films that he’d made, and they’re rather odd and ambitious. One of them’s got… is it Ted Michaels, or Ray Dennis Steckler… has little guest spots in these movies. That’s pretty cool.

KP: Why did he send them to you?

BEAULIEU: I think just to check them out. He was doing some sort of interviews here with different people like Neil Innes and all these other…

KP: Who’s a good friend of mine.

BEAULIEU: Neil Innes?

KP: Yeah.

BEAULIEU: I just saw him in this little movie.

KP: What’s the name of the film that he was in?

BEAULIEU: Let me see if I can pull it out of the box here. He’s telling these guys basically not to be so arty.

KP: Yeah. Speaking of another one who works in found objects, Neil just had an art exhibition.

BEAULIEU: Oh yeah?

KP: Objets Dada, where he was showing off some of his found artwork.

BEAULIEU: Oh really?

KP: I’ll let you know the next time he’s in town.

BEAULIEU: This guy… Terminal Pictures is his… what’s the movie? One of them was called The Paranoid Show, and this one is Teenage Beatnik or Devil Girl. I think it was Devil Girl that Neil Innes was in.

KP: I’ll have to ask him about it.

BEAULIEU: Is he in this country now?

KP: No. He did a couple of US tours, but they just reunited the Bonzos last year.

BEAULIEU: You’re kidding!?

KP: Fantastic concert. They did a one-off concert for the 40th anniversary, so they had guest people coming in to do Viv Stanshall’s parts…

BEAULIEU: Really?

KP: Like Stephen Fry and Paul Merton and Phil Jupitus, a standup comedian over there. And Ade Edmonson…

BEAULIEU: He did…

KP: The Young Ones

BEAULIEU: Yeah. My manager, I think, used to rep him. No, Lenny Henry. All those guys are friends.

KP: They did a one-off concert, and that was so successful and sold out that they decided to do a tour last year.

tracebeaulieu-13.jpgBEAULIEU: You’re kidding!? I am looking at my Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band album as we speak.

KP: They released a DVD of the concert.

BEAULIEU: Really? That’s amazing. I’m surprised that Death Cab For Cutie… you know that band?

KP: Right.

BEAULIEU: Took the name off… one of the people - one of the young people - at work said, “Oh yeah, Death Cab for Cutie, you gotta listen to them, they’re really cool.” I thought, “Why did they pick such an obscure name… I know what that is!”

KP: Well, there’s this great documentary that they aired on Viv Stanshall last year on the BBC. Really fascinating portrait of him.

BEAULIEU: Oh, cool. My friend Lori, who did the comic book, her husband is Howard Johnson.

KP: Oh, really?

BEAULIEU: He’s the Python biographer.

KP: Right.

BEAULIEU: You must have talked to Howard at some point.

KP: I’ve never talked to him. I know people who are good friends with Howard, like Mark Evanier, but I have never crossed paths with Howard at this point.

BEAULIEU: He used to work in Santa Barbara because he was working with Cleese more closely. But now he’s moved back to Illinois. It just got too expensive to live in Santa Barbara. In fact, I just talked to Howard. We’re looking for writers for AFV and I suggested Howard as a writer.

KP: Did he express interest?

BEAULIEU: Yeah, he did. He sent a sample in. I’m still waiting for word as to whether or not he got the gig, or somebody else did. I’m out of it. Hands off now.

KP: Well, you put the foot in the door, and now it’s beyond your control…

BEAULIEU: That’s right. But Howard’s a cool guy.

KP: I’ve heard nothing but good things about him.

BEAULIEU: He introduced me to Cleese. When he was leaving Santa Barbara, John threw a dinner for Howard and I went up and… very nice… I get to meet a comedy hero.

KP: Everything you expected him to be in person?

BEAULIEU: Yeah. Even beyond expectation. Just a very nice man. He asked me how I got my name. And then he said… (laughs) in his way he said, after dinner, “Well, should we order dessert, or should we order cheese?” And then he started doing the cheese sketch. Not intentionally, he just started ordering cheese. I leaned over to my friend Michael and I said, “He’s doing the cheese sketch!” It was hilarious. A real treat to me.

KP: I don’t know how we got onto this, but I’ll let you know if Neil ever comes back out. I think you two would have a lot of notes to share.

BEAULIEU: Yeah. I’ve always been a fan.

KP: Nicer guy you’ll never talk to. Very down to earth. And definitely let me know when things are coming up - and honestly, I think you guys should explore the internet a bit more.

BEAULIEU: Yeah the internet, I’ve heard of it.

KP: It’s made of tubes.

BEAULIEU: Yes, and it goes right into your house.

KP: There are fascinating, wonderful modes for creative and also financial expression. It’s just a shame you guys don’t get together and do anything.

BEAULIEU: Well, we may get back in that mode.

KP: I’m trying to be subtly motivating.

BEAULIEU: (laughs)

KP: I’m just keen to see whatever you guys can come up with.

BEAULIEU: Well, I’ll let you know.

KP: Now you have an advocate, or at least someone who will blindly plug anything you throw out there.

BEAULIEU: Well, that we love.

KP: I thought that was an offer you couldn’t refuse.

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Comments:

2 Responses to “Interview: Trace Beaulieu”

  1. Cliff Says:

    I loved Dr. Forrester and Crow. There hasn’t been anything like MST3K on TV. I miss it still. I love the cheesiest movies you can find. LA LA LA.

  2. Frank Moraes Says:

    Excellent interview. Trace Beaulieu seems to be the most elusive of the MST3K people and it was great to find this interview. I’m going to put a link to it on the recent article I wrote over at Frankly Curious called “Who is TB 152371?!” (You know, as from the ending of *The Rebel Set* where Frank ends the episode yelling, “Who is Merritt Stone?!”) It is about my one-sided battle against fellow MST3K fanatic TB 152371. If I may be so coarse as to provide a link:

    http://franklycurious.com/index.php?itemid=595

    Crow T. Robot is one of my three great heroes–right up there with Thomas Paine and Dalton Trumbo. I have action figures of all three on my work desk. (Just kidding; *you* try to find a Trumbo action figure!) Wouldn’t it be cool to have a new Mount Rushmore with Crow, Tom, and Dalton?

    It *is* a little sad that Trace and Josh were (are?) working on AFVs, but I guess we all have to make the rent. I’m glad they’ve gotten together for *Cinematic Titanic*. I’ve only seen two “episodes,” but I find them generally better than RiffTrax releases (the full ones that come on DVD like *House on Haunted Hill* and *Night of the Living Dead*). Not that they aren’t good too. Regardless, I really miss Crow and even Dr. Forrester–I still feel sorry for him when his mother made him do the trombone recital.

    I think Trace Beaulieu does not get the respect he deserves. As far as I can tell, he was really co-creator of MST3K with Joel Hodgson (to take *nothing* away from Joel). The whole look and feel of the show is really a collaboration of the two. Yes, I know the basic idea was Joel’s. But I doubt that show would have taken off without Trace. Of course, it could just be my extreme Crow-based bias.

    Crow may be gone, but Trace lives on.

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