There's nothing new about heckling bad movies.
So when comedians Jerm Pollet, Owen Egerton and John Erler formed Mr. Sinus Theater 3000, a tribute to the show Mystery Science Theater 3000, they had no idea how much of a spectacle their first performance at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin was going to be.
"The first thing we ever did back in 2000 was a movie from the 1960s called Nude on the Moon, which was about these two scientists who build a rocket in what looks like a high school laboratory and take it to the moon, where they discover everyone is naked," says Egerton. "And there's not really much more of a plot than that."
Somewhat on a lark, the Alamo Drafthouse announced that anyone who arrived in the nude that night would get in free.
"Boy, we had a lot of naked people show up for that, on a cold October night," says Egerton. "We had lines of naked people. The staff at the Alamo was going around trying to find trash bags for the naked people to sit on. It was beautiful."
But now it's the Mr. Sinus guys who are about to get stripped.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 just called; it wants its name back.
Attorneys for Best Brains Inc., the owners of Mystery Science Theater 3000, filed a federal lawsuit last month, demanding that Mr. Sinus stop trading on Mystery Science's mark.
In the Mystery Science television series that ended regular production in 1999, a man sits in the front row of a theater with his two robot buddies, riffing on bad movies. In Mr. Sinus, the three comedians sit in the front row of a theater and, well, riff on bad movies.
"We really meant it as a tip of the hat when we initially called ourselves Mr. Sinus Theater 3000," says Pollet.
"Our beef is that it seems like they are consciously, by their choice of name and reference to us on their Web site, trading on the efforts we have put together to sell their product," says Jim Mallon, president of Best Brains.
"I think Mr. Sinus could in no way be confused with Mystery Science Theater 3000," says Pollet. "Nobody has ever bought a ticket to our show thinking they were going to see a bunch of robots on television, so in my mind there's never been any confusion at all."
"For a while now we've only been calling ourselves Mr. Sinus," he says, "'cause we're very much our own show."
Mr. Sinus generally features an intermission in which the comedians do sketch routines. The trio also has expanded its repertoire to include commercially successful movies.
The Mr. Sinus guys regularly sell out shows in Austin and have been coming to Houston since last year to perform their shtick at the Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks. They have a performance scheduled here for Thursday, September 30 -- the lawsuit initially led to speculation that it could be their last. They plan to rip on Dirty Dancing.
"It's very scholarly, what we do," says Pollet. "The only thing is, unfortunately, we're educating ourselves in crappy movies."
The name dispute began after the Alamo Drafthouse and Mr. Sinus contacted Best Brains about licensing rights.
"I don't know exactly what they were trying to license," says Mallon. Best Brains "saw that they'd been trading on our mark for some time and that they were doing it in a different direction," Mallon says. "That's when we took exception and asked them to change their name.
"My understanding is that they tend to be more into blue humor, so then we are facing issues if people are confusing them with us," he says.
Many of the Mr. Sinus shows feature off-key jokes and drinking games. When the trio screened the campy 1974 spy flick Double Agent 73, they encouraged the audience to yell "cheese!" every time the lead actress used a camera implanted in her breast.
"It's actually harder as a comedian to try to find humor that is not blue humor," says Mallon, who did a lot of the writing for the MST3K television series. He also performed as the puppet Gypsy on the show.
Last week, Papa Josh of the Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks sent out a group e-mail stating that the cinema and Mr. Sinus "will give the middle finger to the Mystery Science guys when they appear for what could very well be their final performance" on September 30.
Had Mr. Sinus become downright snotty?
"Now wait a minute," says Pollet. "First off, that's awful. It is not our position in any way. We've got a lot of respect for Mystery Science Theater 3000. I'm surprised by their position, and we don't necessarily agree on things, but I'm looking forward to finding a way to accommodate everybody."
When the Houston Press called Papa Josh to clarify his comments, he said he actually knew very little about the legal battle.
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The Austin trio now plans to alter its moniker.
"We're still kicking around the last few options, but basically we're planning on keeping Sinus in the name," says Egerton. "You can't stop the Sinus. We're a tidal wave, although maybe I should keep away from liquid analogies."
And in their eyes, there's no better way to close out this chapter of Mr. Sinus than by riffing on Dirty Dancing.
"Dirty Dancing has a role in our generation," says Egerton. "It's a sweet tale of statutory rape with Swayze in a mullet."