There will never be a shortage of bad movies. And that’s a good thing for Larry Johnson, the founder of Cineprov!, Atlanta’s only professional movie riffing comedy troupe. Its motto: “Making Fun of Movies So You Don’t Have To.”
Since 2006, Cineprov! has entertained Atlanta audiences with live shows that trash some of the biggest turkeys Hollywood has given us. It’s a simple concept with a simple goal: make the audience laugh. And, after a hiatus due to the December closing of Relapse Theatre, the group’s home for five years, it will bring back the laughs, and the movies, on Sundays at the Plaza Theatre beginning April 7.
Coming from a makeshift 18-seat theater with a bed sheet for a movie screen, Johnson is understandably ecstatic about the group’s new home, a newly renovated 185-seat facility with digital projection and sound and a new screen. “This is the space we have always dreamed of doing the shows in,” he says. “I have always envisioned the show in a movie theater.”
Cineprov! will also benefit from the Plaza’s lineup of offbeat independent films and low-budget howlers, such as “Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal,” which the group will skewer at its first Plaza show. The ready availability of the Plaza’s mockery-friendly films will free up time previously spent on acquiring licensing rights.
The Atlanta troupe is part of a growing phenomenon. From Master Pancake Theater in Austin to Brooklyn’s Raspberry Brothers, movie-mocking groups have popped up in cities across the country. In smaller towns, community groups have used the format for fund-raising. Celebrity comics Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis have appeared as guests commentators in stand-up comedian Doug Benson’s series Movie Interruption in Los Angeles.
Members of the original cast of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” the 1990s cult-classic television show that brought movie mocking into the spotlight, tour theaters nationwide with the Cinematic Titanic series. Some of the show’s alumni also created the successful RiffTrax, mp3s of a movie heckling, which customers can sync with DVDs of the heckled film.
In some theaters, special movie screenings called “Hecklevision” transform a spectator experience into an interactive one through the use of MuVChat Technology. Audiences at Hecklevision screenings can text comments to a MuVChat number that sends the comments directly to the screen for everyone in the audience to see.
Even some institutions of higher education have brought movie-heckling classes into their curriculums. Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania went a step further and had the master, “Mystery Science Theater” alum Joel Hodgson, teach a lesson.
Hodgson’s “five rules” of movie heckling are treated like Scripture among many in the field. But not Cineprov! The group doesn’t abide by any rules, including the almost universal agreement among hecklers that scripting is critical. Cineprov! is the only movie-mocking group in the nation to rely solely on improvisation during every show.
This isn’t out of a sense of rebellion. The group has tried scripting and found it wanting. “If we script, we overthink it. If we don’t script, we can’t overthink it,” explains Don Emery, who’s been with Cineprov! for two and a half years.
Its method is simple: no rules, no scripts, just three mockers, a movie and their imaginations. There’s no competition or need to deliver constant punch lines. The group creates a laid-back, interactive atmosphere and a feeling of spontaneity that keep the jokes fresh and the audience interested.
Unlike “Mystery Science Theater,” which primarily riffed on science-fiction B-films such as “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” Cineprov! disses everything from Z-grade schlock to blockbusters that take themselves too seriously. Even classics and family-friendly films are fair game. For instance, “Free Willy,” the children’s classic, was the butt of its humor during one of its last evenings at the Relapse Theatre. The first dig came from Johnson two minutes into the opening scene of a whale swimming in the ocean: “Fun fact. This is good grilled with lemon.”
Over the course of the movie, the Cineprov! members made pop-culture references and shared a few G-rated jokes. But more often than not, the jokes skewed toward the sexually explicit and other mature themes, and the 18-and-over audience ate it up.
While at Relapse, the group made use of social media and online discounts through Groupon and Living Social to promote its shows, which led to a steady increase in attendance. After a mention in a July 2012 Entertainment Weekly article, the group had to add an extra show. Then Relapse closed its doors.
There are challenges. The months-long hiatus slowed momentum, and, as Johnson notes, there’s a lot of competition for consumers’ leisure time. He’s hoping the Plaza’s reputation will bring in new audiences. To help promote the shows, Cineprov! has begun publishing free mock recordings of 1950s educational shorts on its website.
Uncertainties notwithstanding, the comics love their work. Says four-year Cineprov! member Ken Hudek: “It’s like high school, except I can’t get punched back.”
Want to know the troupe’s guidelines for great movie mocking? Find out on Facebook!