In 1989, the soon-to-be-hit-comedy TV show, “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” the brainchild of Minnesota comedian Joel Hodgson and television producer Jim Mallon, and further developed by fellow comedians Trace Beaulieu and head writer Mike Nelson, had just taken a big step forward.
In addition to being the signature program for a new cable TV enterprise, The Comedy Channel (later to be known as Comedy Central), the show moved into a new location in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Along with the writers already on board, a young talent named Mary Jo Pehl was hired to meet the show’s new and growing creative challenges.
Pehl, who had been writing, acting and doing stand-up comedy since the early 1980s, jumped at the chance to join the show and apply her creative writing skills to a new genre of comedy – “movie riffing.”
Eventually, her contributions to the show included the emergence of a recurring on-screen character, Pearl Forrester, which showcased Pehl’s acting chops. With that, she became more than a writer, but also a beloved character/villain to the show’s loyal fans.
Pehl remembers it as a unique opportunity.
“I’d been doing stand-up comedy on the road throughout the Midwest,” said Pehl, “and I was so broke I didn’t even have a television. So even though I came up doing comedy with Trace, Joel, Frank (Conniff) and Bridget (Nelson) and knew there was some television show being produced locally, I had no idea what it was! It was amazing — and an extremely rare opportunity — to report to an office/studio in Eden Prairie and write jokes for old, bad movies like a regular day job.”
“Mystery Science Theater 3000,” or MST3K as the show’s fans refer to it, became a cult favorite for its irreverent and witty style. When MST3K stopped production in 1999, its Eden Prairie location closed, but it lived on in syndication and reruns, and eventually saw a reboot on Netflix in 2017.
A Pearl unlike any other
Although Pehl will likely be best remembered as Pearl Forrester, she has a wide range of comedic skills and credits, including show producer, writer, actor, author and, of course, stand-up comedian.
She’s currently a key contributor and performer for Rifftrax (MST3K-like productions featuring funny audio commentaries on movies). She stars on the streaming Twitch show “The Mary Jo Pehl Show” and performs at various comedic shows and theatrical performances around the country.
If ever there was an “alt comedian,” Mary Jo Pehl is it.
Earlier this year, Pehl starred in a one-woman show during the Minnesota Fringe Festival and recently headlined at The Comedy Corner Underground in Minneapolis. She’s excited to return to Eden Prairie and perform at Fat Pants Brewing as part of an ongoing series of comedy shows produced by YellowBrick Comedy.
Closing out the year at Fat Pants
“MST3K really helped me find my comedic voice,” she said. “I love doing stand-up now because it’s coming from a much more real place, having been around the block a time or two at this point in my life. I’ve heard the audiences at Fat Pants are smart, they’re there to have fun, and are supportive of a range of funny folks. I’m looking forward to being there.”
Pehl will perform at Fat Pants Brewing on Friday, Dec. 30, along with feature act Abenezer Merdassa and host Ali Horman. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for the 18+ show for $20 in advance at YellowBrickComedy.com, FatPantsBrewing.com, or EventBrite.
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment of a monthly comedy-focused column, Little Joke on the Prairie, by Eden Prairie resident Pat LaVone. He is a writer, speaker, stand-up comic and storyteller. During the original comedy boom, Pat began performing stand-up and sketch comedy in the mid-1980s. After a brief 30-year hiatus, he returned to the stage to perform stand-up and storytelling shows as well as humorous keynote presentations. He currently produces shows for YellowBrick Comedy and performs at various theaters and clubs around Minnesota.
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