Kevin Murphy was a key member of the team behind the cult comedy classic "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (KTMA 1988-89 / The Comedy Channel 1989-1991 / Comedy Central 1991-96 / SciFi 1997-99), both behind the scenes ... Read more »
Kevin Murphy was a key member of the team behind the cult comedy classic "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (KTMA 1988-89 / The Comedy Channel 1989-1991 / Comedy Central 1991-96 / SciFi 1997-99), both behind the scenes and as the voice of gumball-machine-shaped puppet Tom Servo. After that series ended its acclaimed run in 1999, Murphy went on to explore its defining concept -- making fun of really cheesy movies -- in concert with his fellow MST3K alums Michael J. Nelson and Bill Corbett, first as The Film Crew and then as RiffTrax. With his immediately identifiable baritone voice and dry, sardonic delivery, Murphy was perhaps the most immediately identifiable member of the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" cast, although he almost never appeared in front of the camera without heavy makeup.
Kevin Wagner Murphy was born in the Chicago suburb of River Forest, IL. After receiving a degree in journalism from the University of Utah, he attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison to study theater and television directing. While working at Madison's PBS affiliate, Murphy met aspiring film director Jim Mallon and worked on the crew of Mallon's tongue-in-cheek low-budget slasher film "Blood Hook" (1986). In addition to serving as a key grip during filming, Murphy composed the film's synthesizer-based score. After Mallon left Madison for a job as the production manager at Minneapolis independent station KTMA, Murphy joined him there as a camera operator. The pair quickly fell in with local comedian Joel Hodgson, who created a new low-budget show for the station. "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (commonly abbreviated MST3K) debuted on KTMA on November 24, 1988 and became an immediate cult favorite in the Twin Cities area. As management problems at the station put the nascent show into peril, the production team signed with a new cable company called The Comedy Channel, which debuted a somewhat retooled version of the show in 1989. (The Comedy Channel became Comedy Central in 1991.)
Murphy originally worked behind the scenes as the show's cinematographer and lighting technician; he also designed and built the "doorway sequences" that bridged the show's live sketches and the movies that each episode mocked. But after the first Comedy Central season, Murphy became on-air talent as well; after writer and performer Josh Weinstein (later known as J. Elvis Weinstein to differentiate himself from the similarly-named writer/producer of "The Simpsons" (Fox 1989- ) left to pursue other opportunities, Murphy took over the puppet character Tom Servo. Murphy's avuncular, radio-announcer-like voice for the character quickly made Servo a fan favorite. With its growing pains finally out of the way, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" became perhaps the first TV show to develop a devoted internet following, whose members mailed videocassettes of classic episodes amongst themselves. The series weathered a change of host in 1993 when Hodgson left, replaced by head writer Michael J. Nelson, but Comedy Central canceled the show after seven seasons in 1996. The SciFi Channel picked "Mystery Science Theater 3000" up the following year, in a new incarnation that featured Murphy in his first on-camera role (albeit in heavy "Planet of the Apes"-style makeup) as superintelligent simian Professor Bobo, henchman to new villain Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl). Many of the show's fans felt that the new version lacked some of the spark of the original, and it was quietly canceled in 1999.
Murphy's first project following "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was a book, A Year At The Movies: One Man's Filmgoing Odyssey (2002). Murphy spent the entirety of 2001 going to at least one movie in a theater every day, recording his thoughts not only about the films themselves, but each movie-going experience as a whole. Murphy, Nelson and fellow MST3K album Bill Corbett then started a similar project called "The Film Crew," which appeared on the cable film channels American Movie Classics, Sundance and Encore, providing sketches and voiceovers for public domain films. Four DVDs of full-length films riffed on by The Film Crew were released by Shout! Factory in 2006, but the project was supplanted that year by the trio's new venture, RiffTrax. A series of downloadable audio commentaries that users sync to existing DVDs, the RiffTrax concept allowed Murphy, Nelson and Corbett to tackle big-budget blockbuster films such as the "Twilight" series that they never could have gotten licensing for on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." As RiffTrax became more popular, the trio began performing occasional live shows during which they commented on movies in real time.