The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Robots Each Had A Unique Inspiration

When comedian Joel Hodgson created "Mystery Science Theater 3000" back in 1988, he couldn't have possibly imagined the cultural impact the show would have had on a generation. "MST3K" became one of the biggest cult hits of the 1990s, and its whimsical, sarcastic jokes thrown in the face of terrible cinema introduced many young viewers to the notion that even bad movies had value as entertainment. Joel Robinson (Hodgson) and his two closest robot companions, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, became everyone's laidback, late-night movie-watching buddies, mining unremarkable films for comedy and camaraderie ... and criticism. While there was a lot of bare-faced mockery at hand, the quips offered by Joel and the 'bots were also methodically examining the reason certain tropes don't work, the dark sexist legacy left by older movies, and how B-pictures are an inextricable part of a larger pop culture map where all films appear to be connected.

Joel, and both of the robots, each brought a different perspective to the movies, and each had a distinct sense of humor. Crow was, as described by the show's opening theme song "a little wisecracker." Servo was "a cool guy." Joel remained calm and laconic throughout. In an oral history conducted by Wired in 2014, several of the actors who played the robots over the years weighed in on the robots' personalities, and where they got their unique perspectives from. 

Crow T. Robot

From "The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide", Crow T. Robot is described as, "the lanky gold guy. Crow is rambunctious and acerbic, and is a budding screenwriter. His arms don't work." Actor Trace Beaulieu played the role, and operated the puppet of Crow T. Robot from the start in 1988 until his departure in 1996. Beaulieu also played the show's central villain, Dr. Clayton Forrester. Early in the show, Beaulieu differentiated his two roles by speaking in a deep sinister voice for the mad scientist, and in a monotone robotic voice for Crow. Crow would eventually become a more relaxed character with a more laidback, smart aleck attitude. In Beaulieu's words: 

"As a character, Crow was a wiseass. He was certainly influenced by Groucho Marx, always tilting at some kind of authority. But he started out with a very stilted, robotic kind of approach. We had scripted it so that after every line, Crow would say, "Yes, Joel Hodgson. No, Joel Hodgson." It's very hard to generate other voices or impressions in that sort of voice.

Hodgson liked that Beaulieu's personal qualities also leaked into the character, saying that "Crow is like Trace: He can do millions of characters, and he splits the difference between being playful and cynical."

Bill Corbett would take over playing Crow until 1999 when the show finally concluded. When "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was rebooted at Netflix in 2017, Crow would be played by Hampton Yount. In the "MST3K" live shows, Crow is played by Nate Begle.

Tom Servo

"Tom Servo," as described by "The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide," is a "stock red fellow. Intellectual and a bit inflated, Tom also has a marvelous singing voice. His arms don't work either."

J. Elvis Weinstein was only a teenager when he came onto "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and he took up the role of Tom Servo, as well as Dr. Forrester's evil assistant Dr. Laurence Erhardt. Counter to Beaulieu, Weinstein played the evil scientist with a high-pitched whine, and Tom with a deep, bedroom voice. Weinstein was imitating something very specific for Servo, saying that he "was inspired to make Tom Servo sort of a smarmy AM radio DJ. He had this incredibly inflated opinion of himself and considered himself a ladies' robot."

Says Hodgson: "Josh really is Tom Servo. When Josh was 16, he drank single-malt scotch and smoked cigars; he was like a 40-year-old man in a 17-year-old body, which is like Tom Servo."

Weinstein would play Tom Servo only through the first season of the show, as well as the year it was broadcast only on local-access TV in Minnesota. Weinstein would be replaced by Kevin Murphy in the second season and would play Servo until the show's end. Tom Servo was played by Baron Vaughn in the Netflix reboot, and by Conor McGiffin in the live shows. 


"The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide" describes the robot now known as GPC (originally "Gypsy") as "big long and purple. [GPC] does most of the work around the Satellite and she is wiser than she's given credit for. She is guileless, motherly, and quite independent. She has no arms."

The producer of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was Jim Mallon, who also played the recurring role of the purple robot on the show. "Gypsy" — a name that has since been changed to the more culturally sensitive GPC — did not sit in the theater watching bad movies with the main cast, as she was tasked with running the higher functions of the ship. Given that Tom and Crow behaved like rambunctious kids most of the time, GPC would often step in as an overwhelmed, and sensitive authority figure.

Of the character, Mallon said:

"If I channeled anybody for [GPC], I channeled my mom. She had a heart of gold and always looked to the best of everything and the best of everyone. And when confronted with difficult things, she was somewhat lost. She didn't know how to negotiate when things went poorly. She would be hurt, so [GPC] would be hurt at times and turn to the other robots for support."

Mallon played GPC through Season 8 of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," with Patrick Brantseg taking over through Season 10. Rebecca Hanson would play the character on the Netflix reboot, and Yvonne Freese would play her for the live shows.