Michael J. Nelson

Michael John Nelson (born October 11, 1964) is an American comedian, writer, musician and actor, who served as the head writer of the cult television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 from Season 2 through Season 10, and spent roughly half of that time playing the on-air host, Mike Nelson. Series creator and former host Joel Hodgson reportedly believed Nelson would be a good replacement because he thought Nelson was a natural leader, a gifted comedian and musician, and looked good standing next to the show's puppets.

Michael Nelson was born in St. Charles, Illinois. His ancestry is Danish, German, and Irish. According to Nelson, his father was named Alfred and had no middle name. He lived in Geneva, Illinois, until the age of twelve, when his family moved to north-western Wisconsin. Nelson studied theatre and music at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, but he left before graduating and moved to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area.

Nelson began performing as a stand-up comedian in the area, where he met another aspiring young comedian Bridget Jones at a club called The Comedy Place.[1] Nelson and Jones were married on October 21, 1989, just before he was offered a position on the writing staff of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Their sons are named George and August. August Nelson is an occasional writer for RiffTrax. Mike and Bridget have at least one grandchild.

Following the end of MST3K, the Nelsons continued to live in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. In 2006, they moved to San Diego, California. In 2014, they moved back to Minneapolis.

Mystery Science Theater 3000[]

Other Works[]

Mike writing

Since the series ended, he has worked steadily as a writer.

His first book, Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese (2000) collects columns on various films and film tropes. His second, Mike Nelson's Mind Over Matters (2002) covers non-movie-related topics. His third, his first original novel, is Mike Nelson's Death Rat!: A Novel (2003). In 2023, he co-wrote the novel The Naked Clone - A Nick Nolte Mystery with several other RiffTrax writers.

In 2004, Mike began working with Legend Films, releasing various public domain films newly colorized and featuring a "MST3K-like" commentary by Mike on DVD.

In 2005, he embarked on a project with the Charles S. Anderson Design Co.; a series of books featuring CSA's "PopInk" art accompanied by humorous text by Mike. Happy Kitty Bunny Pony was followed by Goth-Icky and Love Sick, as well as 2006's Fluffy Humpy Poopy Puppy.

With his MST3K co-stars Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, he was briefly part of a comedy team called The Film Crew which created comedy segments for NPR and Starz!, among other outlets. Four Film Crew DVDs were produced for Rhino Entertainment, but pressure from Best Brains, Inc. led to Rhino dropping the project. The episodes were later released by Shout! Factory.

In 2006, Nelson was appointed Chief Content Producer for Legend, responsible for building and leading the company's creative content, providing on-going commentaries and developing other premium web-based programming. "I'm very excited. Legend Films is such a great fit for me -- talented people who consistently put out a great product. Plus there are Flaming Hot Cheetos in the lunch room vending machine. That made it an easy choice to join the team," enthused Nelson.

One of the projects put together by Nelson and Legend Films was RiffTrax, a website offering the purchase of downloadable audio commentaries. The first commentary made available through the service was for Road House. According to a September 2006 podcast interview, Nelson felt at the time that RiffTrax might be the closest thing to a reunion of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang. 

Also in 2006, Mike wrote for the revamped Cracked: The Comedy Magazine, which lasted only three issues.

In 2011, Mike wrote some amusing articles on home entertainment technology for Sound &

Mike Nelson is involved in several podcasting projects, including Instead of Tweeting, Like Trees Walking, and 372 Pages We'll Never Get Back.


Regular roles[]

Guest appearances[]


See also[]

Personal quotes[]

  • "At the time I was hired, I was a waiter-slash-comedian, and I was working at a TGIFriday’s so I could have a flexible schedule."
  • "My stand-up was a little bit heady. I would do an impression of Robert Frost, which was tough in places like rural Wisconsin and Minnesota. People didn’t want experimental stuff. They wanted their dick jokes, and they wanted them now."
  • "We rode a lot on the fact that critics really liked it. It was kind of like the way HBO makes its money on Real Sex, but then has a couple of prestige projects. We were like a prestige project, if you can call a comedy puppet show a prestige project."
  • "We knew that people really had a fondness for the show, so we tried to make it as non-jarring as possible. We said, "Let’s just go slow here and not make any radical changes."
  • "Well, I think more people DO it. Obviously, the internet opened it wide for anyone to mock movies. There’s a bunch of similar things, there’s people who do it live. Yeah, I think it’s just a broader base of appeal. You know, we used to be considered quite kitschy and cult-y; now with the internet we can reach those people more directly. I don’t know if it’s more popular but I think more people are doing it so it doesn’t appear strange anymore."
  • (on getting the rights to riff Sony Pictures' movie releases Starship Troopers, Godzilla and Anaconda) "Well, when we first approached the studio, I think there was a lot of trepidation because they’d never done anything like it, but to their credit, Sony… You know, you walk up to anybody with a big enough check and they’re going to be interested. But I think they were a little nervous about it the first time around and then they saw, "Oh, hey, this is a fun event, and the sky didn’t fall, and these guys aren’t really mean to our movies." You know, we’re not tearing it down and slandering everyone involved with it, so they opened up their library and we went back again. They’ve been really great to work with; we’re not used to working with the big players."
  • "We did Birdemic and the major cast members, if you can call them that, were watching in the theater and the female lead was kind of adorable in the movie and just does the role, but the guy was such a schlub, so her we kind of just gave praise to and him we tore a new one. I felt pretty bad about that, like he’s sitting next to her in the theater going, "Hey, I… come on, man!" But I don’t know what we’re supposed to do; his performance was… not quite there."
  • (on RiffTrax communication with fan base) "Yeah, it’s great. People suggest things for us to do; we get immediate feedback as to if we did a good job. And, obviously, it sort of drives things like the Kickstarter and it kind of steers us in the direction we need to go. You know, we would endlessly do Stallone ’80s movies if let off of our leash. Or whatever; we might go our own way with little things that fascinate us, so it’s good to know what people want."
  • (August 22, 2015 Facebook timeline comment) "I'm warning you: Rollergator is by a factor of at least ten the worst movie we have ever done. Here's how bad Rollergator is: it features a rapping alligator hand puppet AND Joe Estevez and despite that it is STILL the worst thing to happen to humanity since the wholesale use of mustard gas in WWI. The upside: it features one of the most surprising and insane endings in RiffTrax history."

External links[]