For our first profile in the OK Move Here series, we’re delighted to feature Mary Jo Pehl. Pehl is probably best known to comedy nerds of the 90s and aficionados of hilariously bad films (and in that decade, was there much difference between these groups?) as a stalwart performer and writer on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, known as MST3K to its loyal fan base.
Said comedy nerds and aficionados could be forgiven, however, for not realizing that the talented sketch comedian and former Minnesotan has been a denizen of Austin for the past five and a half years. As part of the writing and performing crew behind Cinematic Titanic, the live-action follow by the MST3K gang, Pehl is on tour for easily one third of the year.
But with increasing frequency, Pehl been appearing on stages around town, both as a guest with the MST3K-inspired Master Pancake Theater (who in an earlier iteration were once issued a cease and desist letter from Pehl’s former boss when the group was less, um, originally named) as well as at FronteraFest, Austin Sketchfest, and the Ladies are Funny Festival with her one woman show. We caught up with her a couple days before the performance of her show, One Across, happening May 24 at 10 p.m. at Hyde Park Theater as part of this year’s Austin Sketchfest.
When did you move to Austin?
We moved here December 2006. I moved from Minneapolis and my husband moved from Dallas. We had been in a long-distance relationship and we were looking for a city that would suit both of us, and I didn’t want to ask him to move to Minneapolis because I knew what their winters are like. I’m from Minneapolis and having to put him through a Minneapolis winter just seemed really unduly cruel.
"We stayed at the Austin Motel, we went to see the bats and I just kind of got it. I just thought, 'Oh! This is what everybody goes nuts for.' It just clicked."
We were kind of looking around and my career is, was, pretty flexible — with the Internet I can write from anywhere, and then I started doing Cinematic Titanic which I could do anywhere because I was traveling anyway. I went to visit him in Dallas and we decided to take a day trip here. I don’t even know that we were looking to move here. Austin had not been on my radar at all to be honest.
We stayed at the Austin Motel, we went to see the bats and I just kind of got it. I just thought, “Oh! This is what everybody goes nuts for.” It just clicked.
When you’re not on the road, tell me what you do here in Austin.
I love Barton Springs. I love getting up early on a hot morning when it’s still slightly dark and getting there first thing. I am really into — and I have to drag the old man along — trying out new restaurants, especially the trailer foods.
Do you have any favorites right now?
Gourdough’s! It’s just… like… that’s bacchanalian. My parents were here in January from Minnesota. My mom loves sweets and I thought, “Oh my gosh, she’ll love Gourdough’s!” And it was even too much for her.
Oh, and you know what else we do a lot? We have company. People love to visit this city, and now that we have a house and an extra bedroom we have people here a lot, which is thrilling for us. We take them to Cathedral of Junk. People love it, and we love to show them that. We have this go to list of stuff, try to take them horseback riding if they’re into that.
You’re full-on Austin ambassadors.
Yes! Because we are experiencing a lot of it, too. Because even though we’ve been here starting our fifth year, I’ve been traveling so much that when we are home, we’re kind of exhausted. So I feel like my connection to the city is maybe different than if I wasn’t traveling.
Oh, one last thing—I don’t want to be that person, I’m sure everyone says “Oh, Barton Springs!” Breakfast tacos. I had not heard of breakfast tacos, had no idea about breakfast tacos, and now I love to bring people when they visit to Barton Springs and then I take them to Maria’s for breakfast tacos. I feel like it’s my duty.
"My mom loves sweets and I thought, “Oh my gosh, she’ll love Gourdough’s!” And it was even too much for her."
Sorry to blather on, but the other thing I love about Austin? It’s kind of an anathema, but I’m not into the music scene at all. I love that it exists and good for the people who love it. I’ve maybe been to one concert at the new ACL Theater, which is great. People have chided me about that. “How can you live in Austin….”
And not go see all the music?
Well, you know, I lived in Minneapolis and never saw Prince! But the thing I do thrill to here is the theater scene, because it is very experimental, people are taking a lot of risks, and to me it’s akin and analogous to Minneapolis, which has a huge theater scene. Here I see so much experimentation, and as a theater and performing artist that is really thrilling. This year I got to see some stuff at Fusebox for the first time and that just sent me over the moon. The Writers Tour was so cool.