There’s nothing we movie fanatics love more than making fun of movies. That’s no paradox; the more movies you see, the better armed you are to mock the heck out of one that simply does everything wrong. But, like making good bad movies, good bad-movie mockery is confoundingly tricky to do right. The best movie mockers (like the podcasters behind “The Flop House” and “How Did This Get Made?” and the undisputed masters of the form, “Mystery Science Theater 3000”) strike the perfect pitch of affection, film knowledge, improvisational chops and mercilessness to keep devoted fans roaring. 

Now add Portland’s own The Basement Tapes to that list. Founded by Portland native comedian Rachel Gendron and consisting of her and her colleagues in the Portland Comedy Co-op (Connor McGrath, Anders Nielsen and Micaela Tepler), the movie mockery showcase will be holding forth at Empire Comedy Club on Sunday for a Christmas-themed night of fun at the expense of one particularly spoof-able holiday not-classic. The target? The 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger-Sinbad comedy of commercialism, “Jingle All The Way.”

Rachel Gendron found her comedy calling making fun of movies. Photo courtesy of Rachel Gendron

“There are so many great ones out there,” said Gendron, a 10-year stand-up veteran back home in Maine after plying her trade in Montreal since 2010. “It’s not enough for a movie to be terrible. There has to be some kind of cult following, some nostalgia people feel toward it. Most importantly, the dialogue has to be terrible.”

And “Jingle” is notoriously wretched – a forced, expensive would-be family action comedy where obsessed dads Sinbad and Arnold vie for that season’s last remaining hot Christmas toy, a clunky action figure called Turboman. At one point, Arnold desperately hijacks a life-sized Turboman suit that’s so functionally dangerous it would have been conscripted into military service. Fun stuff. 

For Gendron, “Mystery Science Theater” was a formative experience, that little Minnesota cable-show-turned-comedy-empire an inspiration that’s seen her working on her film-flaying skills from a young age. “We’d kind of do that on our own,” the comic said of her childhood obsession with bad movies. “We’d rent movies knowing they were going to be terrible.” Proving the durability of the concept of making unholy sport of the wretched and the wrong, Gendron also found herself involved in a professional version of her childhood pastime during her time in Montreal, and now she’s brought the fun back home with her to Portland. 

“I was working with an amazing comic named Tranna Wintour up in Montreal, and she was doing a show called TrannaVision once a month. She put me on almost every show, and I sort of realized my biggest calling is to make fun of movies in front of people.” Thankfully, Gendron’s got company. Not just her Portland Comedy Co-op pals, but a receptive Portland community that already showed its appetite for this specific comedy style at the group’s first show at Portland’s Apohadion Theater, where the affectionate anti-favorite was the 2000 cheerleading comedy “Bring It On.” “The Apohadion was so generous, and it went so well,” said Gendron. “But we’re moving to Empire for our second show. It just feels like a good fit.” 

Feel is a good barometer for this kind of show, something Gendron knows all too well. “The choice of movie has to be just right,” the comedian said. “I’ve found that the movies I grew up with are sort of perfect for me, and especially kids’ movies from that era. I’d love to do (1992’s) ‘Three Ninjas,’ but I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who remembers that one. There should also be some sort of ‘mom quality,’ where your mom would appreciate the wholesomeness of it while you’re thinking ‘This is terrible.’ I wanted to do (1989’s treacly Christmas movie) ‘Prancer,’ because it’s the only film my split-up parents could ever agree was a classic.”

In addition, while Gendron explains that her Comedy Co-op colleagues are good judges of which comedians to book at their weekly shows at Lincolns, movie riffing takes an entirely different sort of skill set. “There’s a quality to this sort of comedy,” said Gendron. “Sometimes you end up with comics just talking over each other, so you really have to read the room and step back. It’s truly a team effort.” Gendron, apart from a lifetime spent on couches pointing out the worst of the worst, credits her stand-up style’s reliance on improvisation and crowd work for keeping her movie mockery muscles in shape for Sunday’s big show. “Ad-libbing extra dialogue, that’s sort of my thing. It’s sharpened everything else I do, not just onstage, but in life.”

So if you love movies, love to hate movies, like great local stand-up comedy or just want to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger make a fool of himself in time for the holidays, The Basement Tapes has you covered. 

The Basement Tapes: “Jingle All The Way” will take place at the Empire Comedy Club on Sunday. The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are $5 in advance, $10 at the door. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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