‘Twas the Year of Our Lord 2016, in the wood-paneled comfort of Kieran’s Irish Pub, when I first beheld the genius of Rev. Matt’s Monster Science. Rev. Matt (a.k.a. Matthew Kessen) was pontificating on mammoths and mastodons.
“It’s been a world of mammals for 65 million years,” he said. “That is an incomprehensible amount of time. The human brain cannot get around it. You know when you’re in line to renew your tabs? Sixty-five million years is like three times that long.”
He combined hilarity and authority in a way I’d never seen before. His academic air, fortified by a suit, beard, and imposing 6’7” frame, provided the perfect juxtaposition to his comically priceless, PowerPoint-assisted lecture.
There were only 20 or so people in the audience that night, but this blazing comet of edutainment wouldn’t stay a secret for long.
Monster Science began in 2012 when Levi Weinhagen, Kessen’s former collaborator at The Ministry of Cultural Warfare, invited him to perform in The Encyclopedia Show. The monthly variety show would give performers time to do whatever they wanted on a that night’s specific theme. The theme that month was “mythical creatures.” Kessen chose the Gryphon. Afterward, Mike Fotis, TES’s producer, told him that he’d love to have him back.
“You realize I’ll always turn it into being about monsters,” Kessen warned him. Fotis responded that he was fine with that. “So I would cram monsters into whatever the monthly theme was.”
The monstrous monthly monologues became a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Eventually, he was doing his monster rants at other venues and events. In 2015, he presented his first long-form piece, a half-hour on Godzilla, at Fearless Comedy’s fundraiser. Two years later, he was invited to perform at the Science Museum in connection to an exhibit on mythical creatures. A career highlight came when Minneapolis Institute of Art asked him speak during “At Home With Monsters,” Guillermo Del Toro’s touring show featuring items from his films and personal collection.
“You’re my kind of guy!” Del Toro responded when he told him about his Monster Science show.
Kessen has continued to establish himself as a force in the local theater community. His audiences in the Minnesota Fringe Festival average over 100 attendees, making his shows some of the fest’s most popular. In 2018 and ‘19, he had a monthly Saturday night gig at the Phoenix Theater in Uptown. Most recently, he’s had a regular spot the first Thursday of each month at Bryant-Lake Bowl. He also has a Patreon, where he does a monthly livestream.
Kessen’s interest in monsters started at a young age. He’s always liked animals, and his imagination often drew him to the weird, the unexpected, and the outcasts.
“Monsters are always outsiders,” he says. “One way or the other, they’re either contemptible outsiders or sympathetic outsiders. Anyone with much of a soul can feel some sympathy for the concept of outsiders.
“The king of the monster enthusiasts in this day and age is Guillermo Del Toro,” he continues. “He’s all about sympathy. All of the great monster creators are very much on the side of the monster. Everybody understands that, you know, it has to die or whatever, but you still feel for it, no matter how vicious or cruel it is. You still feel for it because it is the unaccepted thing.”
Kessen divides monsters into four categories, and he has a favorite within each. In the prehistoric animals category, it’s the Pteranodon. In cryptozoology—the search for and study of unknown, legendary, or extinct animals that may or may not exist—it’s the Loch Ness Monster. In mythological zoology, it’s the Gryphon, the subject of his very first Monster Science show.
When it comes to purely fictional movie monsters? It’s the Rhedosaurus from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, a 1953 film featuring the work of the legendary special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. Godzilla, which debuted the following year, was directly inspired by it.
“Only because I’m a huge nerd do I call the monster by name,” Kessen says. “I’m a terribly big fan of giant reptiles attacking cities and of Ray Harryhausen. It’s a beautiful work.”
But even as a master of monsters, Kessen has his limits. He’s had quite enough of zombies.
“It’s been done to death, as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “And I will watch every single giant-reptile-attacking-a-city movie that anyone makes forever. So I am not here to tell anyone that watching something that repeats itself is bad. I just have zombie fatigue myself. But, if zombies are your jam, then go for it.”
Not surprisingly, October is his busiest time of the year. This week alone he is performing at The Thinking Spot bookstore in Wayzata (Oct. 28), Hennepin History Museum (Oct. 29), and the Twin Cities Horror Festival through Oct. 30, where he’s become a fixture. All of his events can also be found on his website.
Will Rev. Matt go on to conquer other worlds after laying waste to the Twin Cities? So far he’s performed twice in Wisconsin. At Tucson, Arizona’s Fringe Festival he won Best Solo Show both years he presented. But his plans for the future aren’t just for the stage.
“What I’d really like to do is branch out into other media: video, podcasting, print publishing,” he says. “I’m working on a Monster Science tarot deck as well. And as for the live show, I just have an infinite number of ideas. Reverend Matt’s Monster Science has been anointed by Guillermo del Toro himself; I can and will keep doing that forever.”