In certain (read: geek) circles, Joel Hodgson is a superstar. In the late '80s, he took an inexplicable cult obsession (watching low-budget, poorly written films)


An Exclusive SW Interview With Joel Hodgson

In certain (read: geek) circles, Joel Hodgson is a superstar. In the late '80s, he took an inexplicable cult obsession (watching low-budget, poorly written films) and added a new element: telling jokes. He pitched the idea to a Minnesota TV producer, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 was born. Each week, Joel Robinson (Hodgson) and his four robot friends, traveling aimlessly through the cosmos aboard the Satellite of Love, would be subjected to a different cinematic atrocity, sent to them by the mad scientist Dr. Forrester and his lab assistants.

Hodgson left the show in 1993, citing creative differences, and now, 15 years later, he and several original writer-performers have regrouped to form Cinematic Titanic, a not-too-distant relative of MST3K and the inspiration for a new live show that's about to hit Seattle (details, plus an important update, after the jump). Hodgson chats with us about leaving the show, his new project, and his desire to reconnect with fans.

Can you tell me more about Cinematic Titanic?

Cinematic Titanic is like a boat on fire right now, as far as our live show goes. It's weird because it's kind of informed us of what we're supposed to do. I'm grateful for it because it's changed movie riffing enough so it's different from Mystery Science Theater. But doing it in front of an audience has changed us, too. So I really hope [people] come to the show because we're getting really good at it.

Are you getting some good feedback from live audiences?

It's funny because most of the people who come are people who've had great experiences with Mystery Science Theater, so they come remembering what they like about us. You know, it's been 15 years since I've done it, so it's interesting because you change. But then they remind you of what they like and what they want. In some ways, when we were doing Mystery Science Theater, it was a vacuum. We just made the show, and some stuff would drift back. And even with the Internet, where the audience is able to crawl all over your material and comment on what they like, it's not at all as dense as a live audience reacting to it. Something is going on, and I can't say what, but it has something to do with being in front of an audience.

Can you describe how you came up with MST3K?

At the very beginning of Mystery Science Theater, the only idea I really had about it was we're going to be companions that watch the show with these people. And at that time I wasn't thinking we watch the movie and we say 600 jokes. It was really a lot more simple than that. It was like, 'Oh, we'll throw out jokes, and the robots will go make popcorn, and I'll say some fact about the movie.' It was much more sedate, not as frenetic as it became. And that was really having Josh [Weinstein] and Trace [Beaulieu] there who are both comics and really helped me figure it out. By the time we had done 22 shows locally, we really had Mystery Science Theater figured out.

Was adding the live show, then, something really foreign to you and the cast?

Well, we all met doing stand up, and doing it live, you bring your personality. We're not really playing characters anymore. But doing it live has really changed us. It's very peculiar. We're writing our ninth movie now since we started, and we're toying with whether we should be doing studio shows anymore: Should we be doing just live shows and recording [them]? It's really interesting. It gave us the identity we needed in a weird way.

It seems like such a natural progression of the original idea.

We really needed it, too. In some ways, during Mystery Science Theater and our studio shows, I think it was affecting us a little too much. Compared to what happened when we started doing it live, which is our own thing. It's been really fun, and we're trying to figure out what to do with it.

Can you explain how you conceived of this new venture?

Here is the extent of my creating Cinematic Titanic: I came up with the name, I came up with the idea of a studio show and, occasionally, a live show, and I came up with the silhouette array, which is our logo. Really, I just came up with the logo because it's all in the logo. The theater seats were iconic; I don't want to do that again. How could I arrange people, so that you can see more on screen? I just drew a circle on the picture plane and arranged the figures around that. That was the design because cameras are better, and you can make the silhouettes smaller. And the audience can still see them and know what's going on. We approximate that live, stand on either side. If you're looking at the screen, Trace and Frank [Conniff] are to the right, and then to the left are Josh and Mary Jo [Pehl] and I.

I really like that you can see more of the physical reactions in this silhouette array, compared with MST3K.

That was another thing, too, where I thought about Mystery Science Theater: 'My God, I can only emote from the neck up.' More than anything the idea is just to be as deliberate as possible. It's kind of about us. It's kind of about the people who held the puppets and wore the costumes. We don't have to be as formal with concept anymore.


You've said publically that leaving Mystery Science Theater 3000 was hard for you. Cinematic Titanic seems largely for the fans, but how much of this is personal?

Well, personally, it was really all about that. I started to really miss it and really regret having to leave. People had a really weird impression of why I left, like they thought I was too good or something: 'Joel thought he could do other things,' or whatever. But it was not accurate. And I started thinking, 'I want to reconnect with this . . . and I want to get my story out. I want them to understand what happened, because I didn't want to leave. At all.' It's funny how that can happen. It was a real tragedy for me to leave on a lot of levels, and so it was amazing that we were all available and interested in doing it again. I was really lucky. I've gotten to try so many other things in the meantime and I realized that that's all I really wanted to do, and I'm suited to do this. And so all these things came together. And it's not just based on my will. If it was, it would just be me, and if was just me, it wouldn't be interesting. It had to be all of them.

Are you able to say which movies you'll be riffing in Seattle?

Right now we're saying, Friday night: "Blood of the Vampires," Saturday night: "Dynamite Brothers."

I'm sure a lot of fans are excited to see the show. I know I am.

I'm looking forward to being in Seattle. I've never worked there before, so I'm really excited about it. It's going to be cool. I kind of expect it to be raining, but that's OK.

Cinematic Titanic will be performing at the King Cat Theater at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 13, and Saturday, March 14. $42. More details here.

Breaking News Update: Hodgson and his fellow performers will appear at Scarecrow Video (5030 Roosevelt Way N.E., 524-8554), 7 p.m. Thurs. March 12.

comments powered by Disqus