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END OF A RIFF-ERA: MST3K’s Joel Hodgson Will Retire At the End of the Year

It appears that Joel Hodgson (creator and star of Mystery Science Theater and co-star of Cinematic Titanic) has decided to leave the field of riffing and instead focus on other projects (he is touring a one man show called Riffing Myself that will start up again in February).

While it’s certainly a bummer that the Godfather of Riff is stepping down from the career that began on KTMA in Minneapolis back in 1988 before heading to the Comedy Channel (pre-Comedy Central) and then to Syfy, there is a certain beauty in recognizing how much of an influence Hodgson has been on pop culture. 

Those of us who grew up on 6 or less channels and digested an incredible amount of creature-features, black and white movies from the 20s-60s and the local TV station offerings who put on anything in order to fill up air time, were already well aware of the overwhelming need to yell things at the screen, but at the time we didn’t know that an entire show could be built around this predilection. When MST3K hit the airwaves of the Comedy Channel  it was kismet and there our love for Joel and the ‘bots began.

As the show grew, fans began passing around tapes of it (which the creators were completely supportive of) in order to indoctrinate others and, as time when on, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single nerd/dweeb/dork/geek out on the streets at 10pm on a Saturday.

Yes, it was that important.

 And it was through Hodgson that our introduction to this new level of movie fan-centric genre was set in motion and we loved him for it.

When he left the show in the 5th season (due to a conflict with co-creator Jim Mallon) and was replaced by head writer Mike Nelson, fans had a conniption fit and broke into factions of Team Joel and Team Mike, a rivalry that still lingers today some 20 years after Hodgson left (take that Twilight) thanks to the advent of dual MST3K riffing teams, Cinematic Titanic (which represents Joel, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein and Frank Conniff) and RiffTrax (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett).

While there has never been any reported animosity between the two groups (Mary Jo Pehl has worked with both), fans of either Joel or Mike will perpetuate the rumor just to keep things interesting.

So now that Hodgson has decided to retire from the game of riffing what is Team Joel supposed to do?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in nostalgia.

Sure, it’s difficult to say good-bye to a guy who made Let’s Have A Patrick Swayze Christmas a holiday tradition or was there with us on Thanksgiving for 30 hours straight so that we could avoid our family and football.  But it’s okay to let go now. The memories have been enshrined on DVD for all eternity and fans are still passing around those tapes (albeit in more current technological forms) so it’s not as if he is gone forever.

So thank you Joel for all your amazing work and for making a dweeb like me laugh for over 20 years.

It’s been a pleasure.



  1. Chris "Sampo" Cornell

    October 21, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Your story is not accurate. Cinematic Titanic will stop touring at the end of the year. Joel has NEVER said he is "retiring."

  2. Elizabeth Young

    October 21, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    You're right, He's not retiring from everything, he's retiring from riffing. Which is what the piece is about…How important his riffing was to a generation and why it will be missed.

    Appreciate your comments.

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