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FOG! Chats With MST3K’s JOEL HODGSON!

Interview conducted by Stefan Blitz

It’s been more than a quarter of a century since comedian Joel Hodgson donned the red jumpsuit to play Gizmonic Institute custodian Joel Robinson, who found himself shot into space by the somewhat notorious Dr. Clayton Forrester and his assistant TV’s Frank, where he would be forced into watching cheesy movies while they monitor his mind on the beloved cult television series, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K).

While Hodgson is known by the masses primarily for his work as the creator and initial star of MST3K, fewer know that the brilliant comic spent years on the stand-up circuit, co-wrote Seinfeld’s first special, Jerry Seinfeld: Stand-Up Confidential, was a staff writer for The Jimmy Kimmel Show, and currently co-stars in the Yahoo! series Other Space, Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe, and serves as the creative lead for media for the aerospace company, Cannae Technology, as well as touring with his one-man show, “Riffing Myself,” which chronicles the creation of MST3K.

Joel took some time to chat with FOG! about movie riffing, his inventions and the Joel vs. Mike debate.

FOG!: It’s been twenty seven years since MST3K debuted. Are you surprised by the continued passion for the series and that it continues to attract new fans?

Joel Hodgson: Yes, it’s slightly unreal.

What makes a movie riffable? Is it always the worse the movie, the better the riff?

I don’t think so, there are lots of movies that we felt weren’t “good enough” to riff. The movie needs to do the “heavy lifting” by telling a story, then we add the riffs.

That’s sort of a “behind the curtain tour”, but I feel like you’re old enough to handle it.

After you left the show, Michael J. Nelson took over, dividing fans into either a Joel camp or a Mike camp. You, Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl started Cinematic Titanic while Mike, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett launched Rifftrax. 

Blood Joel Hodgson and Crip Michael J. Nelson

Is there any rivalry between the two groups? Like an East Coast/West Coast rapper feud that might end in bloodshed?

Ha! Well, Bill came on after I had left the show, but I’ve gotten to know him since the show wrapped and I think he’s a great guy.

But rewinding before that, I invited both Mike and Kevin to write and perform on the show because I thought they had talent. Kevin started as a producer and editor on the show and worked his way up and Mike was a stand-up when I OK’d him to come work for us.

So I can’t say enough nice things about their ability to write and perform movie riffing — all three men are very important to the MST story.

I think if anything the two groups that you’re pointing out may represent two different cultures: The people who left the show and the people who stayed.

Just when the world thought that ventriloquism was limited only to a person and their dummy, you invented the “Ventriloquist Mask”. Was this your first invention and what was the genesis of this?

Well no, it wasn’t my first invention, my stand-up act had quite a few of them and there are all the invention exchanges on MST. But thanks for mentioning it.

Nina Conti and two participating audience members wearing Joel’s Ventriloquist Mask

I really proud of that idea and I just got invited to be inducted into the Vent Haven Museum next July because of it — which is kind of the like being inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of fame for Ventriloquists! I actually talk about the genesis of the idea in my one man show “Riffing Myself” which I’ll be performing on Saturday night at the Greenwich Odeon!

Like Adam West, you’ve gone into animated politics, portraying Mayor Bill Dewey for the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe. How did you get involved in the series and have you developed a new, younger fan base?

Thanks, Yes, I think so. To answer your question, the creator of Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar is an MST3K fan. She got in touch and we booked it.

You previously announced a possible MST3K return online with a new cast and cameos from former stars/characters. Is this still in development?

Yes!

At this point can you actually watch a movie and not think of snarky comments?

I’m just like everyone else, when I go to see a movie, I’m hoping to forget about myself and hopefully, if everything works, I’ll merge with the movie.

The big problem for me is when I go to see a movie with someone who doesn’t know me, I think they sort of expect me to be laying out a barrage of rapid fire riffs, in which case, I’m afraid I often disappoint them. Besides, I’m a movie riffer — not a heckler, there is a big difference.

You’re currently touring with your show, “Riffing Myself”. What’s it about?
It’s the creation story of MST3K AND the ventriloquist mask — good seats still available folks!

What are you currently geeking out over?

I’ve been going through 30 Rock on Netflix, which I feel is an astonishingly good production. I just read the book Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone, which is a really nice survey of the world of magic. Also, I just started The Art of the Puppet by Bill Baird. How’s that for geeky?

Joel Hodgson will be appearing this weekend at the Greenwich Odeum, 59 Main St, East Greenwich, RI for a MST3K WEEKEND. Highlights of the weekend include screenings of Hodgson’s favorite MST3K episodes and shorts, Q&A sessions and a chance to catch his new one-man show, Riffing Myself on Saturday evening. This weekend promises many laughs, much weirdness and the rare chance to get to know the man who introduced us all to the joy of “riffing” of cult-classic B-movies. 
Tickets for both evenings are on sale now online at www.theodeum.org.

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