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"MST3K" Host Joel Hodgson on 25 Years of Movie Mockery

"Mystery Science Theatre" creator talks pop culture immortality and his future

By Patrick Hickey Jr.
|  Friday, Oct 19, 2012  |  Updated 9:16 AM PDT
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Patrick Hickey Jr.

Although acting wasn't his original preference, Joel Hodgson spent five and a half seasons on "Mystery Science Theatre 3000."

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Joel Hodgson, creator of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" gained a cult following in the late ‘80s that has yet to diminish 25 years later. From magic to ventriloquism to teaching the art of movie riffing, Hodgson continues to keep himself busy. Chatting from the Shout! Factory Booth at the 2012 New York Comic Con in support of a massive 100-DVD release of the show, Hodgson looks back on the show and talks about what's he's been up to lately.

Did you ever think 25 years ago, that “Mystery Science Theater 3000” would turn into this whole cult phenomenon with DVD box sets and pop culture relevance?

No, not in the least. We were just trying to do the best with what we had.

You have such an interesting story in that you have this love of magic and ventriloquism, yet you ended up at the helm of this show. I’ve also read in interviews that you’ve said the creation of the characters of MST3000 was more gratifying than the acting. Can you explain that?

The thought of making a show was really daunting to me, so I thought if we could make a show around a movie that was doable for me. If we only produced 15 minutes of content and the rest was in silhouette, I knew we could do that. I don’t know a lot about budgets, but I knew cost-wise, it was much more accessible.

I was fortunate that I started in magic and was really interested in ventriloquism at a young age. I wasn’t satisfied with what I saw, especially in ventriloquism, but I couldn’t afford a dummy. They were wildly expensive. So I found that I could make things I was satisfied with by collaging pieces of puppets and making my own. I did the same thing with magic. I retrofitted old magic tricks and changed the way they looked to suit my purposes. It was all great training and was basically a function of not having any money, and parents who both were do it yourself-ers.

I think that’s why I was able to be a part of all of this. It really worked for us. There would be no way to have a vision and realize it with what you would pay. When we first started the show, I showed (Crow) to a friend who was a (Disney) Imagineer, and he asked how much it cost to make and I said probably 10 bucks. He said if I would have made it there it would have cost $50,000 to develop a character and make it work. So through that I think the ability to make stuff has really served me and it was the M.O. for "Mystery Science Theater" and why things worked.

Do you think the nature of the show made you come out of your shell a bit more?

Absolutely. I was a performer before the show. I did stand-up for a few years, so I was familiar with performing. But to be able to daisy-chain a group of creative people together you can really do amazing things. I was so lucky to have so many talented people work on the show.

Your hardcore fans know all about RiffTrax and your other film-related projects, but what else are you working on?

I do a one-man show in Phoenixville and Los Angeles the next few months and with those I do super secret "Mystery Science Theater" screenings where I bring out my favorite episode of the show and we’ll watch it together.

What’s the show about?

It’s really based on the premise of when I was six, I thought God made the movies. It’s the beginning of my story and my path to "Mystery Science Theater."

How do you really want to be remembered?

Oh boy. At the end of the day, it’s kind of meaningless. My favorite part of the show was that we had a vision and that no one had really done it yet -- that there was this space in the world where we could do this thing. What we were doing wasn’t really considered comedy. There was no form prior to that. So for me, it’s fun to see all of this happen and it’s still unfolding, it’s still growing. I’m really enjoying that. It’s really about people taking action and being inspired and saying “These are the thoughts in my mind that I must show you.” That’s the story of the show I like.

You’ve done a lot in your career, but is there something you look back and say, “I still want to do that”?

Something I got to do last fall was teaching movie riffing. I got to do a class at Bucks County Community College, just outside Pennsylvania, and it was so fun. I really like to be around young people and see them do this. Because of the Internet, they’re so good at it. I was shocked. It was an eye-opener for me. It’s what I’m the most interested in now. It was so much fun... We’re talking about it again for next Spring.

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