Many of us have stumbled onto a bad movie late at night and made fun of it. But Joel Hodgson, creator of the cult television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 and leader of the movie riffing stage show Cinematic Titanic, has been making a living out of it for over two decades.
Considered by many to be a pop culture icon, Hodgson started out as a stand-up comedian and a regular performer on such shows as Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live before appearing on HBO’s Eighth Annual Young Comedians Show in 1983. With a natural talent for designing and building toys and gizmos for his stand-up act, Hodgson was given his own show, Mystery Science Theater 3000, in 1988 that was tailor made for his brand of comedy. The show, which consisted of Hodgson and his homemade robots being forced to watch bad movies and riff on them to keep their own sanity, became a cult favorite and ran for 10 consecutive years on both Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Channel.
After leaving the show in its fifth season Hodgson took a break from movie riffing and went on to write for Jimmy Kimmel Live, You Don’t Know Jack and also had a reoccurring role in the television show Freaks and Geeks. In 2007 Hodgson announced he was starting another movie riffing show with some of his old MST3K cast members called Cinematic Titanic. Press Pass LA was lucky enough to sit down with Hodgson and talk about his eclectic career.
Although die-hard fans will note the similarities between MST3K and Cinematic Titanic, the biggest difference is the addition of the audience itself into the show. “It was a big change in our style when we started doing it live,” explains Hodgson. “It really is like listening to a band in studio versus live on tour. I feel conflicted sometimes because when we were doing MST3K we had complete control over what were doing and could edit it as needed. With Cinematic Titanic it is all done live and in front of an audience so you can’t get in as many riffs per show and we can’t be as obscure as we once were. “
Cinematic Titanic allows Hodgson to share the stage with his other colleagues from MST3K– Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein and Mary Jo Pehl- each of which brings their own unique style of comedy to the movie being shown. “On the other hand, it is more satisfying because doing it live it is like having five stand-up comedians all riffing a movie while in the other format it felt like an ensemble piece. We can’t do some of our more arcane references anymore because we know we won’t get a reaction from the audience,” he says. “Doing it live the audience kind of pays their way by reacting to certain things. We can tell what works and what doesn’t in each show.”
Of course every great show is built around a truly bad movie. “People ask us all the time how we find our movies and which ones we would like to riff and the truth is it is like refurbishing a home. We have the ideas but we don’t really think about it until it is right in front of us,” he notes.
As Cinematic Titanic the troupe has riffed everything from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians to Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks. This Sunday the people of Los Angeles can see crew riff the 1973 B-movie The Doll Squad, believed by many to be the inspiration for Charlie’s Angels. For more information and to buy your tickets make sure to visit CineFamily.org