Since sitting through the Turkey Day marathon back in 1991, I have been a devoted MSTie. Their catalog forms the backdrop of my psyche (which has complications). Since his MST3k days, Jowl has worked in several projects including the TV Wheel, the elusive Jolly Filter and Cinematic Titanic.
His one man show, ‘Riffing Myself,’ will be a treat to MSTies young and old. He met with the folks at SpeakerCreature to discuss the show, the history of MST3K and its continuation beyond his involvement as well as the unusual origin of the name chosen for TV’s wise-cracking Crow.
Comedian Joel Hodgson is best known for creating and hosting the series Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show about a marooned Gizmonics employee (Joel “Robinson”) and his pair of wise cracking robot companions. The trio are imprisoned aboard a static space station (The Satellite Of Love), where they are routinely forced to sit through reel after reel of forgotten bad movies. In 1993, Joel left MST3K in the middle of its fifth season. His final episode, “Mitchell,” became known as one of the benchmark moments of the show’s arc and is often cited by fans as being their favorite. Head writerMike Nelson stepped in as the show’s host until the series ended in 1999. Hodgson has since watched his creation become one of the most beloved cult television shows in pop culture history. Hodgson is currently touring his one man show, “Riffing Myself,” which he’ll be performing at the historic Plaza Theater in Atlanta on August 10 and 11th. I had the opportunity to catch up with Joel to talk about his run on the series.
Tell me about Riffing Myself. What is the show about and how did it come to be?
It is kind of the origin story of the creation of Mystery Science Theater. I bought a scanner about a year ago and started scanning all my stuff-a lot of posters, newspaper articles and photos. I started to realize that in my mind, it was all coming together as a narrative. So I decided to put it together and make it into a show. I’ve been doing it once a month or so since last October.
What were some of the specific reasons why you left Mystery Science Theater?
I’ve talked about this a bit. I was having disagreements with my partner Jim Mallon, who was the producer of the show. We weren’t seeing eye to eye, so in lieu of having a big fight and potentially hurting the show, I decided to leave.
But MST was your baby.
Yes. It was my baby. That is my baby.
So why just walk away?
The only analogy I can make is the story of King Solomon. Two women had come up and claimed to be the mother of this one baby. It was decided the only solution was to cut the baby in two and give each mother a half but the real mother said, “Oh, just let her have the baby.” And that’s how he figured out who the true mother of the baby was. So, yeah. I am the mother of Mystery Science Theater. It’s my baby.
What is the secret to being a good movie riffer?
I think it’s about not being too sarcastic or too cynical about the movie. I think you have to respect it. It’s hard to make a film, even a bad one. I think a rookie’s mistake is usually, “I’m going to just complain about how bad the movie is and point out all the flaws.” I don’t think that’s what good movie riffing is. Movie riffing is kind of like creating a variety show out of the movie. You collaborate with it.
Trace Beaulieu [who portrayed Crow T. Robot and Dr. Forrester on MST] once said that the movies are like Margaret Dumont and we’re like The Marx Brothers. The Marx Brothers wouldn’t be as funny without Margaret Dumont. The coloring book version of movie riffing is real cynical and sarcastic. Sure, you can take jabs but after you’ve done other things first. You’re supposed to be the companion to the audience. No one wants to hang out with an asshole, so you have to be kind of nice. I think that’s the secret.
Is there a single MST episode where you remember the entire cast firing on all cylinders?
Yes. I really like “I Accuse My Parents.” Although, I just watched “Mitchell” again recently. That one is very funny. So yeah, those two probably.
Is it true that Joe Don Baker was actually annoyed at your treatment of “Mitchell?”
You know what’s funny? Someone who is a real Mystery Science Theater historian just told me that. I’ve always heard that story but I always thought it was kind of a myth. But supposedly, yeah. The poor guy had never heard of it. I guess when you’re Joe Don Baker, you go: [impersonates Joe Don Baker] ‘What? There’s a show that makes fun of movies and the funniest one is my movie?’ I think that would be sobering and unsettling for him. So yeah, I didn’t think the story was true but someone I trust told me it is, so I believe it is now.
One more thing. Is it true that Crow T. Robot was named after a Jim Carroll song?
Yeah! The song “Crow” from the Catholic Boy album. It is a great album.
Joel Hodgson’s “Riffing Myself” will be at The Plaza Theater in Atlanta on August 10th and 11th. He will also be joined onstage by the Cineprov cast on the 11th, for a Star Trek free for all jam! Both shows start at 7:30 pm. Click here to purchase tickets.