Joel Hodgson on Cinematic Titanic & MST3K

From his secret bunker complex, Hodgson updated CraveOnline on the world of riffing.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Joel Hodgson on Cinematic Titanic & MST3K

After the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl 45 in Dallas, one of the top circulated videos on all of Facebook was a clip of the classic, movie-mocking comedy series, Mystery Science Theater 3000. 

The bit came from the show’s de-fanging of the Wisconsin-made, sincerely inept Bill Rebane giant monster/disaster flick, The Giant Spider Invasion. To poke fun at the real-life Wisconsinites running from the furry Volkswagen with legs that served as the titular arachnid, the MST3K japesters would frequently shout, “Packers! Woo! More Packers!” Football fans cut those moments together to poke a little fun at the uber-zealous Cheesehead celebrations that filled America’s Dairyland after the Steelers fell. 

While it’s not news that Packers fans tend to be ravenous, the whole phenomena speaks to the pop culture power that Joel Hodgson’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 still holds. While the Wisconsin native didn’t invent the concept of throwing jokes at a movie screen during a bad film any more than Henry Ford invented the motor car, he and his fellow MST3K creators perfected it. 

The original MST3K ran for 10 seasons – beginning in 1989 on the now defunct Comedy Channel before shifting to Comedy Central and then The Sci-Fi Network.  Created and (originally) hosted by Hodgson, the show would see a turnover of its entire cast before ending its run and moving to the big screen with Mystery Science Theater 3000:  The Movie. 

Before the show’s Satellite of Love crashed to Earth in 1999 (reportedly somewhere just outside Milwaukee), Michael J.  Nelson replaced Joel, while Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett took over as Servo and Crow. respectively. 

Nelson, Murphy and Corbett reunited behind Rifftrax – an online download service selling snide commentary tracks for Hollywood’s most recent clunky releases — i.e., deconstructing tomorrow’s B-movies today. They also release some public domain films with commentary and popular short film compilations such as the brand new Shortstoberfest and Order in the Shorts. 

Hodgson takes his brand of ridicule on the road as Cinematic Titanic for live, MST3K-style movie riffing. A few years ago, he teamed with his original Satellite of Love cast partners, J.  Elvis Weinstein (Tom Servo) and Trace Beaulieu (Crow T.  Robot). MST3K veteran writers and stars, Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester) and Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank), also joined the crew. 

From his secret bunker complex, Hodgson updated CraveOnline on the world of riffing. 


CraveOnline: What does Cinematic Titanic owe to MST3K? And, how is it different? 

Joel Hodgson:  History has been very kind to Mystery Science Theater. We have a very loyal fan base, and every MST3K DVD set we release sells better than the previous one.  Since the supply of those original episodes is finite, we wanted to give our fans something new that kept the spirit and the tone of the original show. 

(Cinematic Titanic) is a riffing delivery system we offer to keep loyal MST3K enthusiasts well stocked with fresh jokes. 


CraveOnline: When you first assembled your Cinematic Titanic crew, you began selling studio-recorded DVDs online featuring a premise close to the original MST3K idea – five comics held against their will to riff on bad movies. Why did you transition to releasing live DVDs? 

Joel Hodgson:  Around the same time we recorded that first DVD, we did our first live show for Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco. Fans couldn’t attend that ILM event, but, it went really well. So, we started doing shows on the road, performing at about one venue per month around the country. 

I think the show is better live than in the studio. I think we’re better live. But people were adamantly against it. We’ve got some emails from the fan base saying, “We’ll never buy another DVD from you until you’re back in the studio.” But I think we can try too hard to be MST3K again. It’s not our job to approximate the past. Doing it live keeps it fresh, and we can immediately get a sense if a riff is working. 


CraveOnline: You’ve explained in the past that each member watches the films several time and writes between 300 and 500 jokes per film before the collection is culled down into the show script. But how do you pick the movies you end up riffing? 

Joel Hodgson:  It would seem like there’s no shortage of bad movies to riff on out there, but it’s so much easier to find a film in the public domain. Otherwise, it becomes a question of clearing the material legally. 

You need a movie that has some sort of story, though. It can’t just be bad. It’s not true that worse a movie is, the easier it is to do. We’ve found that a film has to have some kind of decent editing for the riffs to work. There’s a passage in one of our new movies (Rattlers) that is edited so poorly that it was difficult to write and perform around the sequence. 


CraveOnline: Mystery Science Theater 3000 ran for 10 years on cable before living on in DVD sets and online amongst its dedicated fan base. Do you see any reason why Cinematic Titanic can’t live online for years to come” 

Joel Hodgson:  We all agreed to do it for at least five years. I love the work, and I hope I always get to do it. After each live show, we stay around and do signings for the fans, and it’s great to see kids and their parents who grew up with the show coming out to see us.


Header Image Credit – Onion AV Club