Joel from MST3K talks 'bots and breakups

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Swoon- so dreamy! Gypsy, Crow, Joel, and Tom Servo from "MST 3K"

Here’s the scene. You’re watching a B movie, or a C movie, a D movie- do the grades go lower? At any rate, it’s in grainy glory on your television. A werewolf is stalking a yokel through the misty woods, or a catastrophic fire is testing the limits of the staff of a hospital, or atomic fallout is causing mysterious happenings on a deserted island. Along the bottom of the screen, there is a row of silhouettes- a janitor stuck in space and his robot companions, one fashioned from a gumball machine and the other from gold, with a beak. They’re all riffing along like there’s no tomorrow, injecting sass into some of the greatest movie failures of the modern age. This is truly, a wonderful premise. This is “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” The show was one of cable TV’s biggest cult hits in the ‘90s, spawning websites and online fan forums back in the days when those things were still the domain of the technologically savvy with time on their hands. Joel Hodgson created the show, built the robots, starred and wrote scripts- for the first hundred episodes. Then he left the show entirely. “MST3K” continued on without him, but for many die hard fans, the success of the Hodgson shows could never be duplicated.

Lucky for us, he’s back. Hodgson has assembled the original cast of the show for a live production called “Cinematic Titanic,” which will provide the same bad old movies and razor sharp verbal barbs on stage. Thanks to the SF Sketchfest, it’s coming to the Castro next week as the comedy festival's closing night strong finish. Don't worry, you've still got ample time to get up your homemade space jumpsuit or robot ‘fit. We had the chance to breathlessly moon over Hodgson the other day and he was just dreamy.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: I’ve gotta tell you, I’m a huge fan of the show. We watched it all the time when I was little.,/em>
Joel Hodgson: Oh great! And it didn’t screw you up or anything?

SFBG: Nope. Me and my dad had a whole tradition; we’d pick up a pizza and watch the show together.
JH: Oh, that’s really great. We meet a lot of people like you on the road, a lot people that started watching the show back then.

SFBG: How long have you been doing the “Cinematic Titanic” shows?
JH: Oh man. I just knocked something over. Okay. Two years. We did our first show two years ago at Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco at the Lucas Films complex.

SFBG: You left “Mystery Science Theater 3000” after 100 shows. I read somewhere that it was because you were tired of performing in front of the camera.
JH: That’s what I said. But it was a bit of a dodge. I was fighting with my partner [producer Jim Mallon]. That’s why I quit. I lied to everyone, basically.

SFBG: Well then it must have been really sad to leave the show.
JH: I really regret leaving the show. But I did it in the hopes that it would live on. The nature of [my troubles with Mallon] was the kind of thing that would wreck the show. Surprisingly it worked out. Mike [Nelson, Hodgson’s replacement on the show] got in there and did a great job.

SFBG: How long will you be doing the “Cinematic Titanic” shows?
JH: I love “Cinematic Titanic.” It’s a really great job to write riffs. Its one of those things, I love it. But I have to go get in the right frame of mind to do it. I have to go exercise first. For four hours a day, I write. It’s really great fun.


"Cinematic Titanic" takes on another gem of the silver screen

SFBG: Do the robots make it to the live shows?
JH: No it’s the actors themselves, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy and everyone.

SFBG: How’s that? You were used to performing with puppets before.
JH: It’s actually much better. We all met doing stand up. [Since we’re performing in person] we can be ourselves, which is kind of useful. Its fun.

SFBG: But don’t you miss Tom Servo and Gypsy and the rest of the gang?
JH: That’s a good question. But the thing is, they’re the embodiment of Trace and Josh. It’s like… what’s it called… god, I just have no idea what this thing is called.

SFBG: What are you talking about? I want to help you figure it out.
JH: You know, like in the Wizard of Oz… where there’s the dream version and then the real life manifestation of somebody… what is that called? I don’t know.

SFBG: You got me. Are you stoked to come back to San Fran then? The city it all started in.
JH: We’re super excited. It’s a great city to perform live in. It’s been a year since we’ve performed here. The Castro’s a great theater, too.

SFBG: You folks will be riffing on “Danger on Tiki Island,” a thriller about an atomic bomb test that causes strange happenings on an isolated island. Sounds great.
JH: “Danger on Tiki Island” has the worst monster in movie history. Who ever made him must have been really rushed. He looks the Michelin Man after he’s been in a fiery car crash. So yeah, that’ll be fun.

Cinematic Titanic: "Danger on Tiki Island"
Tuesday, February 2, 7 p.m., $25
Castro Theater
429 Castro, SF
(866) 468-3399
www.sfsketchfest.com
www.thecastrotheater.com

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