Joel Hodgson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 talks live riffing, battling 'The Wasp Woman'
If you're a cynical smart ass, chances are you've riffed on a movie at some point during your illustrious film watching career. But no one is quite as good at movie riffing as the iconic crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This week, they're bringing their Cinematic Titanic LIVE! show to the Parkway Theater, allowing you to watch them cut up movie classics like War of the Insects and Doomsday Machine in person.
Last week, we caught up with MST3K creator Joel Hodgson over the phone to talk about the longevity of the show, his run-ins with B-movie defenders, and why he's still riffing after all these years.
Most people are familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000 on TV, but what's your live show like?
We all started as standups in Minneapolis back in the '80s, so the live format fits us really well. It's like watching five standups doing their acts all at the same time while a movie plays. The things about Mystery Science Theater 3000 is that we designed that format for one or two people to watch at home. At the live show there is a lot more emphasis on going for laughs. It really is amazing though how well movie riffing works live.
Is the crowd at the live show mostly MST3K fans?
The audience is great. Our show hasn't been on the air for over 13 years, and yet we still get a lot of people who watched back then. But we also get a good number of newer fans who have found us through YouTube and tape sharing. We did over 200 shows in 11 years, and yet they still have life left in them.
The Cinematic Titanic Crew (Joel Hodgson on the left)
Since the premise of the show is all about heckling, have you ever had audience members try to throw their own riffs out during the movie, or even heckle you as performers?
That's a good question. The price point for the show is high enough that we generally eliminate anyone who just wants to get drunk and yell things, so that's not a problem. The people who come to our shows know what they're getting into, and they want to see us do our performance.
We did have one show in St. Louis at a big arena with something like 7,000 seats, and we had someone yelling at us during that performance. Fortunately for us, the acoustics were so bad in the place that we couldn't hear anything so he quieted down pretty quickly once he didn't get a reaction. At the end of the day though, we're all standups and you can't be a standup without being able to handle hecklers.
How do you choose which movies you riff? Do you feel like you need to stick to a certain era or is that just what you gravitate towards?
To be honest, price is the biggest factor in choosing which movies we riff. Getting the rights to certain films can get pretty pricey, so we like to stick to movies that are cheap and fall into the B-movie category. The thing that has always made out show interesting is that not only are we putting on a performance, but we also get to show people a movie they have probably never seen before. Sometimes, the movie ends up carrying us. You just never know.
A promo pic from the good old days
Have you ever had any issues with any of the performers or directors from any of the films you've riffed?
Oh yeah, absolutely. A few years ago we booked a show in Vegas at this beautiful theater, and we were going to riff The Wasp Woman. The day before the show, Roger Corman's (the film's director) attorney threatened to shut us down. The thing was, we knew it was public domain and that he didn't have the rights to it, but we still decided at the last second to switch it just to be safe.
The show still went really well, and it showed us that we could do a great show on the fly. The way I look at it, if you're a working actor, then not everything you're going to be in is going to be great so you can't really get mad. We've had other producers get mad from time to time, but they always end up taking the money so I guess they aren't that mad.
After all of these years, do you think you'll ever quit movie riffing?
If time goes by and people don't want to see me perform anymore, then I'll hang it up. I've been so fortunate that people are still interested in our show, and that keeps me motivated to keep writing new shows. I once read a review that said, "History has been kind to MST3K" and I believe that's true. Our supporters are great and I'm proud that they still love watching the show as much as I love creating it.
IF YOU GO:
Cinematic Titanic LIVE!
September 15-17, doors at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. show
September 15: Doomsday Machine
September 16: War of the Insects
September 17: Rattlers
Friday & Saturday shows are DVD tapings
Click here for details
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