It's all about bouncing back

Sunday, June 15, 2008


If you came of age during the carefree days of the early 90s, then you owe many happy Saturday morning memories to Joel Hodgson. Back when your hangovers were still rather manageable -- before Bill Clinton proved what an ass he could be -- before Comedy Central was a powerhouse with multiple hit shows -- and back when your "friends" still passed out on your couch every Friday night -- Joel provided a reliable source of snarky charm with his masterpiece, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K).

Joel began his career as an easygoing, midwestern comic and (ahem) magician. Sporting the same sleepy, innocent-eyed manner we later grew to love, in 1982 he moved to LA and had some promising success with appearances on Letterman and SNL -- as well as his own HBO special. By 1984, however, he was already fed up with the Hollywood scene and the lack of fun, originality and spontaneity in the roles he was offered -- so he moved back to Minneapolis. He continued to perform stand-up and also took up sculpture and toy design -- building robots for fun in his spare time.

In 1988, Joel built Cambot, Gypsy, Tom Servo and Crow! and MST3K was born. No one had ever seen anything like it before -- sitting in front of the screen and making fun of bad movies? Joel has admitted, in later interviews, that many viewers didn't get the joke at first. It certainly caught on quickly, however, and essentially spawned its own unique form of interactive humor. The show also owns a small piece of funny history because was one of the first shows ever picked up by the Comedy Channel (early name for what became Comedy Central). The show quickly grew in popularity; but Joel left the lead role in 1993, when it he gave the reins over to his successor, Mike Nelson.

Hodgson later admitted that he only left MST3k because of creative differences with his co-producer and that he missed the show greatly. Finally, in October 2007, he launched a successor effort -- Cinematic Titanic -- which he operates with fellow MST3K alums Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl. And this weekend, their happily reunited team will be performing at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater as part of the LA Film Fest. Myself and my friend tribe will be there to pay tribute to the man, the show, the genre and the memories.

As Joel turns 48 this year, what is his answer to the comeback question? I am hesitant to comment before seeing the show; but if the website is any guide, the answer is: simply keep doing what he does best. And that makes sense to me. There is no need to update this act. He is the master of his own subgenre -- making fun of bad movies was funny then; and why wouldn't it still be now? If you were KISS, would you undertake a reunion tour without makeup -- or without playing "Detroit Rock City"? Exactly.

FYI: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that his successor, Mike Nelson, also has a movie commentary site that sports a whole library of clever audio overtracks for old and current films -- you can find them at Rifftrax, and it is well worth a visit.

See you at the Ford!

xoxo, Rabbit

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