Mystery science

Mystery Science Theater 3000 became a cult classic during the 1990s and recently was rebooted via Netflix series. Part of the show’s recent momentum has included live tours around the country, so the Ithaca Times sat down with Joel Hodgson, who created the show in the late 1980s,  to talk about making the show and leaving his creation.The show is this Saturday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. at the State Theatre.

Ithaca Times: Let’s talk about the show.

Joel Hodgson: Yeah, this is a new cast. Conor McGiffin [...] He’s the new Tom Servo, he’s a musical theatre guy. Nate Begle is our Crow, he’s a long-time puppet guy, and he got kind of introduced to us by Grant Baciocco, who’s our lead puppeteer for the [Netflix] TV series, and has also been Crow on the road for the last two tours. Yvonne Freese is playing Mega Synthia (a new character) and Gypsy. And Emily Marsh plays a character named Emily Crenshaw, the rigger for the circus, who sets up all this stuff. It’s like, when you put on a circus, the rigger is the person who puts up the high wire, and they put up the cages when they used to have animal acts.

IT: I gather that you’re not a film buff, and so a lot of the films that you’ve used were suggested by other writers. Is that accurate?

JH: We don’t get suggestions for movies. People who suggest movies don’t know how to clear the rights to movies.

IT: Sure. [laughs]

JH: You know? Like on Twitter, someone said, “You know what movie you should do? Pete’s Dragon.” And I wrote back, “Could you call Disney for me and see if you can get the rights to that?”

IT: A friend of mine programs a family classics series at the local arthouse cinema, and even I know you can’t get Disney for love or money.

JH: It doesn’t mean anything when people suggest movies, because it’s like, “Great. Give me a phone number I can call and see if we can get the rights,” etc. It goes back to the concept of an ironic viewing, right? So it’s like, we’re the first show to do ironic viewing.

IT: Yeah, you were.

JH: So you don’t have to be a film buff to understand that.

IT: What about these movies you’re touring with now?

JH: “No Retreat, No Surrender” and “Circus of Horrors.” You usually start with, like, film packages. You start with a great list of films that are clearable, right? It’s not like window shopping where you say, “I gotta have that movie” and then you talk to the lawyers, and then you find who’s got the rights, you know what I mean? You start with a brace of films that are cleared that you can get. Then you sift through those, and you start with the title of ‘em, then you screen ‘em, and then you just kind of hold it in your hand and go, “Is this going to be a good MST3K episode?” So that’s kinda it.

IT; This will be your last tour? What led you to make that decision?

JH: Well, there’s a lot of things at play, but my job, I feel like, was to come back and re-jigger MST and bring in new people. We brought in Elliot Kalan, who was on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, as our head writer [for Netflix], and Jonah Ray as the new host, and all new talent doing the robots and as writers. So I felt like I was the one who had the vision that it could come back, that you could refresh it with new people. And so now that makes that a little stronger, like I’m not gonna go out on tour anymore; I’ve been out on the last two tours. This [tour] kind of signifies the end of that, and I won’t be going out on the road anymore. It’s mostly just…I’m 59 years old, and it’s really a lot of work to be on the road. I think that’s what motivates it more than anything. It’s kind of like a signal to everybody, like “Yup, yup, I’ll kinda work behind the scenes, I’ll work another five years with the brand and have other people do it.” Kind of like I did with the [Netflix] TV show: I was an executive producer. So it’s a symbolic thing, to kinda go, “Yeah, there’s an end to it.”

IT: I used to hate the strike, the end of the high school play. But doing it all this time, you do learn that everything ends. Nothing lasts forever.

JH: Yeah, it’s something that you can control, whereas there’s so much in show business, and especially TV, that you can’t control. And so it’s just that thing. Next year, we’re already booking the 2020 Christmas tour, and I’m not gonna be on it and we’re gonna have all new people riffing. That’s the whole idea, to just roll that over.

IT: That’s the nature of something that’s been around this long. When I heard MST was coming, I assumed it was Jonah and Patton Oswalt and the whole Netflix crew. And when I heard it was you, I thought, “Well, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy won’t be there.”

JH: To me, it’s like, it’s funny but you can’t…I mean, I don’t know what that would take, to get all of the old guys on a bus have everybody go out, you know. But all this new cast, they’re like 30-year-olds, they’re younger than the cast that were on the TV show.

IT: A bunch of young bucks that grew up on Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal,

JH: It’s really true, man. It’s really true. And they’re all Mystery Science Theatre fans. It was funny, but they’re actually younger than the cast of the [original] TV show.

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