During its original run from 1988 to 1999, Mystery Science Theater 3000 grew from being a cult TV show during Comedy Central’s early days to becoming a generational hit. Anyone who grew up in the ‘90s has seen at least a couple episodes. The shadowy scenes of the original host Joel Hodgson and his friends Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and Gypsy making fun of B movies in a theatre have become a trademark. Since its revival in 2017 on Netflix, the show’s popularity has made a comeback. As part of this comeback, the Mystery Science Theater Expo 3000 will be happening at the Greenwich Odeum from tonight through Sunday.
Hodgson and Mary Jo Pehl from the show will be hosting the expo. I had a chat with Hodgson about finding the random B movies, his love for puppetry and entertaining, starting with stand-up comedy and what fans can expect from the event.
Rob Duguay: When you initially started Mystery Science Theater 3000, how were you able to get all of these random films that were shown?
Joel Hodgson: Well, when we first did it we were doing it on a local UHF channel and we were just using films from their library. We did between 22 and 24 shows there and then when we moved to Comedy Central, we ended up licensing the films.
RD: That’s cool how it initially started with a small TV station library. What gave you the idea to make Tom Servo, Crow and Gypsy your companions on the show? Did you make them from a bunch of junk you had hanging around?
JH: I’ve made a bunch of robots out of found objects, probably 60 or 80 collage sculptures. I grew up doing puppetry, being interested in ventriloquism and stuff like that so I’m familiar with building puppets. That was my thinking, it’s all really about backwards engineering the silhouettes. I wanted to use the theater seats and I wanted the silhouettes to look unique so that’s kind of how the robot idea happened. If it was three white guys in chairs, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart, right?
RD: Yeah, I totally get that. Did you always have a vision that you could meld your gift for toy designing with your love for entertaining before Mystery Science Theater 3000 started?
JH: I started out in fourth grade as a magician, so I was always interested in producing magic tricks and making them unique. I had a career doing stand-up comedy prior to making Mystery Science Theater, do you know about that?
RD: Yep, you used to do work with Jerry Seinfeld.
JH: Yeah, I’ve also done Letterman, Saturday Night Live and a comedy special. When I quit, I wanted to make the cheapest TV show possible so that’s how I got to doing it. I wanted to create a really novel comedy show that was really inexpensive to make.
RD: Since 2017, Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been revived on Netflix. Do you think that this wouldn’t have been possible without the Kickstarter campaign you made for it back in 2015? What made you want to have Jonah Ray do hosting duties instead of yourself?
JH: I guess there’s a possibility that someone might have wanted to make the show again but it was so much easier with the Kickstarter. It demonstrated to people that there was a lot of interest and the reason why I picked Jonah Ray to host rather than myself was mostly to refresh it. All of us from the original run are in our 50s and 60s so you want people that are a little bit younger so I tried to use that. I wanted to include people who are in their 30s rather than in their 60s.
RD: That’s understandable, especially when it comes to reaching out to that demographic. What can people expect from the Expo happening this weekend?
JH: Between Mary Jo Pehl and myself, we’ve worked on every Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode that’s ever been made. It’s a chance to come and survey the entire brand and talk about movies from all different periods. We’ll also be talking about our experiences over the 30 year history of the show so that’s mostly what we’re going to be talking about. It’s all motivated by the fans and the people who have questions, that’ll dictate what we’re going to talk about.